This past weekend, fourteen women gathered at Cedarbrake Retreat Center in Belton for an Eremos Retreat. Each of us came with all the challenges the world has pressed upon us to experience this place of rest, “no rules,” nutritious, delicious meals created and provided by the group, and nature’s peace and beauty.
We came together as a community of seekers and stepped into the silence to listen for the Voice of God. This weaving together of times of silence, sharing, and laughter offered us space to receive the healing, solace, and connection we sought. As we gathered on Sunday to leave Cedarbrake and return to our busy lives, each one was challenged to develop a “practice” to carry this silence into the everyday. In the same way, you can intentionally set aside time this season for silence and listening. Create a “spiritual practice’ that gives you space to listen.
Julie Bowman captured our experience in a PrayerSong below. The next Eremos retreat at Cedarbrake is scheduled for February 7th-9th, 2020, if you would like to join us.
I do not know its name…
But it looks like a stone labyrinth, intertwined with oak and juniper
And like a full moon emerging from glowing night-clouds.
It smells like earth and leaves and grass baking in September heat
And like pecan-roasted coffee and lavender oil.
It sounds like silent prayer at daybreak: crunching gravel beneath a pair of feet, crows and wrens chiming in
And like riotous laughter rising very non-silently from the dining tables.
It tastes like rice and veggies and apple crisp prepared with care
And like dark chocolate wrapped in deep wisdom.
It feels like soft couches and hard chairs drawn in a circle.
It feels like souls easing.
It feels like Mystery.
It feels like Love.
Julie Bowman, September 15, 2019
Photo Courtesy of Julie Bowman
Make the choice of love.
One of the benefits of taking time to stop and listen for the voice of God is that we can become aware that we do have a choice. Before we step into habitual pathways of anger, depression, self-loathing or taking the easy way out, that conscious pause can make us aware that there is a different path if we choose to take it.
I have a friend named Michelle. She has terminal cancer. Her life has not been easy and the abuse she suffered resulted in drug addiction and poor life choices. She could be feeling very sorry for herself, bitter and alone. Instead, she chose to get clean, to use her skills to help others clean and repair their houses and to consciously love those around her.
As her cancer has progressed, even though she is relatively young, she is no longer able to live independently. She is now living in a care facility, with a roof over her head and meals provided. Her medication is managed by others. Rather than lament that she is surrounded by people in much worse shape than she is, she has chosen to consider this a gift. Michelle chooses to view her life as “in a monastery.” She uses her time to read, study and pray. She does art and exercises her body. She walks the halls of her facility, intentionally seeing those who are often unseen. She speaks to each person she meets and says a kind word. She makes a point of going to breakfast and engaging in conversation. On her door hangs a hand-lettered sign that announces Monastery of Monte Siesta. Other residents know they can stop by to chat with her, share their concerns, ask for prayers. She prays actively for the other residents.
Michelle is making a difference where she is. She is choosing love and bringing love into a place that needs more of it. How can you do that where you live?
—A guest blog post by Elota Patton, LPC, M.Ed. MFA
Humans collect things; it’s in our nature. Beautiful things, useful things, practical things, and things we might possibly use in the future. In 21st century America, we are bombarded with advertising, on computers, TVs, phones. We are told that if we buy more things (jewelry, makeup, cars, lawn furniture, couches, decorative objects, and bigger houses to hold them all) we will be happier, healthier, and more fulfilled. The truth is the opposite. Recent research on happiness shows that while people predict that objects will make them happy, experiences provide far more enduring pleasure.
Like so many Americans, last January I got swept up in the fervor around Marie Kondo’s hit Netflix series, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I began cleaning and organizing drawers that had been disorganized and messy for years – decades! I gathered things I truly no longer used or needed and gave them away. And in the process, I discovered a secret –one monastics have known for a long time – clearing space and organizing clutter creates greater peace of mind. Truly, tidying up is a contemplative practice.
