Before the Retreat Began

Lake Huron was a still glass surface in the early morning as the kayak peeled back through silvery waters. Rising sun sparkled on the silent wake our tandem made as we pushed through the marina and out onto the open water.

A freighter passed through the Straits of Mackinac, heading for Lake Superior. Its wake rippled and bounced off Round Island, swirling an eddy in front of us, which threatened to suck us in but didn’t.

Our guide, Anthony, was happy in his repose. After all, the life of a guide, or a hiker, or a climber is one of ease. I’ve quit the same job three times to go on a trail or paddle somewhere, he told us, and each time they took me back and gave me a promotion.

To live a life of such beauty. Imagine!

The night prior I wasn’t used to the hotel bed, turning through the thin sheet and ample pillows in the not-quite-dark. When I slept, I caught wisps of dreams about my children, so far away, and yet with me always.

There was a dream about zombies, but I knew them. I woke with a start, turned the fan back on to stem the little beads of sweat that had gathered in my sleep. I checked the clock and checked again, agonizing over waking so early to kayak.

But in the end, it was the water and the effort that did good for me. If I hadn’t breathed in the pine-scented air, hadn’t immersed myself in the moment of this paddle, this stroke, this direction, I wouldn’t have returned to the clarity of calm.

That’s always how it is for me: too long inside, too fraught with to-dos and getting-theres, I spin out of control. I think and I fret and I imagine the loss that never comes and I feel it as if it is with me right now.

This morning, the breakfast was exactly as I wanted: corned beef hash skillet with vegetables added in, two eggs sunny-up on top. The coffee warmed my hands; it was suddenly cold after an hour and a half on the sun-lit water.

Sipping water through a straw, refreshed. The biscuits slathered in butter that kept sinking in as if it were nevre there at all. In a word, content.

And I was back to myself, with the rationale and clear thinking that this life demands.

It is so easy to run amok. To worry about what-ifs. But it’s like that kayak: the wake will eventually disappear and the waters will return to stillness, and somehow or other, we will navigate our way over whatever current presents itself.

When anxiety takes over and you seize up on the paddle, you have such a better chance of crashing into the breakwater, or overturning, or heading out to the fraught waters beneath the bridge.

So why go there?

Afternoon came and the retreat began, and we were bending and twisting and stepping into yoga poses in the perfect direction. Quiet soothing music our refrain, one bend, into an open-arm show of gratitude, into final repose, always with the divine light in me honoring the divine light in everyone else.

And now, we are writing. Looking at how the way we do the little things, or the big things, is so unique and different and worth writing about. Asking the big questions about who we are more than our jobs and the people attached to us.

I miss my children. And yet, I am so impressed that nearly two weeks of missing them only sent me into a tailspin on day 11. Not bad. I am growing.

This is why we come on retreat, why I lead this retreat every year. To have time to ourselves, to rediscover who we are and the purpose we came here to fulfill.

If we don’t get quiet enough, if we don’t get away, we risk forgetting. Forever. And what a waste of a life that would be.

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