Affirmation: I let go of struggle.
The immaculate Conception parish in Durham, North Carolina held it's annual woman's retreat this last weekend. It was at the Baptist retreat center on Oak Island, North Carolina. Approximately fifty women attended. They were of all ages and ethnic backgrounds. There was one man, Father Jude Siciliano but as one of the women tried to explain to me, he was such a remarkable man that the women attending would be very comfortable with his presence. She was right, very right.
As you probably know if you regularly read this blog, I am very familiar with creating and presenting retreats. This year will be our eleventh Pink Ribbon Yoga Retreat. At the time of this blog, our first planning session is about to take place. It takes a solid six months to get an event like ours together.
The committee for the Immaculate Conception retreat also works on their event for many months beforehand. It was very obvious. They didn't miss a thing. It was everything I'd want a spiritual retreat to be. The design was very gentle with lots of free time. The rooms were comfortable and well appointed. The setting was originally Fort Caswell with remnants of the cement bunkers and walls in the midst of lovely houses and stunningly beautiful ocean vistas. We were able to watch the sunrise and the sunset. The theme was, Reclaiming the Gifts of Sabbath Living and we were encouraged to come with something written out that we wanted to eliminate from our lives. We were then encouraged to "take an intention" to help us accomplish our desire. I was right at home. I must admit I also felt a little smug; I mean I'd already looked at the year and I had set an intention. I was ready! I really was but just like all adventures there was so much to experience than I could even imagine.
We were a carpool of four. We were the only four from our part of the Triangle. It was a delightful ride to the beach. One of the other women took on all the driving and another coordinated our pickups. I was honored to be with these three spiritual sages. They had all worked hard at getting in touch with God, each in their own way. I couldn't wait to see what I would learn from each of them. The simple fact that I was not in charge of any aspect of this trip, other than packing my own suitcase, was a gift in itself. What a way to start a new year, in the company of three very loving, wise women and then to share in the journey of several dozen other women all with the same desire to know God better, to find a way to be better connected to the Divine.
Father Jude led us in several ceremonies but for me the most meaningful were the two Centering Prayer sessions, twenty minutes of eyes closed and emptying the mind. How easy that sounds but how difficult to put into practice. I've meditated now on and off, mostly off, for over thirty years. I'm great at praying and of course, I always journal but being called upon to just sit silently, without going to sleep, for twenty minutes, twice a day, is simply something I haven't made happen in my life, probably because I really don't want to. I am a busy person. There is so much to do and to think about and of which to be in charge! I do fully realize, however, the multiple benefits of meditation, of resting the brain and in this case in finally being silent so that I can listen to God, not always be dominating the conversation. That's what we were given, two twenty minute sessions to simply listen. Did God speak to me? Yes, She did!
During both sessions I received images that I cannot explain. I went into the first session with a question to which I could not find an answer and somewhere in that twenty minutes, an answer came and one I feel I never never would have arrived at using any other modality. I was actually stunned and felt a great sense of peace. During the second session I was prepared to simply sit quietly and repeat my word or "mantra" but once again I was visited with an image. It was a warm, comforting person and I was so grateful for her care. I might have stayed longer but the bell rang and she left. She left and yet I still feel her with me. I'm not sure if or when she will ever leave again.
I'm curious now, will each time in Centering Prayer bring a new insight, a warm feeling, a sense of peace and calm or was it the power of almost fifty other people sitting with me that presented me with these gifts? A few years back I took a ten week course in Mindful Meditation at Duke Integrative Medicine. I sat quietly in lotus position, crossed legs, on the floor twice a day for twenty minutes for ten weeks and then the course ended and so did my practice. I know all the benefits meditation presents. I've read about lowering blood pressure, increasing self discipline, improving concentration and about how the brain actually changes its state with ongoing meditation. This January there was a Sixty Minute episode that showed a computer scan of the beneficial effects on the brain during meditation. I haven't read a self-help book yet that doesn't at some point tell the reader to meditate. Presently, I am listening to Richard Rohr’s, The Art of Letting Go. I just began session four this week. Guess what the topic was? Contemplation or meditation and why it’s so beneficial not only to our bodies but to our spirits.
Am I ready? Can I do it? Even as I sit here and write I can feel the resistance. "Be careful what you pray for," I've been told. So, I'm not going to ask God to help me with this intention. Instead I'm simply going to allow the time to unfold and present itself to me. My intention for the year had already been set before I ever got to the retreat, this is, The Year of Trusting in Christ. The quality I left behind at the retreat to honor Sabbath living was struggle. My affirmation is, I let go of struggle, even the struggle to meditate daily. I'm simply going to see how the days evolve and maybe this time, with God in the picture, my desire to sit quietly and discover His/Her message will come as a welcome gift.
Stay tuned. I'll report back in a few months. Maybe you want to join me in this journey? I'd love to know what you might discover.