If you are visiting because the Yarn Harlot sent you, thank you for dropping by. At 3 p.m. today I realized this little blog had had more than double its most visitors in a day ever, and … well, I also realized I’d better put something up worth visiting! So I rushed to post post-monastic retreat news. Rather than what follows, most of what you want to see is probably here: A done deal. Go look, then e-mail Stephanie and bid already. You know you want to. It’s a good cause, and not a bad bit of knitting, if I do say so myself. I promise to wrap it well and send it promptly, no matter where you live. Although if it’s going somewhere equatorial I’ll question your sanity, but only a little and not very loudly. Honest.
This past Wednesday, the 18th and my first full day in silence at the monastery, the heat and humidity were so oppressive my fingers and toes sweat. I was occasionally so overwhelmed I thought I must be having hot flashes, but it was externally as hot as I felt internally and so I could not be sure. I decided at about 11 in the morning that before I went to bed that night I was going to sit on the floor of a shower stall and run cold water until I was shivering cold. This would be compensation for resisting the recurrent and persistent urge to remove all my clothing in public in hopes of taking better advantage of even the feeblest of breezes than I possibly could clothed. I promised myself that post-shower I’d sleep naked with my wet hair in a braid. That I’d forgotten to pack something to wear to bed was just happy happenstance, and no longer the nasty shock of realization I’d felt just before bed the night before. Che idiota!
But miraculously and spectacularly the weather changed by Compline (8:05 p.m.). The change in the weather started after lunch — or the monastic equivalent of lunch which is dinner and bounteous and never not delicious — with an ever-so-slight lift in the breeze and towering clouds and distant thunder. I had stayed fairly close to the house all morning, seeking places that were shady and not too oppressively hot where I sat and alternatively knit and read. When I heard the thunder, however, I climbed the hill to get a look at what was heading over it from the west and north, and then walked the labyrinth repeating the following newly-learned centering prayer:
May I be filled with loving-kindness.
May I be well.
May I be peaceful and at ease.
May I be happy.
Then flush with serenity and wonder at the color and drama of the clouds that the slowly-moving front was stacking up over the Hudson, I sat in one of the several randomly-placed Adirondack chairs near the house and watched the weather roll in until giant raindrops spattered then poured. I laughed at how cool they were and how wet I suddenly was as I hurried inside in canvas shoes that were instantly soaked and so irrevocably changed. For the rest of the afternoon I watched the waves of storm roll overhead from the northwest behind me to the east and south over the river in front of me as I sat in the grand porch/cloister and finished making a cardigan. It rained only intermittently and heavily but briefly each time. Just before supper and for at least half an hour after there was a fragment of rainbow hanging over the east shore just north of the Vanderbilt mansion, sometimes faint, sometimes vivid and doubled.
Thursday we woke to cool, cloudy, damp weather and I found myself in need of a cardigan. Fortunately I had a freshly knit one as I had not brought one with me. I felt a little like finishing knitting Jo Sharpe’s Essential brought a change in weather that made wearing it, well, essential. While the day never approached Wednesday’s oppressive heat, the need to wear the cardigan did not last past breakfast.
I am on the verge of making a dramatic change in what is normal for me and had hoped this retreat would make some of the factors in my decision-making more clear than I have been able to see them when going about the busyness and business of life at home. At the end of Wednesday, I had one sort of clarity. By the end of Thursday, after a morning and afternoon of prayer and painting (seriously, painting) down by the river, that sense of clarity had softened and shifted a bit, but there is one constant that verges on resolve, and I am better for that. Clarity, it turns out, is frustratingly elusive. Or perhaps the elusive bit is courage.
I went outside after Compline Thursday evening, risking mosquito bites (several) and getting to bed after 10 (not something I do at Holy Cross if I’m going to be up and ready for the day at Matins at 7 a.m.). I sat again in one of the Adirondack chairs, looked down the hill at a towering, wide-spreading black walnut, thought about how I would really rather detonate a few obstacles, clearing my life of them messily but immediately rather than do the hard work the day made me realize was ahead, and I started to cry. First heavy tears since arriving although I hasten to add I did have a low-grade headache most of my time there so it was not all peaches and cream. When what to my wondering eyes should appear? Fireflies. Dozens of them. Scores even. Rising out of the grass and giving off gasps of phosphorescence. A glimmer here, another there, in duets and trios, quintets and sextets. They were a musical feast for the eyes. Silently. Delightfully. I laughed in wonder through my tears as I watched them for several minutes, and then swatted away another mosquito and hurried inside.
I am grateful for the retreat, the perspective gained, the chance to gear up for the work ahead, and the time to play with watercolor, knit for long stretches, and read without interruption. Those last three things are so hard to come by at home. Friday morning, rainy and still refreshingly cool, I wore the cardigan right through dinner and part of the car-ride home. Before we left, I borrowed an umbrella and walked the labyrinth again, this time repeating the above on the way in, and the following on the way out:
May I show loving-kindness to others.
May they be well.
May they be peaceful and at ease.
May they be happy.
After all, I get uncomfortable when it’s all about me.