And this practice is attracting more and more Americans. For decades, we have been caught in consumption, but our fervor for things has a profound cost. Our closets and drawers are stuffed, our oceans are filled with plastic, and no one wants our excess clothing. We are stuck in acquisition addiction, the mistaken brain signal that acquiring more things will make us happy.
There are still some things that I want to let go that I have not, and that has made me curious: How do we let go of the emotional attachment to some “things?” Not everything has to go. It’s important to keep what is meaningful to you, and only you know what those things are.
But releasing some of my object-history has made me feel lighter, more content with what I have, less drawn to wanting more. This practice has helped to make my home more authentic to who I am today. I feel less called to shop, less energetically pulled by things I don’t truly need. I’m not “finished,” and my space is still imperfect, but choice by choice, my home has become a sweeter, more contemplative space.
Noticing what nourishes and letting go of what does not gives me pause and peace. I invite you to join me in this practice, to create your unique way to clear and connect to the sacred in the simpler.
Find Out More About Elota’s Upcoming Workshop: The Contemplative Art of Tidying Up
Elota Patton served as Executive Director at Zachary Scott Theatre and taught Business Communication at the University of Texas. She also edits professionally, teaches Nia and serves on the Eremos Board of Directors.
On this first official day of summer—the Summer Solstice—I invite you to consider your typical summer flow. Do things slow down and give you some space in your life? Or do things get really busy, as you add responsibilities such as entertaining children out of school and planning family vacations?
Whatever your changes with summer’s arrival, there is usually a shift as we move into warm (hot!) weather, sunny days and long hours of daylight. Take time to notice the shift for yourself. Create space.
If your pace has slowed, preserve some of the time that has been offered for you. Rather than fill the void with the usual tasks, think about what your soul might need right now. Use some of the space to listen, to sit in silence with God’s presence.
If your life has gotten busier, it is even more important to create space and to think about what your soul needs. Make a spiritual practice out of something in your usual routine. Is there a lot of laundry? Take time to pray while folding clothes. Do you make a cup of tea each morning? Take time to really focus on the steps involved. Use the time you sip your tea to turn your mind to the care of your soul.
May your summer give you some space for renewal and growth.
If you need ideas or would like to join others this summer, be sure to check out the Eremos Summer Interlude Series. Go in peace.
So many of us spend time searching for our “purpose.” We seek “God’s will” for our lives. We long to be “on the right path.” As we live our lives in this quest, what often comes to us as an answer is not “what,” but “how.” While this realization does not have the satisfaction that our thinking mind desires, it can rest gently in our hearts.
These questions are what we ponder at Eremos. We don’t offer concrete, step-by-step answers, but instead invite to you to join us on the journey. Come away from the noise (even in your own mind) and rest. Listen in the silence to hear the voice of God. We offer poetry, book studies, workshops and quiet.
I’d like to share the writings of a participant in the Eremos community. Mary Gallagher is a writer who lives in the Austin area and joins us on this journey. Please enjoy her words of wisdom on God’s One Big Plan for Your Life.
Guest Reflection by John Fox (excerpt from letter posted on poeticmedicine.org, with permission)
Dear Friends in Poetry,
I make deep claims about the benefits of poetry. I say it surprises us in ways that are healing. I believe it is surprising in large part because the words of a poem come alive in silence and in the space that surrounds a poem. I believe this joining of spacious silence with words is where the voice of the soul flourishes.
But what blocks someone from experiencing these benefits and blessings? What keeps someone from trying?
While it is probably not just one thing, it is possible that at some point in your life, as a child or as an adult, your creative voice was discouraged, discounted, criticized or outright ignored. Your self-expression, in one way or another, was given short shrift. Such are the wounds we carry related to our creative spirit. Poetic Medicine is dedicated to a skillful tending to these wounds and with patience and trust, mending this kind of brokenness.
One way to start to heal wounds to our creativity is to recognize that we have lost a sense of playfulness, enjoyment and taking sheer pleasure in language.
