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My word for 2015 was Dance. Dance, I have. On the first day of the year I joined a fitness club after hearing about the yoga and dance classes offered. Since then along with the usual walking and activities I do daily, twice a week I practice yoga, twice a week I dance. With little change to my diet, the extras pounds I was carrying have vanished. I am stronger, I have regained my balance.

As movement became easier, my reactions to everyday situations have become, if not always easier, at least more grace filled. Having rediscovered the joy of doing something I love, I am more open to trying new things or returning to some things I’d enjoyed but had set aside. How I use my time and my hands, how I interact with others, how I live, all have changed.

Towards the end of summer I agreed to care for a women’s guest house and guests at a monastery where I am an oblate. Shortly afterwards I co-facilitated a women’s retreat there. Surrounded by trees splendid in their autumn colors, we celebrated the seasons of our lives, we danced.

I tried not to think about my word for 2016 while still embracing the word Dance. Still, several words kept showing themselves to me. Most had to do with walking, way, path. I dismissed these words thinking they came to me because I am planning a walking pilgrimage sometime in the future and thoughts about preparing for such a walk is often on my mind.

Then as I do yearly, I celebrated Winter Solstice and the anniversary of my mother’s death and birth into a new life by participating in a group candlelight labyrinth walk. As we gather in a circle around the perimeter of the labyrinth, the candles are lit, participants blessed, the readings shared, and then the walk.

Up to the evening I’ve had a full day. A companion and I met with a man who restores books, documents, sacred texts. After a pleasant drive I was able to spend hours with this gifted man, exploring his workshop and tools, listening to his stories about traveling to other countries in order to help protect or restore their precious books and papers, looking through his photos.

I shared my experience of working in book repair and restoration in a library when I was a teenager. And about my love of old books and my knowledge of fibers and papers. Recognizing a kindred spirit, he gifts me with handmade paper and a video of the process for making Japanese paper. He also offers to give me ‘tuition’ in book binding when he comes to the monastery for a visit. Afterwards a meal with my companion feels like the breaking of bread, a blessing.

My ‘day’ is still with me as the solstice celebration starts, my mind wandering. When my candle flame flickers and dies out, I approach someone near me so I can relight my candle. My thoughts wander again, my flame flickers and dies, I once again light my candle. The third time the flame dies I notice that I am the only person having this problem. I feel as if my mother is nudging me and I think “alright already, I’m paying attention” and although my mother passed into her new life nineteen years ago, I feel her presence.

As I walk the path of the labyrinth I look down at my feet, at the pavers forming the path. They remind me of the floor around the altar at the monastery and how they form a star pattern. I often gaze at the bricks and stone in that floor and how they form a path that one could walk on. I think about walking, pilgrimages, my path in life and a song, Psalms chanted in chapel, that includes the words ” and walk in his way”. I am thinking that maybe there is a word in there somewhere and open myself to receiving what comes.

Two words have chosen me.

One of them is Mother.

The other is Pilgrim.

When I think of Pilgrim, I think of a pilgrimage, portal, ingress, guide, inner journey, mission. I am reminded of something I read by Henri Nouwen. He speaks of the questions we often ask about our futures, to which there are no answers. He suggests that instead of a great beam that would take shadows away, what we need instead is just enough light to see the next step: to do what we have to do in the coming hour or the following day. That when we are able to trust there will be enough light, we can walk with joy and be surprised at how far we go.

I am also reminded of something else by Henri Nouwen, it may have been from the same discussion or book. He speaks of times when we have to ‘step over’ some things, negative feelings and places. It does not mean we should ignore them, but that at some point we need to be done with exploring them and then move on, leaving them behind.

My Pilgrim prayer is that there be just enough light for me to see the next step, and what to step over, as I practice the art of living a step at a time.

Photos show the stone floor in Our Lady Queen of Peace Chapel at Mount Saviour Monastery and the entrance steps to the chapel.

A week ago Sunday, my Sister, Daughter, and I went to the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies, having enrolled in Bootcamp For Goddessess. We arrived with hiking boots, weights and other gear and were¬†pretty wet from unloading bags in the rain, even before we checked in. While we were looking forward to the week long workshop, we weren’t looking forward to the predicted rain all week. Our dorm rooms were small, 6 x 8 I think, very clean, all we needed. All the food in the dining hall was vegetarian or vegan.. tasty. For those who wanted some meat in their meals, they could visit the cafe where food and sweets were available.

As the name of the workshop implies, the bootcamp was for women only. There were 63 women enrolled and while most started out the week as strangers, that quickly changed. By the end of the week we were all Sisters. In the group were lawyers, doctors, social workers and those from many other professions, a variety of lifestyles, races, histories. In the end none of it mattered at all, shed of our labels, our true personalities and spirits were able to shine.

We learned how to embrace each other, support each other, how to be strong & caring, love & take care ourselves. We started each day with a morning hike, learned how to breathe, did Yoga, danced in the rain, worked very hard, cried, laughed, sang, learned a lot.

The hardest part for me was the Sweat Lodge Ceremony on Wednesday night. At times it felt like I was breathing fire, but I stayed in for the entire time without leaving between the 4 different parts of the ceremony as many did to get some fresh air or drink some water. In truth, it wasn’t that I was tougher than others, it was that I feared that if I went out into the cool air, I might not go back in! It was an awesome thing, 70 women or so in a dark sweat lodge that appeared to measure little more than 12 feet across.

Because the ceremony was done in Native American fashion, before we entered the sweat lodge we were asked to meditate and call on an animal to guide us. I envisioned a bright green Dragonfly. It didn’t surprise me at all, for me the dragonfly represents my mother. But, I was very surprised when I then went over to a table where cards were spread and with my eyes closed chose the card with the dragonfly on it. When I sat down an emerald green dragonfly landed on my knee and I smiled, felt like saying… alright already mom!… I’m paying attention!

During the previous days I’d learned that I don’t pray enough, don’t give thanks enough and one of the things we were meant to do in the sweat lodge was to pray. Pray I did, in the dark, sweating like crazy.

Along with the Boot Camp workshop I attended a watercolor sample workshop, one I want to try next year. I also got a massage. Each morning on the way to the Yoga building we’d pass the movement studio where you could hear music and some kind of dancing going on. Every evening we went to bed to the sound of drumming and music from the music hall in the distance and closer to our windows, the sounds of a cricket serenade.

I plan to go back to Omega for some of the watercolor workshops, R&R and who knows what else? And I plan to do Bootcamp 2 in the future.

I was so busy all week that I forgot to take photos till the late in the week. You can see more by following the links to Omega and to Sierra Benders website where you can see a bootcamp video..

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