Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Endings & Beginnings...

I feel it's time to bring this blog to a close. Although the physical journey to Italia is over (this time anyway :-)), I know that the spiritual journey - so powerfully nourished by this trip - is ongoing...

One of the most powerful insights I gained during my retreat was on the subject of Forgiveness. In keeping with the theme of Losing & Finding, one of Fr. Laurence's talks focussed on Forgiveness - that act of "paying attention" to the other and letting go... of the pain... of the anger... of the walls that keep us apart. When we can't forgive, we all experience loss. Interestingly, it wasn't until three days later that this message hit home. And it had nothing to do with forgiving another person; it had everything to do with becoming willing to forgive the Roman Catholic Church.

In a response to a question from another retreatant, Fr. Laurence said these words: "In order to 'get' Jesus, you really need to forgive the Church - a human and flawed messenger." Huh? Come again?! Those words entered my consciousness with precision and sliced through the convenient wall I have built between myself and the Catholic Church. They created a slit through which the persistent light of Hope could fall. The problem is, I didn't know if I even wanted to look at that... yet there it was, shining right on me. That's the thing about spiritual insight: once you experience something to be true, you can't un-experience it. In that moment, I began to allow myself to feel the pain of betrayal... the waves of anger... the tears of frustration. And I knew that I was in the presence of Truth - and I wasn't liking how it felt one bit! It was incredibly uncomfortable and I forced myself to sit in that discomfort... to hold that spiritual tension and let the tears flow. I now know that if I truly want to heal spiritually, I need to become willing to Forgive the Church for its utter humanness. That will take time.

And that, my friends, is why I know this journey is far from over...

"Forgiveness is about facing the darkness, not running away. It's about accepting the loss, and staying in that state, until the cycle of Finding & Losing / Losing & Finding, comes 'round again." - Fr. Laurence Freeman

Thanks for joining me - and I hope you'll continue to stop by jag e*space, where life is a little more ordinary (and therefore, extraordinary!).
Pace e bene,

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Ritiro spirituale... doing & being

"A pilgrim must be a child who can approach everything with an attitude of wonder, awe and faith. Pray for wonder, awe, desire. Ask God to take away your sophistication and cynicism. Ask God to take away the restless, anxious heart of the tourist, which always needs to find the new, the more, the curious. Recognize yourself as a pilgrim, as one who has already been found by God." - Richard Rohr, OFM

I've had plenty of opportunity to talk about my trip over the past week, and I expect that will continue for a time. What I'm discovering is that people seem to be most curious about my retreat experience... A seven-day silent meditation retreat?? What did you do?!

Well, the point is, you're not supposed to be "doing" at all; the focus is on "being". That said, I still found that there was quite a bit of daily structure. I'm used to my silent retreats at Stillpoint being non-directed and completely unstructured. This retreat was quite different in many ways.

First of all, there were approximately 40 of us gathered for this retreat. (I'm used to being one of 3 - 5 guests at the retreat house!) We came from all over the world, brought together by our common practice of Christian Meditation. I also discovered that there are a variety of definitions of "silence". After travelling for two weeks, I was ready for true silence - internal & external. Others may not have had that same desire or need. I often came across retreatants having whispered conversations or moving away from our main residence to speak on their cell phone. Not everyone did this, but a few did - and this quickly became a distraction that I had to detach from. It forced me to focus on my interior silence to a greater degree.

It also didn't help that the Abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore is also a major tourist attraction, thanks to the amazing frescoes depicting the life of St. Benedict. I had assumed - hoped? wished? - that our residence would be located away from the main tourist area but, alas, 'twas not the case. A small tourist information bureau & souvenir shop was located right under my bedroom window! Again, cause to let go of judgement and distraction...

My days were spent as follows:

6:30am - wake up to church bells (I opted to skip the 6:30-7am meditation period)

7:15am - 30 minute silent meditation with the group

8:00am - breakfast in silence

9:20am - yoga (this would alternate between a.m. & p.m. throughout the week)

11:00am - talk given by Fr. Laurence, our retreat leader

12:30pm - 30 minute silent meditation with the group

1pm - lunch in silence

afternoon - free time, usually spent reading, walking, napping, trying to stay cool...

