On simplifying your life
18th April 2016
By Jorie Ryan
This piece by Jorie Ryan reflecting on the Eremos Retreat offered in the spring of 2015 was published in the March 2016 edition of EREMOS.
It is Friday evening. I have driven with two friends from Mudgee to the Brahama Kumaris Retreat Centre at Leura for a weekend retreat on the theme ‘Simplify Your Life’.
‘We fill our cup,’ Susanna Pain (the retreat leader) says ‘until it overflows and then we panic because there is mess and we cannot get more in.’ I think of home. Pumpkins, quite uninvited, have sprung up in my small vegetable garden. There is not enough space. They will spill over into the spinach, the lawn, the small tender lettuces.
I cannot bear to pull them out. Can I persuade them to climb the fence and play with the grape vine? I always want more. We have a guided meditation. My neck aches, my shoulders hurt. What am I carrying? Surely not pumpkins. We are invited to think about our fears. My sense of inadequacy rises up. Dear God, I know I am loved. Dear God, I don’t know.’ The conflict has my eyes shut tight.
A poem from Richard Carver is read:
And did you get what you wanted from this life, Even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.
It was the last poem he wrote. The simplicity of the words seeps gently into me. I say them softly to myself. Can I trust that I am enough?
I sleep well. It is strange being in a place where I can’t pad out and have a cup of tea. Being removed from my everyday reality releases me for other things, I tell myself, but I miss my tea.
The morning is quiet and still. There is rain forecast. It is grey outside. From the verandah there are magnificent rhododendrons towering above us meeting an equally superb liquid amber in a riot of new green leaves and pink and white flowers; a European garden planted by the doctor who built the house years ago. Outside the garden is bushland meeting but not marrying the garden.
After breakfast and meditation we are given time to explore – the gardens, ourselves, each other, the buildings. I go bush; step away from the neat boundaries of the planned gardens, the seats placed carefully to take full advantage of the serenity, and plunge into the wild places of the property.
I am in a hurry to move away from the buildings, the tidy landscape and follow the track to somewhere else. We have been invited to introduce ourselves to our landscape, to ourselves. ‘Hello, I am Jorie, beloved of God, a daughter of Christ, a truly beautiful creation.’ I wince at the last words but the bush has taken them in and so they stay.
I have wandered off the track, always dangerous for me as I become lost very easily.
But perhaps I need to wander more. I can deal with the unease. After all, if I follow the creek I will be safe. I can deal with most things. I can be afraid and still deal with most things. So being OFF THE TRACK is a good thing.
I can hear the water of the creek singing away over stones and swishing around corners. It is easy. I will be able to get back. That is a part of my fear. Not being able to get back. But maybe I don’t need to get back at all but to push on, to get on. Going back is never the same. Even now today when I return to the centre, I will be changed.
Out of breath from all my crashing around, I stop. I make a small space and sit down. I cannot see or hear anything to do with humans.
In front of me is a small tattered hakea about twenty five centimetres tall. Not a single leaf is perfect and yet as a whole it is beautiful; an island of translucent green on the forest floor. Behind me is a banksia, thin leathery leaves keeping heat out and water in. I can see pultenaeas with yellow flowers like miniature lights, ti-trees with small pink flowers. The quiet is disturbed. Far above a plane drones, invisible because of the cloud cover. Goodbye, goodbye, I say or hello, hello – people in transit – neither here nor there.
That is how I am feeling. A pilgrim, but in transit. Is that the definition of a pilgrim? Someone in transit, not having reached a destination and yet on an intentional journey – even if the destination is not yet known? Susanna spoke of just ‘being’. How hard that is. The world is so insistent, the beautiful clamour in my head so jealous of its rights.
Even where I am sitting, the bush is not quiet. Birds sing their day and I am sure I can hear the scurrying of insect feet as they go about their business. Every plant is a busyness of taking in oxygen, giving out carbon dioxide, drawing up moisture, photosynthesising. Every animal looks for food as their cells divide, as they respire, as nerve endings flash messages on what to do next.
God’s creation is a joyful, thundering, whirling, chaotic cacophony of life, coming together in the most grace-filled whole. I accept that I am part of that and to ask for silence is perhaps impossible.
I walked across a wooden plank to get here. The water was a mere metre below me and yet there was a frisson of fear as I wobbled along. Can I return? Perhaps I won’t. Perhaps I will simplify my life by remaining here in my small nest, birds and beetles for neighbours. Why, as I have sat here leaves have fallen into my lap, making lazy spirals as they fell, a blanket of sighs. But of course I will go back.
Here I am grounded in a most literal sense. But I will still be grounded in my world of family, friends, work, of discerning God’s purpose for this next part of my life. The ground back is uneven, slippery in places. I have to bend my head to push through bushes. There are scratches on my arms. A simple life still has challenges.
And then the return. A cup of tea, smiles from fellow retreatants, music. Everything appears simple. Of course I am enough. Of course I am beloved. Of course my track is rough and smooth. Of course I am somewhere. Of course I am not there yet. Of course …
We talk of a simple life. Throwing out things not used, using stocks of food, wearing old clothes, kneeling in prayer, spending time in silence, spending a day without emails, forgiving someone, praying for strangers. I live much of this life already. It is my head-space that needs simplifying. The acceptance of an invitation of grace, the truly being able to trust, the just being, fully engaged in a present moment, being able to let go, just a little.
Susanna gives us another poem, one by Mary Oliver which finishes with the lines,
‘Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?’
Answering this question is surely the holy task of life.
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