Archive for the ‘silence’ Category

Silent retreat

A couple of weeks ago, in the pool locker room, I met Gloria, whom I haven’t seen in several months. She asked  how was I doing and I blurted out that I’m trying to figure out what I’m supposed to be doing with these last years of my life. “Maybe you need spiritual direction,” Gloria volunteered. “I’m going to a silent retreat. I’ll send you information about it.” That same day she e-mailed me messages about the retreat and the retreat center. I knew I was meant to go on this retreat. It was not an accident that we met in the locker room. So I signed up.

This past weekend Gloria and I were at the Mariawald Renewal Center in Pennsylvania, a two-hour drive away. The center is located at the convent of Sisters of the Precious Blood, a beautiful facility on beautiful grounds. They call themselves a “bed and breakfast for the soul.” Here’s the convent and chapel.


We met and slept in a motel-like building a short walk from the convent, facing a pond. Here’s that building.

Bed and breakfast

The view from the retreat center.


One of the many small shrines on the grounds, including into the woods, where there are several trails.


The retreat was based on the teachings of Teilhard de Chardin. In the 1960s, when it was first published to much acclaim, I had read The Phenomenon of Man, so I was somewhat familiar with Teilhard’s unorthodox spirituality. Each morning and afternoon we were given materials on which to meditate and exercises for contemplative practice. The rest of the time was for individual prayer and practice in silence. We were encouraged to spend as much time as possible in the out-of-doors, and the weather was perfect.

Since I don’t usually enjoy making conversation with strangers whom I’m unlikely to meet again, being in silence was very comfortable for me. And I came away from the experience resolved to spend less time in solitude and silence and to return to visiting at the care centers. Today I made my first foray there, seeing who is living there whom I might know already. I’m also going to pursue hospice volunteering. So the retreat helped me make some decisions I’ve been reluctant to make.

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Silence and work

I wrote this post in August 2012, before Ernie died. I don’t know why I didn’t post it. Today I decided to try writing a post and I discovered three drafts from last year and one from a few months ago. Much has happened, much that I could NOT write about. I will try to fill in the gap, but the bottom line is that the last line of this post is true of me today.


Recently, it dawned on me that I am now living as I was living with ME/CFS from 1993 until 2009–in seclusion, practicing meditation, and learning to make needleart.

From Spring 2009 until January 2012, recovered from disability, I had ADHD and felt manic much of the time. I couldn’t stop going and doing. Then, in January, I crashed. It was not a relapse into disability; but it was utter fatigue and increasingly distressing symptoms. I prescribed for myself a retreat in silence and solitude, a time-limited period. Gradually, I have completely regained strength and stamina and most of the troubling symptoms are gone. Including the manic ADHD, thank goodness!. All that excess energy disappeared in January and left me calm instead of frantic.

But I have no desire to come out of my silence and solitude in the barn in the woods except as necessary. There’s nothing to prevent me from being as active in the world as I ever was. I just don’t want to be. I am different, and the world is different, as compared with 20 years ago.

So interesting. Forced into seclusion by a chronic disabling condition, I learned to love living that way. These past three years of frenetic activity and tremendous life changes and stress have been harder for me than living with disability. Most of my time was spent with other people–taking care of Ernie, visiting residents at the care center, helping elderly neighbors, and having to interact with people in the Charlestown community. Though I was thankful I was no longer “sick”, I missed my quiet life.

Now I’m back to living that way, with no one else around most of the time–days when I see no one, have no conversation. I do spend time with family. I do whatever I have to do for self-maintenance. Otherwise, I have no desire to go anywhere or do anything. Except, to my surprise, last Sunday when I awoke, unthinkingly I decided to drive to the nearest beach, three miles away. I was there by 7:00 a.m.. (This was while I was living on Vashon.)

No one else around. Three quiet boats passed, and a single kayaker.

This was the first time I’d done this, and for the first time I wanted to be out on the water in a kayak, as I was last summer.

Since January, as I did when I was forced into seclusion in 1993, I’ve been reading about solitude and silence and people who choose to be alone, trying to understand this desire and trying to find other people like me. Currently, I’m re-reading The Perennial Philosophy, from which I quote:

“It was not from want of will that I have refrained from writing to you, for truly do I wish you all good; but because it seemed to me that enough has been said already to effect all that is needful, and that what is wanting (if indeed anything be wanting) is not writing or speaking–whereof ordinarily there is more than enough–but silence and work. For whereas speaking distracts, silence and work collect the thoughts and strengthen the  spirit.”  St. John of the Cross

Among other activities I have not wanted to pursue these past months is blogging and emailing ( “writing and speaking”). I’ve lost touch with many online friends. But I have been able to return to concentrated work. As St. John wrote, silence and work have been for me “all that is needful.”

