A Solitary Retreat

The large and very plump saguaro is wearing an almost full bonnet of white blossoms, serving breakfast every morning to the mourning dove sojourners. This particular saguaro has quite a few arms; this tells me it’s old. I’m sure it has hosted many birds and watched many human retreatants from its post just outside the patio off the dining room at the retreat center where I am staying.

Yesterday there were about seven birds at the saguaro retreat. Today I thought it was a lone spiritual journeyer like me but it was soon joined by another. The first leans over, head bobbing up and down several times – kissing, I believe.

When a third comes to join them, there’s lots of wing fluttering, sending the third away. Couples retreat, I guess. So far my own visits here have been individually oriented. I tuck away the thought that someday I will be part of a couple’s retreat here.

The third goes back to the feeder next to the patio where I am eating breakfast, where it is sure to meet like-minded travelers.

I am on a solitary retreat at the Redemptorist Renewal Center in the foothills of the Tucson Mountains and the Sonoran Desert. When I arrived I realized if I did nothing more than walk on the paths, or sit and stare at the mountains during a pink and purple sunset, I would be renewed.

Why a Retreat?

Why go on a retreat when you live in such a beautiful place on the far Eastside of Tucson, in the foothills of the Catalina Mountains? And have a beautiful home and spool?

One evening several weeks earlier, when I felt crowded, cramped, and tired in my beautiful home, some lines from Emma struck me with such clarity I thought Jane Fairfax stepped up behind me at my desk, and spoke to meJane, a character of otherwise quiet intelligence, a socially reserved woman, had quite a lot on her plate. (No spoilers, but rest assured she needed a break)

“I am fatigued… we all know at times what it is to be wearied in spirits. Mine, I confess, are exhausted. …Her parting words, “Oh! Miss Woodhouse, the comfort of sometimes being alone!”

Kind of dramatic, yes, but it hit me instantly. “That’s what I’m feeling and that’s what I need. The comfort of being alone.”

Physical issues, stress of family changes, and a multitude of losses had piled up like the snow that gathers behind a snowplow after a winter storm. Okay, being here in Tucson, I literally don’t actually have to deal with that anymore, but the comparison is apt. The “snow” had become far too heavy to keep pushing through each day.

What It’s Like

I booked three days away at the Redemptorist Renewal Center where I have had success in spiritual renewal several times before.

A small room with private bath, three delicious meals a day, a library stocked with books and four comfy chairs, a pool, paths in the desert, an outdoor chapel and indoor chapel. And my favorite spiritual tool, a labyrinth.

The first evening and the next two mornings I walked the labyrinth. The labyrinth site has been moved since my last visit. A twinge of discomfort at first when I saw the sign pointing the way led to the left rather than to the right. I don’t take easily to change.

Stopping to look at the paths and larger grouping of rocks before I entered, I saw how simple and beautiful it was. Slow and steady, one foot in front of the other, breathing in and breathing out, each breath, each walk bringing more and more “stillness.” “A labyrinth has only one path that leads to the center. A labyrinth in this sense has an unambiguous route to the center and back and presents no navigational challenge.” (Wikipedia)

Well, no wonder I feel at ease walking a labyrinth. I won’t get lost; I can rest at the center and easily find my way out. An interesting metaphor for navigating in life. And just breathe.

Each evening after dinner I went to the library. The state of grace in walking the labyrinth and having breakfast without human interruption continued. Not a soul was in the library. Perhaps there were quite a few souls, but no humans. Other than the light by my chair, it was dim and restful. Each night, I settled in a huge lounge chair with at least six books gleaned from the psychology, philosophy, spirituality, and yoga bookshelves. I traveled with Thich Nhat Hanh, and the Dali Lama, and several authors who seemed to know just what I needed to read. I skimmed some, dove into others. I ordered two of my own so I could make notes in the margins and underline, star, and comment on parts that spoke to me.

I began to be alone, but not lonely.

What do you need when you feel lonely? How do you get recentered?

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. She also enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Tucson Tellers of Tales, and just about anywhere there’s a mic.