There is magic and power in language that poets, children, mystics, lovers, people with broken hearts, revolutionaries, and indigenous people have had access to for eons, and their lasting words, even free of the constraint of time and death, have inspired others.
Watching the moon
I knew myself completely,
no part left out.
—Izumi Shikibu, born 976 (?), translated from the Japanese
You can recover and express this magic. You may, in the process, recognize the absolute necessity of having and claiming your own words.
When you write with feeling and expression, it is also a way to bolster your health. Dr.James Pennebaker’s research at University of Texas at Austin strongly shows that expressive writing increases immune system function and decreases hospital visits.
But what matters to me personally is something I know from direct experience: Poetry Heals!
When I was eighteen years old, immediately following my freshman year at Boston University, my right leg was amputated just below my knee. In the midst of much pain, throughout that previous school year, I struggled with this decision.
The amputation was the result of a lifelong problem with my leg caused by a genetic disorder, neurofibromatosis. This seriously affected nerves, bone and my circulatory system. Before the amputation, beginning at the age of four and a half, I went through about seven surgeries.
Poem-making and poetry, over time, became my lifeline, especially in my mid-teens I gave myself completely to poetry. During my post amputation rehab time, other patients, family, hospital staff and high school friends helped me but writing was something I could bring with me when I returned to college.
Poetry and poem-making was a companion who went with me everywhere.
As I struggled with and expressed loss, grief and shame; a window to the unknown, but also the true, opened up for me through writing. A connection to something greater than myself and yet what I identified with as my essential nature came through that “open window” of the page, like light in the vast night sky. I wrote this poem before the amputation, when I was about seventeen:
IN THE HOSPITAL WAITING ROOM
There was a child went forth every day,
And the first object he looked upon, that object
And that object became part of him for the day
or a certain part of the day,
Or for many years or stretching cycles of years.ʺ
The people are seated in the chairs, lined
in the halls and waiting:
some looking at Time, most somber:
save two little girls, patient
and singing ‐‐ one’s embroidering,
a singing embroidery!
Waiting for nothing, skipping along
past the people, past office partitions
that are not there for these little children,
so much like garden‐walkers!
Whitman, I go forth, yet, shall I become
pictures of my bones?
X‐rayed through this dense sea, this film shows me
the heavy anchor that I seem to be.
This goes deepest.
Behind the picture is light!
This last image provided a glimpse of something that I could, eventually, live into.
Through poetry and poem-making I found a tremendous tool to help me live with my experience, both the dark and light, and continue to grow. Writing and listening to poetry showed me a spiritual resilience within and helped tune me to and join with a kind of beauty and meaning in life as a whole, and these are what sustain me.
We humans are at our best when we enjoy poetry.
Sometimes all you need is to reflect in your mind one poem
that says, ‘I can make it through’
— Maya Angelou
I am excited to be back in Austin April 26th-27th, 2019 to explore the breadth and depth of “epiphany” that poetry and poem-making offers. I look forward to supporting you in experiencing the wisdom, aha’s and epiphanies that poetry opens us up to. Please join me!
For those of us in the Christian tradition, this Easter season can teach some deep lessons. If we take the time to look beyond the colorful flowers of Spring and the joy that can be celebrated on Easter morning, this is a season of pain. This is a time of confusion and frustration, with an unforeseen departure in the in narrative. Jesus was celebrated by his friends and followers for three years. He lived a life of hope, of healing. His days were spent reaching out in love. Then events took a tragic turn. He died.
In the past few weeks, I’ve been sitting with people and heard stories of pain, uncertainty, grief, frustration, confusion and deep sadness. The plea is for relief, for understanding. The tears are real. Where is God? Why am I here?
I have no words to heal, only the listening. The listening, while sitting together with the Holy Spirit, with God’s love surrounding us, among us. There are no shortcuts through the pain. Each of us must enter into the pain and ask “What can I learn here?” The depth of love? Letting go of expectations? Finding the bigger picture?