Maybe that is changing?

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After 30 months of frenetic activity and enormous changes in my life, I am back where I was three years ago–14 to 15 hours a day lying down, in silence (I mean silence) and solitude.

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As you know, the past year has not been very productive for me, at least, needlewise. Because of my state of being and events, it was almost impossible for me to use a needle.

It was January 2011 that Ernie moved to RGT (assisted living). During the week prior, I managed to make fabric cards for Ara and Ola and I danced at their party.

In April I collected myself enough to embellish grandson Josh’s jacket as a gift for his graduation.

In May I created Tangie’s bag.

In July I designed a needlebook cover and I pieced two crazy quilt blocks but I was unable to work on them during the process of moving to Vashon. I was too distraught, too overwhelmed–emotionally, mentally, and physically.

Finally, in October, after I’d gotten my new digs somewhat organized, I finished the needlebook cover.

In November I made a card case for DIL Carol.

And in December I finished embellishing one of the CQ blocks. Here are both of them on my portable design board at my makeshift work place.

I’m still working on the one on the left. Don’t yet know what I’ll do with them. Put them in a drawer with other studies? They were only intended as busy work. (The pattern is from Allie Aller’s Crazy Quilting.)

Meanwhile, I signed up for two online challenges–TAST 2012 and the Crazy Quilt Journal Project. I was hoping they would help overcome the inertia or whatever it was that was keeping me from routinely stitching.

From a stack of white and off-white silk fabrics, I pieced the first block for CQJP, which I intended to use as a sampler or showcase for TAST stitches. Even though I was feeling rotten, I made myself work the first two stitches on the block, with this result.

I had done a trial of the nested fly stitches (on the middle seam) on an evenweave doodlecloth and thought that, if I marked the spaces between the diamonds, I could do the same pattern here. Not acceptable. The next day, I unstitched that seam and started over. Here are the seam treatments using TAST Weeks 1 and 2 stitches–fly stitch and buttonhole stitch.

Better. (But the camera is cruel.)

I worked buttonhole stitch over white sequins with silk buttonhole twist thread and added tiny beads. The fly stitches are in #8 pearl cotton and a fine wool yarn. The buttonhole and fly stitches on the lower seam are also in that fine wool.

So far, though it’s a struggle, I’m keeping up.

Now, back to the question, the larger, existential question, “What am I doing here?” I mean, why am I here? For what purpose?

I thought I was coming here so that I could fully recover and so that I could be helpful to my family. I came because son Geoff invited me, saying that I didn’t have to live out my life in misery at Charlestown. He would help and take care of me as needed if I were here. I knew daughter Nan felt the same way. Ernie also wanted me to be where I could live a satisfying, productive life.

I arrived expecting to feel instantly well. I plunged into the activities available to me here–joining Vashon Allied Arts and the athletic club, subscribing to concert and lecture series, going on tours, participating in family gatherings and just hanging out with them; and I felt worse and worse. As you know, I felt so bad that I was willing to try Chinese herbal medicine treatment.

By the end of December I knew that I had to put myself back into seclusion. It became clear to me that silence and solitude were what I needed to recover from the past two years, which have been traumatic. Instead of family and fun, I need rest and being alone.

At Charlestown I could not have solitude and silence. I was living in a community where I had to be out and about. I had to go be with Ernie at RGT every day. And my ADHD wouldn’t let me just stay at home quietly. Am I here so that I can have silence and solitude? It’s what I want and couldn’t have before I got here.

When I recovered in 2009, I regained functionality and lost contentment. I was no longer able to sit in meditation, read, and stitch–those aspects of my life that give me greatest satisfaction. Since I’ve been here, my ADHD and related symptoms have almost gone. I’ve read 14 books and, as you’ve just seen, I’ve been stitching. But being around people is another thing. I feel scared and nervous–like bad stage-fright. And I am not a fearful person. Being with people greatly exacerbates my insomnia. Only being in silence and solitude can I feel calm and well.

I don’t know how long this will last. I think I did not allow for the accumulated effect of the past months, the stress I’ve been under. Maybe I will soon be just fine anywhere. Or maybe I’m here so that I can live in silence and solitude.

I’ve come to the right place, here in the forest. And Nature piled on.

I’ve been snowed in since Sunday. Not going anywhere.

Yesterday at around 5:30 p.m. the power went out. I spent last evening in front of the little propane stove in the darkness,

resting, eating a hard-boiled egg sandwich, and occasionally reading by candlelight. Without power, it was utterly silent. I was alone and at peace.

Is that what I’m supposed to be doing here?

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