by Marge Orchard, as part of Debby Gaines' Creating Stories and Sharing Lives Community Writing Class
For the last few years, I have been telling myself it would be wise to take better care of myself. The busyness of caregiving for many years had limited some of my more rejuvenating remedies. One solution I knew that would be good for me was a retreat. However, I allowed too many things to get in the way. When a friend told me how much she had benefitted from a weeklong retreat, I again resolved I would make the time to get away and give myself this gift.
The opportunity was given to me when I spotted the Womanspace offering of a Day of Silence and Journaling.
With some re-arrangement of my schedule, I arrived on a Sunday morning excited about the gift of the next six hours. I felt pregnant with ideas ready to be born, I wondered what this time with myself would bring forth. The day was cloudy with a promise of snow flurries and possibly rain. It felt like the perfect day for some reflection. Time to get in touch with where I am and who I am.
Three other women were present as Elaine, our guide, explained what we were free to do. The day and the facility were ours to use. Our lunch and snacks were laid out in the kitchen, as well as all the tea and coffee we wished to drink. We were asked to maintain silence to promote a contemplative atmosphere for each other.
I was invited to “allow myself conscious time to slow down, to savor the quiet and to enjoy being.” That was certainly what I wished for myself. With the help of some journaling prompts to direct our contemplation, our day began.
After using some prompts, I found that the peacefulness surrounding me supported me in delving into some of my reasons for showing up. As I looked around seeing the beauty of the paintings on the walls and the serenity of the snow quietly falling outside, I felt a gentle nudge to release and let go of all thought of my busy life. It was as if a soft voice said, just be and go with the flow. My journaling brought forth some of the issues I had been putting on the back burner for the last year or so. It was no surprise as I had stuffed so many feelings away, they couldn’t be contained any longer.
When my husband Jim died in 2015, my role as a wife of fifty-one years, as well as his caregiver for eighteen years ended. I have come to accept that going through the grief process is a mighty, challenging task. Working with a spiritual companion, a grief counselor, and a “change and loss group” has been a comfort and a validation of where I am on this journey. During these past two years, I have been living alone for the first time. Redefining who I am in this moment continues to be a work in progress that I have come to understand will take time.
Prior to Jim’s passing, I knew what was next. He and I were partners in most of our life decisions. Now, the decisions are up to me, as well as the responsibility of taking care of myself. I am grateful for my faith and my belief that God walks with me always. And during the hours that I am alone, my questions are what else is there for me to do? Is there more for me than my part-time teaching, occasionally giving Sunday talks at our church and, coordinating prayer chaplains? Perhaps it is time to get on with my travel plans and become serious about writing my memoirs. Maybe I would receive some glimpse of the answers this day.
We had been offered the use of the art studio and the materials in the cabinets. I was led to do a collage and hauled out several magazines with no definitive idea on what I was looking for. It wasn’t long before I was cutting out certain images and quotes that began to create an image of the thoughts of my short and long-term goals and the conclusions I had been journaling of just a short time before.
One of the first images I was drawn to was the saying “At a Crossroads.” Then a travel picture “A Place in the Sun.” A full page with a picture of the earth and the question “Where Are You Going?” Then the words “Say Hello to the Real Me” popped into view. What didn’t come up was a picture of someone writing a story. I have since added that to my collage. The most assuring of my clippings were: “The Future: A Perfect Fit” and a picture of open hands with the saying “Lord, Here I Am.”
I was in awe of seeing how everything fit together. And yes, it was a reminder that synchronicity flows when I get in touch and listen to my inner voice.
After I finished journaling about my experience with my collage, I decided to check out the garden and labyrinth outside. There was a light coating of snow covering the ground and trees, which gave me a feeling of a winter wonderland. As I walked the labyrinth, the snow continued to fall gently; I allowed my pace to slow, my spirit to embrace the beauty surrounding me, and let the peace seep deeper into my soul.
All too soon, we retreatants gathered to close our day with Elaine. We shared how our day had evolved. Several of us had done collages and it was suggested we take them home and put them where we would see them daily. Mine is on my bathroom mirror to remind me of the things I am creating to bring me peace and joy each day so that I don’t wait so long to plan my next retreat. Perhaps, it will be a longer one next time.
I did not receive all the answers to my questions and yet in some ways I did, as I received the reminder to surrender all to God. When I let go of any struggle and trust, I am shown a path. This way has worked in the past and can work now with my conscious cooperation.
I am grateful for the miracle of those six hours of silence that opened my heart and mind. The space supported me in taking a break and helped me to re-connect with my inner self. Yes, I am at a crossroads where my choice now lies to let go of my present ways or to move on to those things that call me, writing my story and travelling. I was recently told that the cost of not being who you are while you are busy pleasing everyone around you is that a precious part of you dies inside. It is no coincidence that I was advised of that. To trust in Spirit and to be true to myself is my goal and when I come from love nothing can keep me from growing. The answers are always here for me when I open myself to the wonder of it.