Retreat, “re”treat

Is this retreat a turning back after defeat? An opportunity to “re”-treat the self? Or, a turning inward to the hidden self, there always, but not always accessible–or perhaps, there always, but waiting for the time it’s safe to (re)emerge? Or, there always but unseen, unheard until the gaze settles just right, a gaze not judging or harsh, a more loving kind of gaze, recognition. There you are.

I’m here with my cousin Bette in Yellow Springs, Ohio, starting our second day at Creative Explorations, a women’s retreat led by the wonderfully talented Jenny Horner. The first day we drove for about 7 hours, including stops, and I was weary of the interstate by the time we pulled into Yellow Springs. Yellow Springs and I have history, good history, so it was a good feeling to pull into this little town with its vibrant main street (Xenia). Jenny was standing in an available parking spot saving it for us, so I stopped, did a perfect 2-move parallel park and clamboard (how the hell do you spell clambored) out. A couple was passing by and the man called out, “Nice parking job!” I laughed and hollered back, “Yes that’s one thing I CAN do.” Then greeted our host, grabbed our bags, and followed her into the old house, snugged between neighboring businesses.

We settled in, got the tour of the serenity-designed apartment–one bedroom for each of us–and fairly quickly got started with a shared session. (I had my private session last night and Bette will have hers today.) Our session focused on our drawing with a piece of art crayon, eyes closed, with our non-dominant hand. She guided us a little, but mostly we were to let the hand do the work without our left brains judging and guiding. Then we thoroughly explored the images that emerged in our drawings, through writing and explaining. We helped each other see more that was going on, animals, symbols, patterns. Fascinating and surprisingly revealing. Both our drawings seemed dead-on for each of us, and seeing more through their eyes helped make the whole process very collaborative. I didn’t have to see what they saw, but often I did and then it would seem so obvious.

So, what am I doing here? What kind of “retreat”? On the one hand, I wanted to do this “for Bette,” my hard-working always-giving cousin who just lost her father, my uncle, after a long slow decline. He was 91. Alert and brilliant to the end, but oh so hurting from arthritis and old age, he wanted it to be over. After 10 or so years of care-giving, her house now feels empty. Loud with his absence. I know that feeling, have heard that silence. But even though I wanted this for her, I also wanted it for us, and for me.

I suppose in the end this two-day stay is a bit of all those meanings of “retreat” and probably others I haven’t thought of. And, no, I’m not going to google it. Oh, well, okay. “Withdraw from enemy forces as a result of their superior power or after a defeat.” Thanks, that’s helpful. But let’s see, don’t just dismiss it. If we stop thinking of “enemy” as some national military entity but as something more Buddhist, along the lines of “difficult people” (like oneself?) or perhaps as one of the five hindrances, maybe even this army-sounding definition has some bearing.

But I like the “re”-treat idea better, and the notion of returning to the authentic self that one has been ignoring or has forgotten is even there. So overshadowed by our public must-be selves, our private protect-me selves, our hateful, fearful, hurt and angry selves. A former, eternal self is in there, retreating from the illusions that the public self has embraced, biding time for the right moment to come forth–a hand, a voice, a word. Come back.

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