We do not think ourselves into new ways of living, we live ourselves into new ways of thinking. –Richard Rohr
I have crossed the Ohio River and driven north a couple hours to the St. Meinrad Abbey. It is the time of year when I feel an urgent need to retreat, just as the world is gearing up for the holidays. This is my last day here, and this morning I realize that part of the spaciousness I feel is that I have not heard any news all week.
As with most adventures, it began with mishaps. After carefully packing my Subaru with acrylic, oils, sketchbooks, binoculars, bird field guides, brushes, small paintings, fresh spinach, etc. I had one more thing– the large painting on canvas I am working on. My new car apparently has a smaller opening than the old one– so the painting didn't fit into the trunk. Not to be discouraged, I carefully tied the painting onto the luggage rack on top, praying it wouldn't become a sail on the highway. On the road, I could hear it rumbling above me, but each time I pulled over, it was snug and in place.
I arrived safely, and had the luxury of unpacking into a studio with high ceilings and light– and nothing in it except what I brought with me– and a solitary ladybug that escaped the winter cold. I could feel my mind expand, with nothing extra cluttering the space, and my eyes looking out to farm and woods.
I got set up, ready to get to work, but, alas, I left my oil paints behind...
My mind raced to strategies: I cannot put acrylic on top of oil, I could take a day and drive back home, I could forget about this painting... but then I heard myself say to my students: Act as if you have everything you need. As a result, I have learned new ways to use the oil sticks I brought with me- how to make them into glazes and thick impasto. And the pleasure of rubbing the paint onto the surface with my (gloved) fingers! And my painting, I think, is enjoying being discovered in a new way.
I brought music to listen to in the studio:
I listen to the wind come out, telling me I need to hurry, I listen to the robin's song, telling me not to worry. –Cat Stevens
I am not Catholic, and have never done well in organizations, whether it is work or religion. But I appreciate the privilege of being able to retreat here, and teach in the spring. I am spellbound by the sound of real bells that are rung with real hands– which is still a part of European life. I asked Brother Martin about the bells. He told me stories about when he was a novice, and one of the tasks was ringing the bells. For the large bell, you jump to grab the rope, which lifts you about six feet in the air, and you come down again. The ancient practice of humans ringing bells delights me. At the moment, the two huge bells are cracked, and have to be sent all the way back to Germany to get re-cast in bronze. This is the job of the custos, the custodian of the bells.
There is also a great library here– many old books and manuscripts from Europe. I fell in love with this little hand written book on Greek astronomy, and on the right I sat down and copied a page:
Why I have such pleasure in sitting down with an old book, and copying the ancient letters, I don't know. But I am sure it is why, when I was a child, and the "punishment" in school was to write something over and over again– that this strategy did not work with me.
Are you finding ways to retreat from the holiday fervor? What do you love to do that gives you a sense of timelessness and solitude? I'd love to hear from you.