As we winded up the road and then swiftly sped down into the canyon, I felt unusually calm. Doug and I were a little past the 5:30 arrival time, but for some reason, I didn’t feel the usual anxiousness I would at being late. The gravel crunched under our tires as we pulled into the makeshift parking lot, under the branches of a wispy tree.
I slipped off my shoes and opened the creaky door, entering the old ranch house. I slowly walked across the carpeted floor to the library, where I would meet my new companions for the next few days. It was quiet, people talking in soft voices.
I went outside to set up my tent with Doug. We staked out a spot right near the creek, so we could hear it flowing into the rocks as we fell asleep. I was grateful that he was out there as well – I wouldn’t be the only one not protected by the warm light of the house at night.
Hearing the chime of the bell, I headed back towards the house for dinner. I filled my plate with grilled veggies and beans and rice and headed outside to eat in silence. I sat down at a table with another woman, Nancy. We looked out at the beautiful field in front of us, enjoying our dinner. What I noticed most was how quiet it was. How I could feel my body relaxing into my chair, almost as if I was absorbing the energy of the trees and the grass and the birds chirping. The wind gently rustling the leaves and the sun slowing inching below the rock formations to our right and left. My eyes began to water as I recognized the gratitude and peace I felt in that moment. The absence of all the stimulation that usually filled my days. The noise of traffic that surrounded me whenever I got in my car, the running around and yelling I heard and felt at school, the screen that I spent hours at earlier in the day, the music and conversation that normally flowed into my window in the evening from my neighbors to the left. It was all gone. It felt so crisp and refreshing. In that moment I recognized how rare it is that I stop. That I pause. That I simply enjoy the food that I’m eating and appreciate how it got to me and how it will nourish me.
Those next few days everything was slow. The way we walked, the way we moved around the kitchen before we ate and as we cleaned the dishes. We sat in silence, we listened to our teacher talk, we practiced yoga together. We had time in the afternoon to ourselves – to write, to hike, to explore the creek. We had group discussions in the afternoon to talk about what our teacher had spoke about in the morning or the previous night.
I spent a lot of time outside. What a treat it was to be near the water. It amazes me how soothing it is – and just how much I miss it in the dry and dusty desert. I listened to it’s gentle current as I fell asleep and it was the first thing I noticed when I woke up.
We did a walking meditation to the water on one of the first days and simply sat and listened to it’s wise and cleansing story. We watched as it changed course when encountering a rock or a branch, impeding it’s way. Never forcing – simply changing direction quietly and calmly.
We walked along the rocky edge, feeling it’s coldness lap at our toes. All of a sudden, I looked to my right and there was Peg, fully in the shallow creek, letting it carry her with it’s soft current as we walked.
During one afternoon break, I walked to it’s edge and picked a rock right in the middle and laid down, my toes dipping into the water, my back supported and held by a rock, my face tilted to the sun. Absorbing each of their characteristics – feeling warm, grounded, and clean.
The next afternoon I walked down the creek and found a sheet of rock at it’s edge to lay on as I wrote. It was the perfect temperature to strip off my clothes and get in. Although it was shallow, I followed Peg’s lead – I simply laid down and let it carry me. Standing up, I walked back to where I started and did it again. And again.
The following day, Nancy and I walked upstream, listening to the weight of our legs and feet as they challenged the direction of the creek, commenting on just how loud it seemed to be. How funny it was that that could be applied to many situations.
The last day of walking meditation, we silently did the same – walking upstream and then back down. Forming a quiet line, I looked at the trees surrounding me, feeling the crisp coolness on my toes, and the cool breeze on my skin. I walked for myself and for my family. I envisioned them all there with me; holding my hand, following me, giving me their love and support.
Regardless of the religion you practice, the beliefs you hold, the degree of spirituality you embody, this retreat reminded me of the importance and power of slowing down. Of being outside. The ways in which the trees and the water and the rocks and the sun can inspire insights when you give yourself the space to be quiet and still.