I spent the better part of the last two weeks on retreat at Ghost Ranch in the high desert of northern New Mexico, where the land is spacious and quiet, where often the only sound is that of the echoing caw of ravens flying along the cliff face of the surrounding mesas, where the night sky, unobscured by city lights, displays thousands upon thousands of stars and the soft whisper of the Milky Way can be seen stretching from horizon to horizon.
I have been going there for a couple of weeks most winters for the past 11 years, and I would not be overstating the case to say that those times of retreat have been a lifeline to my soul. While I’m there I hike, do dream work and make art, walk the labyrinth and listen for its wisdom for me.
A couple of nights after I arrived was the night of the full moon. After the sun went down and the land began to grow darker, I left my room and hiked to the labyrinth that sits in front of the cliff of a high mesa. In the dimming light I walked its slow, winding path which is always a powerful symbol for me of the journey of life that wends this way this way and that. I finally reached the labyrinth’s center and there I waited. The edge of moonlight was making its way slowly across the landscape from the west as the moon rose higher and higher, first illuminating the far hills and rock formations in the distance with an ethereal silver light that gradually made its way toward me. The light gathered, brighter and brighter, behind the rim of the mesa in front of me, until finally a sliver of moon slid above the cliff, piercing my eyes with its brilliance, and I stood there weeping with amazement and gratitude.
My time of retreat reminded me, as it always does, of how cluttered my life can become. How, like the artificial lights of the city that drown out the mystery of the night, my culture’s priorities on productivity, activity, and being constantly plugged-in crowd out the wisdom of my own heart and soul. I think it’s a common dilemma; most of us live our lives deluged by external messages and demands, rarely making time or space to quiet and replenish ourselves at the well of our own Being.
The challenge, as always, in returning from a time of retreat is to find ways to weave its lessons and wisdom into my daily life. Since I’ve been back, one thing I’ve been doing is limiting my time on-line to 30 minutes a day. (I even set the timer!) I’m looking at it as a spiritual practice, a pre-Lenten fast if you will, which I intend to continue. What I am discovering is that it allows me to stay in touch more consistently with the calm clarity that resides in my core.
On retreat, whenever I step out into the night to stargaze I have to let my eyes adjust for a while to the darkness before I can take in the wonder of what is overhead. That process is a metaphor for me of what is required if I want to connect with my soul. I have to remove myself from the onslaught of all the “artificial lights” that surround me, the values and messages that bombard me with shallow understandings of what’s important, worthy, and most of all, real. Only then, when I let myself stand in the mystery of the inner quiet and abide in the darkness of Unknowing can I begin to perceive the true, numinous light of my existence. Only then can I gaze out from the center of my timeless self upon a cosmos from which I have come and with which I am completely and forever one.