Life Interrupted

Finding solace in times of change . . .

“You’ll be kicked out of the convent,” my boss said as I prepared to leave for a 10-day silent retreat on the outskirts of Santa Fe.  Her words ran through my head again as the van pulled through the wrought iron gate and stopped in front of a row of adobe buildings.

It was a February afternoon in the year 2000 and the New Mexico sun warmed my face.  I had a few hours to rest, explore the grounds, and settle in before our welcome dinner.  After that, our 10 days of silence would begin. 

I was physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually drained.  My need for rest prompted me to reserve a single room.  On my patio rested a statue of Buddha adorned with rocks, twigs, dried flowers, and coins left by previous pilgrims.  After a nap, I went outside and walked the track that would become my solace during the last meditation of each day.

Diving in Head First

Prior to this retreat, my meditation practice consisted of fairly brief periods of candle gazing, daily prayers, and attendance at a visiting teacher’s dharma talks.  Looking at the retreat schedule, it was clear that I was now attempting to enter the sphere of serious meditation – five one-hour periods of seated meditation daily, periodic morning dharma talks, and silence 24 hours a day.

The big surprise came at the opening dinner when I learned that in addition to observing silence, I had also signed up to refrain from eye contact for 10 days.  My visual nature cringed. My palms began to sweat.  

Never before had I heard the full measure of a strawberry’s snap . . .

Quiet Hours, Quiet Days

The stillness I’ve experienced during this year’s global pandemic resurrected memories of those ten transformative days more than twenty years ago.  The handful of photos I took in the silence have disappeared leaving only memories in their wake.

  • The vibrant snap of a strawberry at breakfast.   
  • The way my restlessness affected the people around me. 
  • The star-filled sky above the track I walked round and round during the final evening meditation. 
  • A pre-dawn gathering of my blankets and the wonder of lying beside the lake as the geese made a watery landing. 
  • Peaceful 2 a.m. visits to the hot tub. 
  • My surprise at feeling rested and alert after just four hours of sleep.
  • An unforgettable sense of being bathed in Divine light and love.   
A recent photo illustrates the rocky beauty of the path.

On the Path to a Brighter, Lighter Future

The final dharma talk addressed preparing for re-entry into the world.  Listening I wondered, “Would it really be so hard?”  During our final lunch together, the floodgates of conversation opened for seemingly everyone but me.  Much to my surprise, I was not eager to share or to listen.  I felt as though I was still “coming down” from an expanded space. 

Fortunately, several of us left for the airport together, which seemed dizzily confusing.  Seated in the middle seat of a full flight, claustrophobia set in for the first time. 

I returned home to a weekend-long dance competition with our daughters. “Mom!!!” one shouted as I unwittingly drove over a curb on the way.  Seated in the last row wearing ear plugs, sunglasses and a hat, I quietly cheered the dancers on – relieved when we could go home.

Like this time of sheltering in, I left for Santa Fe intending to resume life as I knew it.  I returned to life and work and gradually stepped up the pace.  Yet, something was different.  There was no “going back.”  I knew what a different, more soothing, way felt like.  Life around me wasn’t different, I was.  And, that changed everything.     

Oh, What A Difference A Year Makes

Off to an auspicious start at the Brooklyn Museum . . .

In late March 2019, just a little over a year ago, two friends and I had the privilege of spending 48 hours in the Big Apple.  The original purpose of the trip was to see the Off-Broadway production of Gloria:  A Life*, a play focusing on Gloria Steinem’s life and path to activism. 

A PBS interview with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg tipped me off to her childhood visits to the Brooklyn Museum.  Curious to learn more, research revealed that Frida Kahlo:  Appearances Can Be Deceiving, the largest U.S. exhibition in ten years devoted to the Mexican artist, would be underway.

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” Frida Kahlo

Our plane touched down at LaGuardia and we made a beeline for lunch in Brooklyn before spending an afternoon at the Frida exhibit, which was the first to include a collection of her clothing and personal possessions that had been locked away after her death in 1954.  From there we wandered through Washington Square before enjoying a glass of wine at the iconic Caffe Reggio.

