July 3, 2014
Kachemak Bay, Alaska
“At the still point, there the dance is…
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.”
—T.S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton” from “The Four Quartets”
I ring the bell and together, we sit in silence for the last time. Even though we’ve been here just two full days, we’ve entered a slower time as we settle into a daily rhythm of writing together in the morning, kayaking or hiking in the afternoon, sharing our writing in the evening. When the bell rings again, I’ll invite each participant to share a few lines from our afternoon writing practice—to look closely at the natural world, being on the alert for larger patterns that link us all together—and how those patterns might be mirrored in our own lives.
We’re at the Stillpoint Lodge in Halibut Cove, a small community just across Kachemak Bay from Homer, Alaska. The lodge where we gather has floor-to-ceiling windows that look out on the Kenai mountains in one direction and the sparkling waters of Kachemak bay in another. From the deck we can see the organic garden, where the cook snips greens for our morning smoothies and evening salads. An indoor stream runs through the adjoining room, designed by a local artist, who also designed the fireplace that features local stones. Every detail here has been thoughtfully chosen by the owners, Jan and Jim Thurston, to remind us of our connection to the natural world. In addition, the beautiful ceramic water jug in each of our small cabins that is refilled daily helps make us aware of our use of precious resources that we can too easily take for granted.
We’ve spent the last two days bringing mindfulness to all our activities: sitting, walking, eating, and seeing– and I’m reminded how much more I see when I finally slow down. This morning, on the way to yoga, I strolled through the organic garden, watched a hummingbird hover over a scarlet nasturtium blossom, its wings a blur of iridescent light and motion as it dipped its long beak into the heart of the blossom for sustenance. It seemed suspended in time & space as it hovered—and that’s how I’ve felt, too, these past two days on retreat.
Retreat: from Latin retrahere, to retract, means, literally, “the act of going backward or withdrawing.” This retreat doesn’t feel like going backward; indeed, it’s what will allow us to move forward. The next two definitions describe where we are both in space and time: “a quiet, private or secure place; a refuge” and “a period of seclusion, retirement or solitude.” Even though we’re only here for three days, we’ve shared silence and heart-felt words, forging bonds that will last beyond our short time together. Because our time together is so fleeting, we’re aware that it’s precious, even as we sink more deeply into it.
I ring the bell again. As it reverberates, I invite the participants to share what they observed: Sharon writes about the wood chips under our feet, linking them to the trees overhead; Sally sees a face in a driftwood log; Justin shares a Robert Frost poem that also shows patterns. Later, we’ll talk about how to carry the insights we’ve gained on retreat home with us. I’ll pass out index cards and invite each person to write an affirmation, a commitment to carve out time and space for his/her writing practice. This time we’ve shared will allow us to remain connected, to support each other. Just knowing that others will be sitting down to write will help us each remember not to get distracted by all the demands of our lives, I will remind them.
Tomorrow morning, we’ll share our last breakfast of granola and homemade scones, mango-kale smoothies, hard-boiled eggs and rye toast, then load our gear onto the boat for the fast ride back to Homer and our respective destinations. I will watch the lodge recede from view in our frothy wake, the quiet morning swallowed up by the whine of the outboard motor. But I’ll know in the midst of all that noise and movement, there is always the still point, and that I can return to it whenever I wish.
May we each carry this still point within us and seek out opportunities to retreat when we can. Take this invitation to plan a retreat for yourself—perhaps just a day at a friend’s cabin—so you can be reminded of the value of stepping out of your daily routine to reconnect with a slower, natural rhythm that’s always here.
Yours, with gratitude to Beka and all the staff at Stillpoint Lodge and to Kathy, Joe, Karen, Sally, Sharon, Larry, Don and Justin for sharing their words,