While on a solo retreat this fall, I had leisurely days and evenings to reflect on what in my life needs to be adjusted and what I’d like to remain the same. This was my first solo retreat ever and it felt luxurious to wake, exercise, eat, and rest whenever I wanted. Being an Enneagram 4, an INFJ, and an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person), I feel so relaxed with my own company and at ease in the simplicity of being on my own. I love all my people, my work, and my cats too much to live that way for long, so I’ll just savor the memories of that time and plan more for the future.
As I was eating my breakfast on the second morning, I listened to Krista Tippett’s podcast On Being for the first time in months. And I realized how much I missed these deep, quiet, thoughtful conversations that feed my thirst for beauty, wisdom, and inspiring words.
Then I began thinking about what else I had let go in the hustle and activity of this year. Poetry! I like to read some every day if I can, and listen to poetry podcasts like Poetry Unbound. Poetry speaks to my soul and feels like it touches a part of myself that nothing else does.
Another delight I had let go of is classical music! I used to listen to public radio all the time, take CDs out from the library (remember those?), and listen to albums on Spotify.
Lately I haven’t included Bach with my breakfasts, I haven’t made time for Mozart, I haven’t enjoyed string quartets or piano sonatas on quiet afternoons. And why not? I ask myself. It’s not complicated to turn music on. I’ve robbed myself of the opportunity for so much pleasure because I “needed to get this work done” and assumed I must take all the color out of life. Well, no more!
I resolved to include lovely music in my days, work or not; to listen to inspiring podcasts like On Being while I’m in the car or cleaning or folding clothes; to make time for at least one poem every day; to set the table with cloth napkins and a vase of flowers or herbs, to light candles even for weeknight dinners. There are many more weeknights than there are weekends!
By depriving ourselves, or even not actively noticing or making room for beauty, it’s almost like living in the dull, gray, unhappy part of Middle Earth that Sauron created in Lord of the Rings: devoid of warmth, color, meaning, and delight.
When I live this way for too many days, I find myself easily irritated or angry, depressed, anxious, and discouraged, thinking there’s nothing to look forward to.And how brief and precious each of our lives are. This year has brought several too-soon goodbyes.
We are made for beauty, delight, goodness, and meaning. Even if we’ve forgotten, even if we’ve fallen asleep or become buried under our to-do lists and the pressures that grown-ups have to deal with, each of us longs for beauty.
Perhaps it’s not possible for you to go away on a solo retreat just now. I remember all the years I craved alone time as a mother with two small children and a host of responsibilities connected to my church community. I would stay up late just so I could have a few hours of quiet after the kids went to bed.
It’s more realistic to look for an hour or two of quiet time alone to ask yourself what is missing from the current flow of your days. What brings you pleasure and joy that you could invite back in? A walk in the forest? A pot of flowers on the windowsill? Your grandmother’s tablecloth? Candlelight? A really good mystery novel? Soup simmering on the stove? Homemade bread? Composing music or listening to a favorite recording? Taking five minutes to appreciate the sunset each evening? Dancing in the kitchen?
You will know what you need, what will delight, inspire and bring a sense of beauty and meaning to your own life. Invite what feeds your soul back into your weekdays, your weeknights, and the so-called mundane will begin to sparkle and shine again as it did when you were a child.
These days of Advent, these ever darkening days and long nights before the Winter Solstice, are a natural time to turn inward, to ponder, and ask, and sit with questions. And to begin to intend and invite what we love and desire most of all into our lives, and into the New Year.
May you enjoy a peaceful Sunday!