August has flown by, it’s been the busiest month at Retreat by the Dart since I started offering retreats 3 years ago. Yesterday after all the visitors had departed and washing was on the line, I had some time to reflect. It really is a good time of year for that – a transition time between summer and autumn, when birds get ready to migrate, blackberries and plums are ripening, the mornings are cooler, misty and dew filled, the sweet pea arbour is fading fast and my thoughts turn to ordering bulbs.
On September 1st 5 years ago I moved to Devon. It was both an exciting and exhausting day, finalising the clearing and cleaning of Godsfield House, saying a tearful goodbye to my neighbours, and driving as fast as I dare down the A303 with a loaded car and two dogs to pick up the keys to a rental house before the estate agent closed. I was greeted by my close friend Jeanne who came to stay for a few days to help me unpack.
Continuing the pondering, I then recalled how many major life events have happened since then – acute appendicitis, a love relationship that didn’t last, a work relationship that didn’t well, work, and more recently a year of chronic post Lyme disease during which time both my close friend Jeanne died, closely followed by a more recent friend and spiritual mentor, Joyce Ferne.
Before you lose the will to live reading this, I then recalled the inspirational and formative events during this time – being introduced to Cynthia Bourgeault’s writings; attending three Wisdom Schools with her; finding and buying the Coach House; being introduced to the architect/builder who brought my vision for retreat space into being; enjoying early morning river swims; completing a training in Centering Prayer; facilitating residential retreats and the gospel of Thomas sessions, now a fixture with a group of amazing women; completing a 30-day Ignatian retreat which I can only describe as a profound conversion event.
Conversion to what you may well ask, and isn’t it a bit late for that? Well, I guess the answer is to a new way of understanding the spiritual life. As Richard Rohr said yesterday, “Religion is supposed to teach us the way of love. … The wise ones recognise that without a certain degree of inner freedom, you cannot and will not love. Spirituality is about finding that freedom.”
I like the simplicity of this. A friend who describes himself as “agnostic” came to stay recently, and I was trying to explain something of what my line is on religion and spirituality. I could tell by the look on his face I wasn’t getting through! Rohr’s words sum it up very neatly. I hardly dare whisper it, but I have an almost evangelical need to share this, such is the strength of my conviction (oops!) after years of struggling in a spiritual wilderness.
Another anniversary moment I recalled was 10 years ago when Jeanne and I spent New Year together in Cornwall. We always liked to take time to reflect on the year past and share our findings through drawing, writing and creating images. That time I wrote a poem called “Strands”, (which is pasted below). It was 2 years after I had quit the business of publishing, and although I knew I’d made the right decision, I was struggling to make sense of it. On re-reading it after a gap of some years, the heart of the poem reflects the same idea – inviting the Soul to take the lead – which is really what inner freedom and the necessary “letting go” is all about.
I’m struck again by this image of “strands” – threads like swimming that began when I learnt to swim as a child in lake Coniston, or friendships like Jeanne that began almost 40 years ago and will continue despite her physical absence, lovers who have come and gone but fan the flame of passion from time to time, and that ever present undefinable Thread that draws us constantly on to allow ourselves to be oh so gently unravelled and to allow oh so slowly, who we truly are, to be revealed.
This morning I read this quote from Rumi
“How could the soul not take flight
When from the glorious presence
A soft call flows sweet as honey, comes right up to her
And whispers, “Rise up now, come away.”
What shape and colour are the strands that make up the pattern of your life’s journey?
being “in the middle” with no clear markers
upooted from comfortable home
familiar ego life
a scary place tempted to return
to what seems safe but still curious
and open minded, and just a bit excited
(with a thin line of fear – ‘will there be enough’)
letting the questions wait for answers
where will I emerge how will I be drawn
from this not knowing empty place
rich with potential
the Creative Void
the strands already there gently drawing me on
inviting the Soul to take the lead
allowing time and space
(here where time stretches out)
for her to grow and strengthen
trusting in her beginnings
(so far back the thread is lost)
listening to her promptings
to take up my soul-skin and return home to
what is true for me
the experience is the journey
the outcome unknown only a new awareness
that enlarges my world for ever
New Year 2006