I found these words of Jean Springer:
“As each of us stands in relationship to grief or pain or uncertainty, we can be so caught in the experience that it becomes the lens through which we see life itself. It seems this was the experience of Mary at the tomb of Jesus. There was nothing more than the overwhelming sense of loss. Then she heard her own name. It called her out of herself and opened her to possibilities that she could not have imagined.”
Moving through pain and grief, rather than avoiding it, can bring us to new, unimagined possibilities.
The Texas bluebonnets that give us so much joy are appearing on the roadsides. I find myself breaking into a smile at the sight of these lovely, short-lived bursts of blue and white that let us know that Spring is here. They won’t last long. The stretches of blue, even now are sprinkled with spikes of red. Soon the red will dominate—the Indian paintbrushes will have their day. Then, as they fade, nature gives us the yellow and brown Indian firewheels to color Central Texas into the heat of summer.
As the wildflowers put on their show, each day is getting longer. We have come through the darkness and the light is with us for a few more minutes each day. With more cloudy days this winter and early spring than usual for Austin, you can feel everyone’s delight when the skies clear and the sun appears. Chances to be outside are eagerly sought out. Listening for the voice of the Divine in the midst of this outburst of life seems to be a natural response.
Take the time to pay attention to the beauty that is all around you. Stop to listen to the voice within that urges you to take a breath, to pause and care for yourself. Be with what is in front of you and give yourself the space to enjoy that. As you notice the warmth, light and color around you, mention your joy to someone else. We can get so caught up in the stress of all that we “need” to do and complain about that to those around us. I urge you to instead take a moment to share your enjoyment of the beauty of Spring in Central Texas.
Mary Oliver’s poetry expresses this so well.
“Instructions for living a life.
Tell about it.”
~ Mary Oliver
If you would like to dive deeply into an experience of listening for the voice of the Divine, join us for a Day Retreat in early May. We’ll offer this on Tuesday, May 7, and Saturday, May 11, at Whitworth Farm Retreat in Bastrop. See the Eremos website for more information.
February can sometimes seem like the longest month. Even though there are only 28 days in the month, the transition from January’s stark winter to March’s lively spring can seem to stretch to an intolerable length. Add to that the chilly grey days that often come in February and the waiting seems longer. Rather than drop into depression or lose yourself in avoidance, embrace the in-betweeness of this time. Make time to sit in silence. Be open to the silence and listen deeply to what arises from within your heart. Welcome your impatience and let it sit with you. Recognize your restlessness or sadness and let them join the conversation.
This time of transition is necessary as we shift the gears of our seasons and our lives. Sit with it, embrace it. Let the voices speak. Be open and listen.
A Refection from Sharon Dunn
We have the Advent season to anticipate Christmas Joy. As I walk through this December, the hope of Advent seems to be even more needed. This season offers witness to the power of God to restore and redeem, even in the midst of darkness and despair. I turn on the news to hear about lying, deceit, corruption and bribery. There is talk of infiltration by a hostile, foreign power. Not long ago (maybe a year or two), this would have been unthinkable to most of us. Yet it feels like this has become the norm, although we know many that are horrified by what is being witnessed.
However, the hope of Advent means that we can work alongside God to repair the ruins, literal and figurative, in which we live. Poets, prophets, musicians, and others through whom God works, are remarkable traveling companions to help us embark on this and find our way. Let us remember our ideals and have hope. We can look to the light, then stop and be with God in the here and now. Let us step boldly into the rubble and create anew.
Contemplation, finding time and space to listen for the voice of God, can ground us in hope and equip us with the faith needed to continue. The light will come and we can be there to welcome it!
We are reminded of light coming through the darkness with the Winter Solstice, as well as Christmas. Join us on Friday, December 21, as we recognize this turning of the Earth with candles, music and poetry. Dianna and I will mark the arrival of the Winter Solstice at 4:23pm Central at the Eremos office. We would love to have you join us in person or via conference call for an hour this Friday, 4:00 – 5:00 pm. Details can be found here.
Step into the darkness and find the light within. Celebrate this holy season with joy.