This week I beat a retreat to Bass Hill hermitage. It was perfect for several reasons—within a couple of hours of home, it provided a few days of solitude and quiet and they generously offer a truly affordable single person’s price.
While I was there, I decided on a semi-silent retreat. I would keep quiet and resist answering emails or fiddling with my phone or laptop. I would mostly stay in, avoid electronic media except where I needed to consult something extremely related to the purpose of my retreat (a writing project, and working on my relationship with marketing, promotion and money—more on that in an upcoming blog).
I mainly stuck with my aims. I did mostly stay in, rambling around the 16 acres of the property or up and down the road. It helped that the first two days were drizzly and grey. I had to do a quick trip to Wonthaggi for some slippery elm powder after some chilli upset my delicate stomach. That was fascinating in itself and brought flashes of déjà vu from my years’ teaching in another ex-dairying coastal town, Taree.
On the third day, the sun finally broke through just after I’d finished my scheduled two-hour stint on the writing project so I headed to the George Bass coastal walk. As is my aim these days, I strolled, deciding not to reach any particular destination, definitely not the end of the walk.
Instead I planned to spend about two hours depending on the weather. The clouds looked ominous but I was blessed with fine weather, extraordinary views, a hovering nankeen kestrel and lots of other birds, and no rain until I reached the beach about half-way along the walk. It was utterly perfect.
I returned along the same route to Kilcunda and stopped at the general store where I gorged on the heftiest slice of ricotta cake ever served, and bought local nectarines, blood plums and apples from ‘udder and hoe’ a quaint little produce store poised behind the store.
I did speak to people. Two women at the next table were equally astonished by the size of my cake portion, and I chatted with the waitress, and the lovely woman in the produce store, but I only saw one couple on my walk and they had either made a vow of complete silence themselves or simply refused to respond to ‘gorgeous day, isn’t it’ when spoken by a woman who moments earlier appeared to be talking to herself. (Yes, I had been, for quite a bit of the way, actually—self-management or personal storytelling I call it).
All in all, I wrote and planned more fruitfully than I expected but even more than this, I had a few major insights I’ll pack as souvenirs. They are challenging but important, and feel free to borrow them if they suit you too.
1. I need more derring do. I’ve been pondering, for a long time, this idea of the coming together of the prince and princess, the masculine and the feminine evident in most stories, and most of life. We just need both what is active outgoing spirit, and what is receptive inward soul in our lives.
Many of the archetypal stories reflect the symbolic union of what are actually two parts of our own being that we need to strengthen, develop and unite to function as the most optimal individual—the truly human human if you like. We all need the ‘derring do’ part and the ‘reflective-responsive’ aspect, the yin and the yang.
There has been a trend to reject traditional stories as politically incorrect and misleading with all sorts of politically correct but aesthetically dodgy updates. Yet if we see stories where the masculine and feminine principles represent the parts of our selves that we need to explore, strengthen, unite or even forsake, deny and destroy, then the deft matches and the gory despatches that feature in the tales of the brothers Grimm can give our souls much to ponder, and less to correct.
I know that personally I need a little more derring do especially in my approach to planning and sharing the work that I love, and in some of the physical and financial aspects of my life. There are some habits and some familiar thought patterns I need to despatch as well.
I could fantasise about this involving meeting a partner who would provide derring do and the kind of physical support that I yearn for. OR I can ponder how to strengthen that aspect of my very own being.
Now a combination of the two would be ideal of course, more personal derring do and someone supportive and companionable as well. But I’m not expecting the package to come in any idealised way. I’m ready to be flexible.
So, that’s a commitment. I can strengthen my own derring do in financial and material matters and also honour my reflective/responsive aspect rather than awaiting any bloke on a white horse or rescuing any damsels in distress. I can also observe any of my own addictions and outdated habits that need to be despatched into the oven like Hansel and Gretel’s witch.
That’s where commitment no. 2 comes in.
2. These days of silence make me realise that I’m addicted to the radio. I love it, especially Radio National our ideas network, and in the wee-est smallest hours, the BBC world service. I do hear wonderful things, but also a great deal that becomes a bit of an auditory jumble. As I chat with myself and listen to bird calls in the silence of Bass Hill, I realise I use the radio as companion, thought stimulator and well, comforter, but there is still all that ear clutter and so much less time for creativity, heart stimulation and other kinds of comfort.
I don’t need it. I could turn it off MUCH more. I would get a lot more done, play my own music, either on the lyre or flute or on my neglected CDs, I could phone or skype with friends.
So, another commitment, less radio. Or more conscious switching on and much more switching off.
3. There was of course a third souvenir. That’s what storytelling teaches you—there needs to be a third challenge, a third gift, a third son—the dorky one.
The third one was a familiar if rather dorky insight from travelling: I love making do with less.
I also had less clutter, well marginally less clutter, on the table which functioned as my desk and dining table and leisure space.
So I commit to a little more decluttering back at the micro-house. A bit of magic à la Marie Kondo, recognising and keeping only what truly brings me joy and makes my spirit sing.
I also wondered how long I could go without TRULY needing to buy more clothing. Yes, I love fossicking for op shop bargains but how often did I buy things more for the thrill of the hunt than the need for it.
Although I have relatively few possessions in our consumer conscious age, I have more than the majority of the world’s population and a great deal more than my grandparents ever did. So, another soul-strengthening commitment. (Any of the things we give up or commit to, and stick with give us a little more edge in the soul limbering department.)
REDUCE clutter and possessions to spirit-singing objects
AVOID unnecessary purchases and any necessary ones should create a little spirit-singing too!
I’m pleased with the souvenirs I’m bringing home from my trip. Even if you’re not planning to travel, perhaps there are some soul-strengthening souvenirs you want to borrow or discover for yourself…