Monday, February 9, 2015

On Retreat

My weekend was marvelous.  And I'm not even sure where to begin, knowing that the typing up of it might dull the glow that I've carried with me.  I'd actually never been on an overnight retreat before--it's not quite like an academic conference because it's totally lacking in "political" networking or posturing.  It was 48 hours of being completely cut off--I even deinstalled various apps from my phone, so that I only connected with Mama a couple of times a day to check in.  Otherwise, the only part of the outside world I knew about was the snow I could watch falling from inside!

Held at one of the largest Catholic retreats in the world, the retreat--sponsored by Copper Beech Institute, a mindfulness non-profit--was surrounded by symbols of Catholicism.  Bud even worried as they dropped me off, "Mom, it looks so religious!"  Yes, indeed, in that post-war, wood paneling, 50s sort of way.  I've stayed in another monastery--one in Rome that ran a hostel that housed my summer school abroad--but that was less-dated looking, though probably older.  The monks were rather the same, though--robed, friendly, very quiet.  No surprise that Rome would have more ambiance than Connecticut!

My room itself reminded me of Agnes of God--a bed, a desk, a chair, a nightstand, and that all-important waste-paper basket.  Whites, browns, red curtain and bedspread.  No Bible, though.  Only a print with a Wendell Berry poem for decoration and a gorgeous view of a snow-covered landscape with gumball tree and statues.

The hall, with numerous other doors leading to replicas of my own room, had that old-college dorm feel, especially with the communal showers and toilets.   Though, there was art on display made by local artists, including one mixed media canvas entitled Silent Weavers by Elisabeth Moss, which became my especial favorite.  I would intentionally pass by it so that I could study it every chance I got.  I saw a veiled woman, possibly an angel with wings, and a little owl (with beak and wing); I emailed a photo to Mama, who saw the Host and Chalice, given its Catholic context.  One of my co-retreatants saw the Virgin Mary.

The rest of the center was huge--three big buildings and practically two of everything (chapels, dining rooms, elevators).  In fact, there was another retreat of about 80+ Catholic men and we rarely ever saw them!  But it was all inside so we never got snowed upon.  I especially enjoyed the little bookshop with sweets, gifts, and books, where I picked up a few things for the family.  I also liked the Solarium, a long thin hallway with seats and cushions  . . . and potted pink geraniums on the sill overlooking a snowy expanse.  There is a labyrinth on the grounds, with a beautiful rock sculpture in the center but, alas, it was under two feet of snow.  No one ventured out to find it.  I'll go back on another retreat and walk the path.

It's a rare place that focuses on vegetarian food, with an animal protein as an after-thought, but such was the case with this retreat.  Lentil salad, porcini risotto, arugula salad, spinach salad, parmesan cheese grits, broccoli frittata, chickpea stew, kale and white bean soup, potato pancakes, scrambled eggs.  So much goodness to eat at every meal.  And it was local and sustainable when possible.  The baked goods were a treat too:  pb cookies, this rich sweet zucchini bread/cake, and these fabulous lemon poundcakes. Snack one day was bowls of sunflower and pumpkin seeds and marcona almonds.  Mmmmmm.  Plus abundant tea and coffee.  And I bought chocolate at the little shop.  What more could I want?  There were some retreatants who snuck over to the buffet line of the Catholic men's retreat--they had meat and potatoes; and it was all okay to choose what you wanted to eat!

Of course, the purpose of this retreat was something called Zentangle, a meditative drawing technique that focuses on process as much as output.  Before it was copyrighted, you would've just called it doodling.  I had discovered Zentangle officially some months back when I noticed various drawing pins on Pinterest and also an article in UU World about a doodling minister.  I started playing around with it myself, as you've seen in several posts, and this retreat was my chance to learn more techniques.

