Savoring Without Undue Haste

The first time I went on retreat I was beside myself with nerves.  Eight days- eight days of silence, no phone, no internet, nothing.  What would I do with myself for eight long days!  I really didn’t know how to handle the idea having never been on a silent retreat before.  As with most religious communities retreat is an important goal in our constitution so as a candidate I was required to go.  As it turned out my fears were mostly unfounded.  Since I had only experienced youth retreats which were full of activities, late nights, and junk food I was unsure of how to settle into the rhythm I noticed in my fellow retreatants.  I especially struggled with the silent dinners; while others lingered and savored the experience I was over and done eating in ten minutes!  

I use art journaling frequently, especially on retreat.

I use art journaling frequently, especially on retreat.

Over the years I grew to love retreat especially as I diversified my prayer style and deepened my yoga practice.  Now, six years later, I crave retreat.  I long for the time away from the world to be quiet and still, and just to listen to God.  

The first few days of my latest retreat were spent simply in gratitude- grateful to have the time off from work, to be in a lovely place, and to be given the gift of slowing down.  As my retreat progressed I realized the extent of the state of hurry I had been living in over the past year or two.  Hurrying from one thing to the next, checking off tasks and listing accomplishments.  Sometimes I even approached prayer that way, as if praying was like going to the gym and all I have to do is work at it.

 I remember Teilhard’s famous quote:”And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow, let them shape themselves, without undue haste.  Don’t try to force them on, as though you could be today what time (that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will) will make of you tomorrow.”  Why should I always be in such a hurry, why not savor each little moment with God?  There is a logic to this thought which 
flies in the face of our western culture.  I gain more by slowing down than I could ever hope to gain by rushing ahead.  Now I only hope I can remember that back in the fast pace of real life.

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Drawing Mandalas: The Mirror of Wholeness

So, I just went on my annual silent retreat and it was another great week of silence! This year I got in touch with my creative artistic side when is discovered Mandalas! Mandalas are an ancient eastern meditation and can take form in a variety of expressions although up until now I have always thought that mandalas were the sand pictures created by Buddhists. As I learned more about this form of contemplation I found that any kind of shape- geometric or natural, symbol, or color centered within a circle can be used to express what is inside of you. These mandalas are a way to see and express your inner self, mind, spirit, journey or whatever. There is a ton of resources out there from every area of study- religions, cultural, and psychological (especially Carl Jung)- so I’m not going to try and sum up all the common motifs and symbols here.

I did read a few articles while I was on retreat and many said that you should start with a symbol, which represents you, in the middle of the circle. I found that this method didn’t really work for me so what I did was to trace a circle and to lay out all of my crayons (I’m very fond of crayons but anything will do). I would try to breath deeply, clearing my head, and then quietly ask God to guide me and to show me what God sees in me. Then looking at the colors one would seem to pop at out me and I would start with that color in the center and move out from there with whatever felt right.

Once you have drawn your mandala you can reflect on it right away, the experience of drawing it, and anything that has occurred to you through the process. Later, you can go back and meditate on what you drew. I found the steps for reflection provided by the retreat center to be very helpful.

  1. Quiet: Stop, breath and relax
  2. Intention: What am I grateful for? What do I want right now?
  3. Attention: Look over the entire image. Is there a figure, shape, color, texture, or word that calls you attention?
  4. Notice: What feelings, thoughts, or desires do you notice? What could they reveal about God and your life?
  5. Respond: Speak to God as you would one friend to another.
  6. Close: Offer a prayer or gesture as a way to close the experience. Maybe journal about the encounter, or share the experience with others.

My first mandala felt a little forced but as I drew my second, and third they became more organic and much less of an act of my conscious mind. I look back on my fourth and fifth mandala and I see God speaking to me through what I drew in a still and silent space, and it is like being able to see your reflection in a still pool of cool water.