by Rachel Sartori
Last weekend I had the opportunity to participate in a silent retreat. This retreat came at a time when I felt the intense value of every spare moment. Anxiety crept over me as I anticipated all the things on my plate. Going to a silent retreat seemed inconvenient and frustrating – precious hours down the drain. As I finally turned off the light, I debated over whether to get up and go to the retreat or remain in bed, catch up on some much needed sleep and stay at home to get stuff done. The debate continued the next morning until the very last minute possible, when I finally decided to go. I still had creases on my cheek as I whipped into parking and dashed to meet the group quietly waiting for stragglers.
The drive to the retreat location acted as a buffer zone and by the time we settled into a circle to begin our time together, I felt a softening in my spirit.
Be still and know I am God.
Be still and know.
My breath lengthened and filled my lunges—releasing tension as I exhaled. We prayed this prayer of stillness and my body moved fluidly through the accompanying sign language and I felt that my spirit had arrived and was now finding presence in my body, in my breath.
Be still and know I am God.
After our opening prayer, I left the morning to take a walk. Although I live in Phoenix, winter had crept up on us and left this day with low-hanging clouds and a deep chill. Rain came down in inconsistent drizzles. Although I had to fight shivers, I walked with slow methodic steps, inhaling on one step exhaling on the next. My breath was robust and forceful – trying to convince the rest of me that I was indeed relaxed.
I looked all around me. We were on an organic farm and there were rows and rows of vegetables, still in their infant stages. I took in the tender leaves of lettuce, the sprouts of parsley and the radishes beginning to poke red through the dirt. I took in the funky texture and shape of the broccoli and the rich brown soil, wet with rain. Part of an apple lay in my path – and I made sure to steer clear so as not to get my shoes yucky…
My intentional steps led me by rows of citrus trees,
past picnic tables,
through a lighted gazebo –
when I suddenly felt trapped under hunched shoulders and hands tensely stuffed in my pockets. There was an energy trying to burst out! I felt in conflict because wasn’t this a silent retreat? …A retreat of quiet contemplation and gentle beckoning of the spirit? All I wanted to do was jump and run!
So I did. I jumped over a railroad tie – pulling my knees high and bursting into the air. Oh! It felt good to flex my muscles! A rush of warmth flowed though my body as blood rushed to those muscles used.
But then I continued my gentle walk… Until I saw stumps just a few feet high and decided to practice balancing on them. I leaped up, landing on one foot and tottering only for a moment before I found my balance. I did it again. And then I ran: back down the path, through the garden and all the way to the road – where the farm ended and the rest of the world began. I came to a stop, my heart pumping, and my breath quick.
The air, which at first chilled me through, was now a welcome reception as I returned to my quiet steps and found my way back to the house.
Be still and know
I settled down in a cozy chair by a window and began to reflect on my walk. The different things I saw, the different things I did.
The crazy broccoli head snuggled in sturdy leaves, silently growing, silently given life.
The discarded apple chunk, brown with age and beginning its journey back to the earth; decaying and thus returning nutrients to the soil.
The need to move my body vigorously… To jump…to run…to experience the architecture of my body and how wonderfully it moves and works!
Each element is part of God’s creation and creating space within which to contemplate; to simply be and know, proved powerful and fulfilling. I was able to practice presence with God, with the Holy Spirit.
I don’t need to worry or be anxious. There are different seasons on my journey. I will experience times of new life; I will experience times of death. But through it all, it is the spirit of God in me that strengthens me, energizes me, and encourages me. It is the presence of God in my life that says, “Rachel, I know the plans I have for you. Plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me.”
And suddenly, it is quiet.
In the stillness, I know.
My breath is gentle and even – not the heaving deep breaths from before.
My thoughts settle peacefully, my shoulders relax and although I hear a bell calling all retreat participants back together, I realize I finally touched the silence of God.
**Rachel Sartori is a Certified Personal Trainer and DoxaSoma Instructor/Mentor in the Phoenix, AZ area. **