We had a whole room to ourselves, stocked with an Art Bar full of materials and tools, numerous displays of the teachers' own work, reference books, and snacks!!!  It was a grown-up candy store.  We even each got a lot of our own goodies--pens, papers, a sketch book, various project materials, and a door prize--mine was a wooden frame that I can decorate.

The initial session was a basic intro to Zentangle--the dots, the tile, the strings, the tangle patterns.  We also discussed embellishments, etc., and some of the concepts--childlike curiosity, awareness of breath and body, staying present, lack of judgement, no erasure, nothing is a "mistake" (just an opportunity!)  I'm more into it for fun, but some of the people are obsessed Zentanglers, who hold meetings and complete weekly challenges.  One woman even flew in from Ohio to take a class with a specific teacher.

Some of the other sessions were beyond me--I wasn't quite ready to design my own unique Tangle pattern and I wasn't that interested in making several paper books to be platforms for my own tangleations (yep, there's this whole lingo.)

In fact, the last session was my favorite:  we learned how to Tangle labyrinths.  We drew four types--basic, the interior of Chartres, the labyrinth at the retreat center, and a concentric circle labyrinth--and discussed all the various patterns that lended themselves to labyrinths.  I had enjoyed drawing labyrinths way before I knew of Zentangle; we used to make them out of painters' tape on the floor!  I hadn't thought to Tangle them before.  I know I'll be filling those little books with labyrinths.

Other Offerings
When I wasn't drawing, I was taking advantage of other retreat offerings.  The first night, I had a thirty minute Reflexology session.  While I've had my chakras cleansed, accupressure, accupuncture, and fascial release, I've never had reflexology, which is focused on energy conduits in the feet (same system as accupressure/puncture, but different "entry" point.  The whole thing was relaxing--dim lights, soft music, sweet lotions and oils--but I couldn't say if the effects were from the qi manipulation or just the rest.  And I'm not sure it really matters.  (Yes, I have become much more open to alternative healings since my back injury, which was mostly helped by Integrative Manual Therapy not traditional meds, injections, etc.)

I also attended an early morning mindfulness meditation session, just like a few I've attended before.  The director (who is the husband of a new friend of mine) led the meditation and has one of those soft, NPR voices and such a calm manner; it reminded me of everything that I love about mindfulness meditation.  (Even though I was down on my mat on a very cold tile floor!)  I liked his metta phrases at the end, "May all beings be happy.  May all beings be peaceful.  May all beings be free from suffering.  May all beings be healed."  I really liked the "healed" part.

I also went to a yoga class!  I don't have much yoga experience, mainly prenatal at home alone with a DVD a decade ago.  Again with my mat on a cold floor, I listened to the soothing voice of the teacher, who chanted beautifully, and followed gently each of her moves to the best of my ability.  I of course especially liked the long rest and then meditation at the end.  I'm not sure yoga will be my thing--stretching is fraught with the possibility of injury for me--but I'm glad I got the chance to try.  I also liked chatting with her and the other students over tea (Big Y's "calming" blend of chamomile and lavender--organic, even--who knew.)

I also went to a music concert the second night, a couple playing guitar, flutes, and singing bowls.  Nice music of a type, but I was so exhausted from sitting all day that I didn't last long.  I wish I could've though; it was tranquil.

I was ready when the weekend ended, even with the good food and opportunities for learning and relaxing.  I wondered how Mama and the kiddos were--with their gaming (mainly Disney's Infinity, and trip to the Winter Festival for ice fishing (they didn't catch anything but got to eat some of the fish someone did catch!  They said the ice was a foot thick.)   Mama's grandfather is dying, which is hard for the whole family (we're getting updates from her parents, who are other in Thailand with him.)

And so, with a snowstorm on the way, I headed back to reality and the grocery store and home, which needed some attention, and now today's snow day from school.  Re-entry is never really smooth.  But I'm glad to be back with the family . . . and I can always take a mini-mental retreat with my sketchbook when I need to.  All told, it was a marvelous experience.

And the painting of the woman with wings hangs in our living room as a reminder.

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