Winter Beach Contemplation

Pounding surf

Spending time in contemplation at the beach in January, the beginning of winter in New England, is usually a solitary pursuit. There is the pounding of the surf and an occasional shore bird, but you are not likely to see another person on the beach. It is windy, and often cold and grey. When the sunlight gives way to blue skies, the seascape can be magnificent. The air is crisp and clear, and the colors are deep and saturated.

Beach path

Following the path down to the beach, I wonder what treasures await me. Will there be a shell or stone that captures my interest? I like to comb the beach looking for small pieces of the shore to bring back home with me. Maybe several rocks and a shell or two will find their way into my pocket. Reaching into my pocket and turning my finds over in my hand brings me reassurance and roots  me in this place.

Trees long shadows

The grounds of Mercy by the Sea (located here) offer ever changing views of the ocean and the beach. At this time of year, the sun is low in the sky and the shadows are long. The landscape has a somewhat ethereal quality, as if the  trees could almost talk and share their knowing with me. I immerse myself in the silence and walk softly upon the sacred ground, letting myself feel the peacefulness of my surroundings.

Seated lady art journaling

I have once again joined a year long art journaling experience called Book of Days 2020 with Effy Wild, info is here. I have been taking online art journaling classes with Effy for many years and she is the best. I have been blocked and unmotivated the past few years, so I am making a concerted effort to participate in the class lessons. Watching all of the videos and showing up and meeting myself on the page is getting easier each week. Art journaling is becoming a practice again, something I used to have that got lost when life got overwhelming.

Feathers art journaling

People generally use acrylic paint for art journaling, but the feathers lesson was taught with watercolors and I am experimenting with using watercolors in my other lessons.  I used to paint in watercolors years ago, before I discovered art journaling, and they have a lightness and transparency that is unique to this medium. Acrylics are fun to use but they are heavy, mostly opaque, and not as fluid as watercolors.

Wooded path

Where do these steps lead? Could this be another path to new self discoveries? Last year I was contemplating change and renewal, see blog post here.  Today, once again, I am thinking about where I have been, where I am now, and where I am going. Life is a continual process of change and growth.

Prayer and Reflection Retreat

Mercy by the Sea stained glass

At the beginning of March, I attended a self guided prayer and reflection retreat weekend at Mercy by the Sea in Madison, Connecticut. I arrived at Mercy before a snowstorm that came late Friday night into Saturday, and I left Sunday morning before another snowstorm came Sunday night. The snow made the retreat setting extremely peaceful and invited introspection. I visited the chapel for prayer several times during the course of my stay there and was able to talk with God and feel a connection again. I lost my faith and spirituality a year and a half ago while dealing with serious illness. My faith and spirituality has slowly come back to me over time.

Mercy by the Sea

The weekend was transformational for me. The other retreat participants were each there for their own reasons, and that formed a common bond, a community. We shared meals in the dining hall and light conversation. I had a lovely room overlooking the courtyard and the sea beyond. I walked the grounds Friday before dinner, visiting the ocean and the labyrinth. It was cold outside and the air felt like snow.

Mercy by the Sea snow

In the morning I woke up to a blanket of snow outside. It was lovely watching the snow gently falling from vantage points inside the Seaside Room and the Grant Living Room. I wrote, and I wrote, and I wrote. I had brought my journal along with my year end Unraveling Your Year 2019 workbook from  Susannah Conway. I had started the year end journaling in December but only made it partway through. So I set an intention  to complete the journaling in the workbook over the weekend. Between my journal and the year end workbook, I wrote 30 pages in all. I have never written so much in my entire life. It was very freeing and brought great focus and awareness – it was like getting to know myself all over again. I went home with a feeling of peace and serenity.

Crossroads quilt

This quilt hangs in my art/quilt studio and it is called Crossroads. I made it quite a while ago when I as at a crossroads in my life (one of many). I am facing some new challenges and decisions right now, actually quite a few challenges, some big and some small. My direction is clear on some of these challenges and not so clear on others. My health and self care is a huge priority and I need to consider that in everything  I do. Perhaps the biggest question for me is how do I want to spend my time and how do I balance things out? Not just creatively, but in my whole life. I want to art journal. I want to make quilts. I want to be in local groups. I want to be in online groups. I want to write. I want time for family and friends. I want to spend time at the lake (when it warms up). I can’t work a full time job forever and stay balanced and I need to face up to that. It takes time to adjust and to change your compass point.

Contemplation and Renewal

Mercy by the Sea Labyrinth

A few weeks ago I met my two sisters for a picnic lunch at Mercy by the Sea, a retreat and conference center on the ocean in Madison, Connecticut. It is a very peaceful and tranquil place run by the Sisters of Mercy. People come here from all walks of life to seek contemplation and find renewal. We had a wonderful time walking the grounds and the labyrinth, sharing what was going on in our lives, and sitting quietly on the benches in contemplation. We went away a few hours later feeling refreshed and renewed. There was an incredible feeling of the presence of God there, or spirit or higher power or whatever you would like to call spiritual presence in the framework of your own beliefs, and we all felt it.

Even though we were just visiting the grounds as guests and not attending a retreat, I came away from the visit with profound insight. Since the new year I have been struggling with balancing my tendency to do too much with my need to stay healthy. Trying to figure out how to cut back my activities when I want to do it all, and more. Focusing on what is important and what isn’t, and much of it is not important. Learning to let go of too many things being grasped too tightly and just go with the flow.

Art journaling what I love

Last week I art journaled about the things that are important to me. I have not done much art journaling over the past 6 months as I was not motivated and got involved in several quilting projects. There are only so many hours and minutes (86,400 seconds) in the day. I am learning to accept that I cannot do everything that crosses my path and need to follow my heart’s desire and do what inspires me at the moment.

I have been sidetracked by illness the past few months and I need to accept that I need a lot of time to myself right now. I was feeling unsettled and upset with myself that I was not accomplishing much and spending too much time on the couch. I usually like to run around and do a lot of different things. But I have had three medical procedures since July 3, exactly 2 months ago today, all while working full time at a brand new job. I am new baby in the house tired 🙂 Being at the retreat center made me realize that I need to accept what is right now, move through the process with grace and ease, and slow down.

I took up crocheting in July as a way of dealing with everything that was going on and found that it was a calming, meditative, centering activity. Many of my creative practices are like that and bring renewal for me. Crocheting is also very portable. I joined ravelry.com, the Facebook for yarn people, and found inspiration and patterns that I liked. I finished this shawl last week and find it so comforting to wear. I would like to design my own crochet pieces, especially after seeing the international documentary “Yarn” on Netflix, but I need to learn more about crocheting first. One day, one thing at a time.