Winter Retreat by the Ocean

View from my room

This month I was able to spend the weekend at a private winter retreat at Mercy by the Sea  in Madison, Connecticut. I did this last winter and blogged about my wonderful experience here. Along with my suitcase of clothes, I brought journals, writing workbooks, my prayer shawl knitting project, and books to read, but I tried to clear myself of any expectations so that I would be open to what might present itself. Imagine my awe when I found my room and this beautiful view of the grounds and ocean just outside my window. It was breathtaking!

After briefly walking the grounds in the long, cold shadows of late afternoon light and trying to settle into my peaceful surroundings, I enjoyed a communal meal with new friends in the dining hall. Everyone was so gracious and looked forward to the renewal and hope that a winter retreat in a special place like this can bring.

Sunrise

Waking up early Saturday morning, I got a mug of hot coffee from the dining hall and quietly made my way to the Seaside Room in the silent meditation area. I watched the sky slowly change colors and then the sun crested the horizon. It was glorious! All of my problems seemed unimportant as I witnessed the beauty of God’s creation. The ocean gently rolling over the rocks and beach as the tide comes in and the shore birds flying above the water speak to the ever flowing nature of the serenity of this place. It is as if time stood still for just a moment, letting in hope, faith, and opportunity for renewal.

Ocean sparkles

After breakfast, I went outside and watched the tide come in as I let the feeling of the ocean envelope me. I have gone through a lot of changes since the retreat one year ago. At this point in time, I am trying to figure out my life… where I’ve been, where I’m at now, and where I am going. There has been a coming to terms with things and an acceptance that I have not felt before. There has been a lot of growth, as well as a lot of questioning and discernment. There has been a renewal of faith, of spirituality, and belief in God. There has been hope, even though at times I felt like giving up. There has been a whole lot of seeking and soul searching.

Beach high tide

Sometimes the ocean is loud and pounds the shore, as it did when I walked the beach that morning, and as I was falling asleep the night before. Other times the ocean is quiet and there are barely any waves. The ocean sounds so different at high tide than at low tide. There is a crescendo of sound that builds up as the water approaches high tide and the waves come crashing in. And there is a gentle rolling feeling as low tide comes near. The sounds the ocean makes are rhythmic and calming, leaving footprints in your heart and soul. Time seems suspended in air.

Beach seagrass

Like last year, I did a lot of writing this weekend. But I did not fill as many pages with writing this year, 22 pages instead of 30 pages. It was sunny out and not snowing this year, so I was able to spend more time outdoors. It was truly wonderful to spend so much time outside in February in New England. I felt immersed in the natural world and it was very restorative. At home I try to walk by the lake several times a week even in cold weather, as long as the sun is out, and that has such a calming effect on me.

Rocky shore

It was so moving to be a part of this community that came together here for a weekend of individual prayer, reflection, and contemplation. On Sunday morning, everyone said goodbye and went back home to their own lives, hopefully bringing with them a piece of what we all shared this weekend.

Cairns

Mindfulness Retreat Weekend

I have been seeking out new experiences this year so I decided to attend a mindfulness retreat weekend two weeks ago at Mercy by the Sea in Madison, Connecticut. I have been there a few times before (see Contemplation and Renewal blog post) and it is a very peaceful place. I don’t know much about mindfulness or meditation, but I have been reading a little bit about the health benefits and thought I would try it. I chose a weekend retreat instead of a one day retreat because I wanted it to be an immersive experience. And it was.

When I walked into the room, I was struck by the peacefulness and calm that emanated from the carefully arranged circle in the room. There were 18 participants and we were led by Dr. Jerry Silbert and Roberta Silbert, a husband and wife team who specialize in integrative medicine. Members of our group came from Connecticut, New York City, Albany, Providence, and Massachusetts, and we formed community over the weekend. It was very special.

mindfulness circle

In the beginning I was somewhat apprehensive about the whole thing and didn’t know if I would be able to focus, sit still, or be silent. We spent a lot of the retreat in silence while following guided meditations presented by Jerry and Roberta. We took our meals in silence and that was very strange. We learned a lot of different meditation techniques that were surprisingly easy to do. Some of the meditation exercises were held indoors and some happened outdoors… it was such a beautiful day. There was sharing time at various stopping points where we went around the circle and talked about what we were experiencing.

mindfulness clouds

It got deep, and people were able to share what was coming up for them in meditation, and how it related to their lives. Some spoke more eloquently than others, but everyone shared significant things and it was truly moving. I had trouble getting the words out at times and chose to focus my sharing on my health issues, leaving a lot of other things unspoken, as that is what felt safe to me.

mindfulness shoreline

There was not very much free time in what was a very full weekend schedule, starting before breakfast and ending in the evening a few hours after dinner. I felt that closing in on me at times as I need a fair amount of alone time to feel centered in myself. Several of us broke away for a walk out to the road after dinner and we broke the silence and talked quite a bit, hushing ourselves as we returned to the door of the retreat house. It was very freeing.

mindfulness cairns

On Sunday morning, I woke up early and went down to the dining hall to get a cup of coffee. I noticed the red edge of the sun just cresting the horizon as I made my way through the rooms downstairs. So I raced upstairs to my room, grabbed my camera, and ran outside, like a little girl who has found a treasure on the beach. I watched the sunrise in awe and felt the presence of God.

mindfulness sunrise

The quality of the early morning light was ethereal and cast soft light and shadows over everything. I watched the light filter through the trees and felt that my life was taking another turn. I don’t know what lies ahead but I felt change and renewal on the horizon. Renew is my one word for 2018 (see Renew – One Word for 2018 blog post).

mindfulness light through trees

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.