Monday, August 27, 2007

After The Retreat

My weekend was very full. As I shared on Friday, I was on a retreat with the men of my parish. It was an intense weekend. At times I felt like I was participating in a spiritual triathlon. As a off the chart introvert, it was sometimes exhausting for me to spend so much time with a group while having no personal time alone. If spite of that, it was a great weekend and the men who prepared and lead the weekend did a wonderful job. It was encouraging to be with a group of really good men trying to live good lives. In the relatively short time that we were together there was much bonding and deeply personal sharing. I do not often have such opportunities to be with other men my own age or older. It was refreshing and inspiring to be with men who were not afraid to reveal their vulnerabilities and the challenges they faced when adversity crossed their path. This weekend was more than just male bonding. It was a very spiritual weekend as well. Our pastor, who is also a mentor to my son, was with us the entire time. It was great to get to know him better and now I feel we are truly friends. The challenge of such a weekend is answering the following questions, "What does this experience require of me? What am I being called to do? Where I am being lead?" Retreats are not always pleasant or relaxing or a type of spiritual vacation. To be honest with you, after I signed up for this retreat, I regretted it. It really wasn't my preferred type of retreat. Spiritually, I am a cave dweller who prefers silent retreats and being alone. As I mentioned, the interaction with others, even good men, is draining. Often during the weekend I had negative feelings. I think it was because I wasn't in control and I felt kind of trapped. I didn't have my car so I couldn't escape. I had no privacy. Even my body seemed resistant as I constantly shifted in my seat and my insides seemed to be in a tug of war all weekend. The schedule was tight and Saturday was a very long day. In general, I was often uncomfortable. Trying to be open to the Spirit and feeling resistant at the same time, I wondered and prayed about what God was trying to tell me. I think I know but I am still feeling a little resistant. Sometimes, when you feel like this, it is a true sign that God is working in your life. One of the biggest misconceptions about the spiritual life is that it is always peaceful and serene. In reality, the spiritual life is often challenging and occasionally disruptive to the life you have. Often in our lives, and frequently in the types of experience I had this weekend, there are grace filled moments. Grace, which is another way of describing the life of God within us, always calls us forward. You can't stand still spiritually. There's a reason it's called the spiritual journey. After this weekend, all signs indicate that I need to do some laundry, pack my bag, and prepare to move beyond where I am now. The scary thing about the spiritual life is that you can't go online and get a Mapquest. As soon as I figure out where I am going, I will send you a postcard when I get there.

Zen is doing what you are doing and being where you are. It sounds simple but in reality is quite challenging. Zen is also about balance. This is also very challenging. Keeping all of the different parts of our lives in balance is like spinning five or six plates on the end of long sticks all at the same time. Getting enough rest, doing enough but not too much work, being with others and being with self, being active and being still, enjoying life and being present to the sacred, knowing when to go and when to stop, when to speak and when to be silent is a daily challenge. If your life feels out of balance, it probably is. Life moves fast. Sometimes you must slow down to keep it all from spinning out of control. You can't be present to the moment if you are outrunning yourself. Stop now, close your eyes and simply breathe for a moment. Refresh yourself. Doesn't that feel good? Do it throughout the day. Go home at the end of this work day (if you are not already there) and practice slowing down. Pay attention to your own breath and remember it is the source of your life. Be where you are.

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