I’m happily home again after spending 10 days in peaceful solitude. I’ve been on many long retreats in my life, silent and active, but all have been with other retreatants, an available spiritual director to meet with, and voluntary sessions of group meditation, or yoga, or prayer.
This retreat was different in that I was alone in my cabin and, since there were no current programs at the retreat center, I was fairly alone on the entire 250-acre property. Because the main building was receiving a new roof, even the day staff chose this week for vacation days, it seemed. There was an outdoor housekeeper for all the cabins, and I met her a few times, which were pleasant encounters, but really, I saw and “moved” with no other humans for those 10 days.
We’re each a pulsing body of physical, mental, and spiritual energy, and when we mix and adjust to the energy of others–even when we’re physically still and silent–there’s a kind of comfort and, usually, a willingness to flow together through the time we share. But we can lose our boundaries and fail to accurately distinguish our energy, our sense of self, and the clarity of our purpose and direction when we are constantly surrounded by others.
Some people drain our energy with neediness; others can be energy hogs who move into a space and greedily demand the energy of all; others depend upon our care and attention nearly all the time because of their physical illness, which is what leads to caregiver burnout. The ways we use our energy are often unconscious, unless we probe and bring them to our awareness, and while most of our energy dispersal is necessary, we need to pay attention to how our energy is exchanged, scattered, used/depleted, and restored, or we risk losing our balance, And right now, the world needs our finest energy. I think this is what all great teachers and world religions are asking of us: Use your limited energy wisely and compassionately: for yourself and then, always, for others.
But first, clarify your own and control how it’s used to honor your gifts and commitments. Unmonitored, our energy can become entangled with others’ and leave us feeling aimless.
And so I took this time to draw deeply within my own energy, and then I’d expand it out again, to test its boundaries. My awareness of its limits and flow became clarified and pristine. A few days in, I realized, I’d become more sensitive to the energy of the trees around me, the sounds and smells and touch of rain and breezes, of dawn and dusk. Encountering deer became a religious experience, breathing together and sharing our energy, then softly parting. (The etymology of “religion” describes being linked, joined, bound.)
I observed how I channeled my energy throughout the course of a day. Some unique combination of age, hormones, and autoimmune issues keeps me from sleeping for lovely long stretches, most nights. It was interesting to discern what I needed when I was awake, in ways I can’t “hear” when I’m at home and need to be sensitive to others’ sleep. Sometimes, I went out for a midnight–or later–walk. (Thankful for the full moon during my stay!) Or I got up to read, write, or focused on sending love to dear ones and to the world beyond, or I played Solitaire and let my mind drift. One night, I did an hour or more of yoga. One lovely aspect of such a long retreat in solitude is that there’s no schedule to keep. At all. Everything settles and choices can be made that feel natural, regardless of the time of day.
The rhythm of such a retreat is all yours to design for those precious days. I was able to unlearn some of the restrictions I’ve naturally set and followed because I live with 8 other mammals, 7 of them dependent on Phillip and me for food and care. I have gardens to tend, and housekeeping to co-manage, all the activities of daily living. It is good to set such regimens down, to unbraid your schedule and open yourself to none at all. Vacations aren’t quite the same in that they’re frequently filled with zipping around among activities with others, again creating that mingling of energies, with little time to tune solely into your own. And balance and health, I believe, do require that we dialogue deeply and richly with our own spirits, just listening to ourselves, observing our inner voices and how they respond and react, listening to the messages they send our minds, bodies, and souls throughout the day. At home, I walk, meditate, do my yoga, and garden, and try to listen deeply through these choices, but to have 10 days of such uninterrupted listening is a great gift.
I’ll tell you how clear my energy became. Because of some eye problems that have been restricting my driving, Phillip drove me to the retreat center and returned to pick me up. We really enjoyed this time together, as the pandemic has kept us so close to home, and I’m very thankful for his willingness to make a 6-hour round trip, a very fine birthday treat.
The day he picked me up, I was packed and ready to go early, so I moved through some yoga and meditation and then began to read and got lost in the book for a few hours. All of a sudden, I felt my energy shift; it was as though another source of energy waved through me, a kind of merging…and I knew it was Phillip, with that deep soul-knowing that sometimes blesses us. I looked out the window and he wasn’t there. What could it mean? And then he called. From the highway, he’d passed the turnoff to the road that led to my cabin and needed to be redirected. It was illuminating to realize that we can still our energy to such a degree of clarity and sensitivity.
And so began the days of readjustment, my double-dutch re-merging with all the energies I love surrounding me once more, the return of schedules and interruptions and needs not my own. I’m almost back in the necessary swing of these habits and rituals, and life shines all the more brightly because I was given and used my time alone. I’m trying to grant myself several “mini-solitude” breaks during the day, and I know that won’t always happen, but I allow myself the grace to be merry with the flow, whatever it brings, something I wasn’t feeling before my break. I’m grateful for the hours to write, for the many lessons, and especially for the renewed and clearer energy I was able to nourish on this retreat. May you each find the time and practices that best nourish your spirits, too! The world needs our finest energy as never before.
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