I was on a retreat last week.
It was strange, that I had looked so forward to going--for weeks and weeks--but once the deadline came around and I had to leave my life and go somewhere away from it, things happened to prevent from me leaving.
Some of these things were pleasant, such as jobs given at the last minute by an editor, but other things were of my own doing.
When I finally dragged myself to the car with my suitcase and pile of notebooks for writing, it was a day late, and I'd missed the first session of writing time.
Truthfully, I wasn't sorry: I think part of me realized I needed space, not group activities.
I spent the almost four hour drive while stuck in traffic thinking about all the things I needed to accomplish while at the retreat: my list was pages long.
Once I arrived, I was taken to my tiny, closet shaped room with its twin bed and spare furnishings, all I wanted was to get under the covers and eat chocolate bars and day dream. I wanted unplanned time, desperately.
I was also reminded of the retreats I'd been on when I was younger, when I was searching for spiritual satisfaction: how many convents and monasteries I had visited! How many little rooms I had sat in just like that one, waiting and wishing for some grand epiphany that did not arrive. I liked the unstructured times during those spiritual retreats, too: just thinking--or not--for hours.
And that is precisely what I did, most of the time, on the retreat last weekend. Sometimes I wrote and conversed and planned, but most of the time I did absolutely nothing.
Curiously, on the first night, I wandered down to the basement of the retreat center, where there were all kinds of art supplies and lots of women fluttering and chatting and collaging and papermaking. I sat at a big collage making table, assembling a collage I had no intention of keeping: I just cut out the shapes and glued them on to be doing something. I listened to everyone talking about their special projects they were making and wondered at my lack of sentimentality: ever since I decided to simplify my life, I'd been less attracted to art-making.
The collage making went on until it was very late at night and the basement rooms were freezing cold; yet, I stayed on because there was a woman there who I was exchanging life stories with. When I told her about my life long desire to be a nun, and how it had taken me all over the world and into darkness when I decided I could not be one after all, she said the most curious thing:
"But you have become a nun, of sorts." As she said this, I was both surprised and also instantly pleased. How strange it was that someone I just met knew this about me, when I did not know it about myself.
She elaborated, telling me about how my focus on writing and words to exclusion of some other things made me a bit nun-like. Or perhaps very nun-like. And what she said rang true.
We talked about a lot of things that night. I told her how no one told me about how my life would change when I decided to write more than a year ago--and not just write, but be devoted to it. No one sat me down and said, you will need to choose some things over others. In fact, it all happened so quickly, almost as if I fell down accidentally. There has been no time to consider what I lost or what I gained; indeed, I have scarcely thought about any of it at all. but sometimes I have fleetingly glanced at something I miss, because putting writing first has been such a huge commitment that I said goodbye often. Sometimes it has been a goodbye to a love affair that had no room for writing in it; other times to just-blooming friendships, which I did not have time for; and material possessions and sentimentality also have gone away too.
At the end of the four days, I felt several things: a bit fat from all the chocolate bars and the hearty food, well rested and of clear mind, and ready to deal with 2015. But most of all, I felt very comfortable with the decisions I've been making lately, to choose to be succinctly focused on words and stories. I left, feeling settled and at home with myself.
The weekly good: turns out, I'm a nun after all..of sorts. I like that. I like it a great deal. This is how my 2015 begins: unfettered, clear, purposeful, and at peace with my spiritual path of words.
[The Weekly Good is a journal-style blog entry about whatever I'm finding to be a lesson or a very good thing in my life. Sometimes I have to look for it, and others, it's easily to find. AGA]