As a child, I never liked naps. I just knew I would miss something exciting. My life has been filled with a privileged array of arts and cultural, leisure and sporting, education and adventures activities. My challenge has been determining when “enough was enough.”
During a recent stay in Crestone, CO, the phrase “Do less. Be More” kept running through my head. A week earlier a friend had confided, “I already have more friends than I have time for.” As lovely as that is, her statement illustrates how easy it can be to fill our days.
“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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
*Gloria: A Life will be featured on PBS this summer.