Circle the wagons! We’re in retreat! This wagon (me) has been circling and circling my living room the past couple weeks, building tension as I try to wait out this coronavirus. The social isolation has gotten so bad, I’m envious of the cow herd in the pasture. At least they get to hang out together. As for this human—honey, I’m STILL home. It’s like I laughingly complained to a friend: I just don’t get out enough. But retreating doesn’t have to be a bad thing. I can view it as running from crowds and disease—or see it as moving toward myself and my own inner landscape.
For centuries religious aesthetics retreated into monasteries to meditate and refresh their spirit. As Easter approaches, I’m remembering the story of Christ, how he retreated into the garden of Gethsemane for just such a purpose.
One time, my husband and I took a trip north, and just for fun, I reserved a room in the guest house at St. Gertrude’s Monastery in Cottonwood, Idaho.
We’re not Catholic, but I thought it might be interesting to spend the night in such a unique setting. The cathedral was impressive, but it’s the atmosphere at St. Gertrude’s that I remember. The nuns seemed busy, yet I saw several contentedly going their own way, either praying alone in the church sanctuary or wandering the pine-covered hillside above the Cathedral. No one spoke at breakfast the next morning. It was a time for contemplation. When we finally drove away from St. Gertrude’s, I resisted the urge to turn on the car radio. I just didn’t want to interrupt the quiet.
If I look at this retreat from the coronavirus in a positive way, I can see lots of opportunities for learning and growth.
For example, there are many, many, projects I’ve put off doing because they take time and focus. For the past few years though, my inner metabolism seemed permanently set in a buzz mode. I’ve rushed through one experience after another. I guess I could blame my pace of life on the freedom of retirement. Retirement’s the time to go and see and do. But as a former teacher and professor, I know the value of slowing down and paying attention. The big battles I fought in the classroom had to do with keeping my students attention long enough so they could get their assignments done.
This was my nephew’s learning problem. He was labeled attention deficit and took medication so he could calm down and focus on his school work. Still, he struggled throughout his schooling, eventually dropping out altogether. When I got the bad news he was in trouble and going to jail, I was understandably upset. What could I do? How could I help him, I wondered?
I considered that maybe, since my nephew would be forcibly confined and without the noise of the outside world to compete for his attention, he might be motivated enough to read a book. So I sent him some great young adult novels, full of adventure and interesting story lines.
“Aunt Di,” he eventually wrote me, “I love all the books you sent me. I really like reading now. It’s awesome! I started reading Ready Player One (by Ernest Cline) last night, and can’t put it down. Thank you so much!”
Though my nephew can’t physically go anywhere, with reading he’s now traveling far and wide. It’s a lesson for all of us in this time of retreat. A full life can be had even sheltering-in-place. It’s all a matter of perspective.