Prior to the 25th March 2020, the largest retreat I’d ever been on was possibly about 60 people. Imagine my surprise when it was 5 million New Zealanders, 25 million Australians and untold millions in the northern hemisphere…
It wasn’t a silent retreat as such however, it was certainly a contemplative one. As I settled into physical distancing, greater stability in one place, (as an essential worker I was out four afternoons a week) I – and perhaps many of us, began to feel a greater at ‘home-ness’ as the days went on. Spaciousness came naturally as stillness and solitude (that is with one other and a four legged) pervaded day and night.
A natural routine emerged, not quite monastic but certainly similar. This was waking about 4am and rising to watch the play of light on Wellington harbour – particularly around the April full moon. There was a karakia (prayer) with shared breakfast, walks in the hills, writing for the Easter Wisdom School, afternoons sitting with both patients and families at Te Omanga hospice and arriving home to have a tipple with exceedingly beautiful sunsets… Did I mention the ‘compulsory’ 1pm bulletin with Jacinda and Ashley to find out how we as a country were coping with Covid19?
There was much to pray for and it was a time of play… So many more people were out biking as a family. It wasn’t just other dog owners who wanted to stop and have a chat, there were street drinks on a Friday as everyone brought a chair out to toast each other, there was standing at letterboxes on ANZAC morning and here in New Zealand feeling part of a ‘team of 5 million’ that ‘knocked the bugger off’ (Australians – this is a reference to what Sir Edmund Hillary said which he reached the top of Mt Everest).
And yes, I had great reluctance for the ‘retreat’ to end and when we moved to level 3, I was keen to move to level 5 and on up the ladder… And yet… for me there is still an experience of level 4 remaining. That deep stillness, silence and solitude has been a part of my life for many years and I was just so glad that others got to experience some of it too. And I know that this ‘retreat’ has come at an extremely high price for many countries and many peoples… This is a health crisis and we’re all still suffering from and with it.
The last act on most retreats is to consider “So what? Now what”. Well, we in this home intend to have level 4 weekends once a month (so far so good), to keep up conversations with neighbours – although Robert from five houses away seems to no longer recognise me at the bus stop; to continue to simplify – in lifestyle choices as much as materially; to throw morning newspapers closer to people’s gates when out walking with the dog before daylight; to cough and sneeze into my elbow – and to rest in home-ness throughout the day no matter where I might be or what’s going on in our or your neighbourhood…
On ‘retreat’ we were encouraged to be kind to ourselves and each other and I’d like to continue with that too.
Image April Full Moon, Wellington
Pip’s reflection has also been posted on the website of The Contemplative Network @ https://contemplative.org.nz/news/reflection/