|Abbey from the hermitage path.|
I turned 59 last Saturday. I was having a hard time getting excited about my birthday this year, and everyone’s lives right now seem so busy, so scattered in a million directions. So, instead of trying to schedule another dinner, another cake, another night at the Little Town Watering Hole, etc. (although I usually LOVE all of those), I decided to give myself a gift I’ve been wanting for a very long time—a weekend hermitage.
|I spent a LOT of time here.|
|Home sweet hermitage.|
|Home sweet hermitage.|
I spent Friday through Sunday at a hermitage cabin on the grounds of the Abbey of the Hills in Marvin, South Dakota. From its founding in 1950 through 2012, the Abbey was a Benedictine monastery, Blue Cloud Abbey, until it became unsustainable for the dwindling number of aging brothers who lived there. A nonprofit bought it and maintains it as a retreat center now.
|I lit one little candle for the whole world.|
There are two hermitage cabins a good hike downhill from the abbey. The cabins are simple but quite comfortable—a small bed, a writing table, a rocking chair, hotplate and microwave, dorm fridge, fan, AC if you need it. The Abbey supplies you with a basket when you arrive that includes clean sheets, a chunk of Valley Queen cheese, a chunk of summer sausage, a couple bottles of water, and half a loaf of homebaked Abbey bread. There is a tiny sink in the cabin with cold running water, and an outhouse halfway between the two cabins. The cabins have picture windows that face a small pond/lake. While you’re there, you also have access to the Abbey (which includes a shower room if you want).
|Windows as art.|
|Reflections in marble floor.|
I spent my time there writing, reading (re-reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s Miracle of Mindfulness), playing my guitar, practicing meditation, walking, and rocking while I stared into space. On Saturday, I sat in the back of the sanctuary and sang old Sufi & Shaker hymns until the echoing songs made me weepy, but I mostly kept to the cabin.
|Cabin from the pond bench.|
I’m not Catholic, not religious in any traditional way, but I am drawn to places, like the Abbey, that I consider sacred spaces. Also, I felt the need to UNPLUG from the constant chatter—on my phone/email/computer/TV, and in my head. I wasn’t expecting any epiphanies, but, as in all times when we slow down and pay attention, I did learn a few things about myself, which I share with you here…
|Sound bounces off marble floors and walls.|
- I do not need a hermitage. I need only the willingness, in ANY space or time, to pay attention to the present moment (sans the gadgets). I can “hermit” while doing laundry, washing dishes, writing a blog post, or going to the bathroom, as long as I give my complete attention to that moment.
- I am surrounded by love. (Dangit! I checked my Facebook birthday wishes Saturday night! O Facebook, thy name is Evil.)
- Typically, instead of giving our total attention to the present moment, we run future scenes in the mind, relive past events/regrets, carry on imaginary conversations, go over to-do lists, etc. Thich Nhat Hahn calls this the “dispersion” of the mind, and reining this in is the point of meditation. Not stopping it or silencing it, which is impossible, but learning to control what the mind does with it—we can notice it, let it go, and gently, constantly, come back to the present moment—the breath in meditation, the dishes, cleaning the litterbox, whatever we’re doing.
|I sat back there and sang in this echo chamber.|
- I have missed writing in my journals.
- Solitude forces us to face, and embrace if we can, our selves. What are we REALLY, without the costumes, the reinforcement, the pretense, the affect? What are YOU, stripped to the bone? Most people can’t take their own company, which is why we fill our time with people, going, doing, and stuff. Der weg nach innen, the “way within” (from the novel Siddhartha), makes us squirm.
- I want a fantail goldfish. I will name her Fontaine. (Clearly, I still have some work to do with that reining in thing.)
- There is no such thing as silence. I got up at 3 a.m. to listen to the world. There’s a LOT of sound at 3 a.m. We have to stop waitingwaitingwaiting for the right time to be still. We have to be still in the midst of the noise.
- Frogs really do play leapfrog.
So would I do another hermitage? Absolutely. But I think I’d go for 5 days next time. I need one day at the beginning just to slow down, to stop spinning. Then, I need a day at the other end for a slow, peaceful re-entry. And I need at least three days, maybe more, in the middle...to stop squirming.
|View from the hermitage door.|