The following morning was open.  It was decided that after a stop at Bluestone Lane, an Upper East Side café adjacent to the Episcopal Church of the Heavenly Rest, we would make our way to the Guggenheim.  It was a delightful surprise to find 95% of the storied museum displaying the work of Swedish artist and mystic Hilma af Klint.  Winding our way up the museum’s spiral, I learned that her significant collection of abstract work predates what has long been to be presumed as the first purely abstract compositions by Kandinsky.  It was refreshing to find an entire museum filled with the work of a ground-breaking woman artist and teeming with women and men, many of whom were learning about Hilma af Klint for the first time.

Featuring her works between 1906-20, Hilma af Klint’s first major solo U.S. exhibit spiraled up the Guggenheim’s rotunda walls . . .

On our way to the play that had been the impetus for what had miraculously become a 48-hour organic Women’s Learning Journey in New York City, we happened upon a bronze statue of Gandhi in Union Square Park. 

Who could know then that migrant workers in India would be walking thousands of kilometers to return to their villages during a global pandemic just a year later?

Once inside the theater, we signed a poster board birthday card for Gloria Steinem before taking our seats in the circle theater to watch actresses explore and engage us in her life and legacy.

A heartening outpouring of birthday greetings for Gloria . . .

The next morning, our 48-hours of enrichment nearly up, we caught a car back to LaGuardia.  I headed home grateful and buoyed by women from three countries — Frida, Hilma and Gloria — and by my eager and willing companions without whom I knew I would not have made the journey.

Fast forward to the previously unimaginable March 28, 2020, a moment when New York was the U.S. epicenter of the coronavirus.  Museums and cafes in the city closed.  Broadway and Off-Broadway dark.  Iconic streets and famous squares empty. As of today, May 14, The New York Times reported that the city had experienced at least 192,314 coronavirus cases and at least 19,815 deaths.

Lighting the candles last year for women & girls everywhere, and this year for all whose lives have been upended by the virus . . .

I look back at our 48 hours with a mixture of awe, admiration, and sorrow.  The air travel, freedom of movement, museums and theaters, cafes, and sense of safety and security we experienced seem part of a distant past.  Especially in the wake of COVID-19’s ravages, it feels important to express my gratitude to New York City for its rich tapestry, the sweeping grandeur of its vision, and the moxie and resilience of its people.  Sending healing, strength and appreciation to our nation’s largest city and its more than 8 million residents.

With care and gratitude,

Sherry 

*Gloria: A Life will be featured on PBS this summer.

May I Remember to Pray

I hold prayer dear and, still too often, forget to seek Divine guidance . . .

When my partner and I were looking for a home to purchase together, we made a list of needs and wants, a budget, and agreed how we would handle differing priorities. After several months of looking at listing after listing online, stopping at open houses, and touring homes with our real estate broker, our discouragement was palpable. We had been commuting between three locations and it was starting to take a toll on both of us, yet we couldn’t see ourselves living in any of these homes. We began to wonder if buying a home was the right move at this time.

It came to me to pray, to ask for help, to seek Divine guidance. Less than 24-hours later, a listing popped up on my screen. I opened it expecting once again to be disappointed. But I couldn’t believe my eyes. This listing seemed to include everything we needed and wanted, was in our price range and I could see us living there.

Enter our front door and you’ll pass by a cross we received on the occasion of our house blessing, which was officiated by an Episcopal priest and a group of visiting Tibetan monks.

Trusting the Outcome

The daughter of a real estate broker, I know buying property on impulse seldom pays off. Fortunately for us, my partner was out of town for 10 days. Our realtor arranged for me to the see home first. We made an appointment to see it again in 10 days when my partner returned. I loved this home so much I feared we would lose it. In an attempt to quell my anxiety and to help us make a prudent decision, I prayed that if the house was meant to be ours, everything would work out and if it was not, for the ability to accept the circumstances with grace. Long story short, we now live in what we call our “Dream House” or “Casa di Sogni” in Italian.

Tibetan Monks blessing the Dream House . . .

Too often, I forget to pray. Life tosses me around, as it will, and I choose to struggle. Sooner, but more often later, it hits me. Ask for help from my Higher Power.

I’ve prayed daily for a number of years. However those petitions are general and often for people or organizations in need.

Praying for myself is an act of humility. It is an admission and a remembrance that I need help during times of a global pandemic and in everyday life and work situations.

I pray for the wisdom to remember to pray.

With gratitude,

Sherry