5:30pm - eucharist/Good Company (ie. mass - included sharings from our day as well as another 30-minute silent meditation period right after communion)

7pm - dinner with talking! This is where we could actually get to know some of our fellow meditators...

9pm - Night prayer (Compline), Gregorian Chant with the monks in the church

9:30pm - Into great silence...

The theme of this retreat - and therefore of the talks given by Fr. Laurence - was Losing & Finding: "The greatest anxiety of the human heart is associated with loss - the loss of our life, loves or dreams. And the greatest joy is to find - life, love and hope. Yet are these two experiences so opposed and irreconcilable as we imagine? The Monte Oliveto retreat this year will focus on the paradox and dynamic of spiritual growth as entered through this universal human dilemma and opportunity."

So, there you have it. That's what I "did" on my retreat. :-) Now, to provide a few visuals, here are pictures from Monte Oliveto:

Pace e bene,

Sunday, August 5, 2007

These are a few of my favourite things...

On the flight home, I took some time to jot down some of my favourite moments from the journey. In no particular order...

Favourite B&B Owner...
Giovanna in Roma! Wow - what a woman. She oozes with passion and love. She left each of us a small gift - a souvenir from Roma. When we contacted her to say good-bye the night before we left, she had tears in her eyes! I gave her a small box of maple sugar (a small gift that I had brought for each of our B&B hosts) and she very humbly accepted. "Can I kiss you?" she asked as she reached out for a hug. She kept on telling us that we were both "always smiling and beautiful" and that we were welcome to return any time to stay in her home. Although all our accomodations turned out great, Giovanna was truly special!

Favourite Insalata Caprese...
It's a tie between my first one in Florence (lunch on our first day) and the one on our last evening in Siena. This second one had tomatoes so fresh, I could smell them the instant the waiter set the plate before me. If you've never had a Caprese salad, you don't know what you're missing! Tomatoes, fresh mozarella, fresh basil and olive oil: simple and sumptuous.



Favourite Cappucino...
I think this one has to go to our breakfast place in Cortona. It came with chocolate sprinkles in the shape of a happy face! The cappucino at Relais del Duomo (Firenze), made by Maria, comes in a close second.


Favourite Croissant...
The ristorante at Monte Oliveto! Most mornings, they were still warm. And, as fellow retreatant Giovanni put it, it's the croissant around the croissant that makes it even better. In other words, the environment of Monte Oliveto seems to make everything extraordinary. Again, the morning croissant at Relais del Duomo came in a close second.

Favourite Meditation Location...
This one is more difficult to choose. We meditated in so many beautiful and sacred places. However, meditating in the Porziuncola in S. Maria degli Angeli (Assisi) was especially powerful. Perhaps it was the context that had been set by Fra Daniele? In any case, to sit and meditate in the same church where S. Francesco & S. Chiara had prayed and given their lives over to God 800 years ago was truly special.

Favourite Eating Spot...
My little tree stump at Monte Oliveto. I found this location near the parking lot on my 4th morning, I believe. I could sit, eat my favourite croissant, and let my gaze rest upon the sheer beauty of the valley below. One day, I watched in awe at an eagle catching the wind and flying forever - circling the valley - without even flapping its wings.



Favourite Saint...
How can I possible choose?! Each one had a special gift to offer. San Francesco - his simplicity. Santa Chiara - her faith & love. Santa Margherita - her imperfection. Santa Caterina - her strength & courage. And so much more! However, it is on the way to the Santuario S. Margherita in Cortona that I had my most powerful insight. (Well, one of two...) The Via della Croce was a journey unto itself. And S. Margherita was an inspiration. I call her the "Saint of Second Chances".

Favourite Chiesa / Basilica...
Here again, I may not be remembering them all... They were all so different, and yet the same, after a while. Although we didn't meditate there, our unexpected "discovery" of the Basilica S. Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri in Rome on our last day seems to stand out in my mind. Described as an "experiment in science & art", the external facade of the church offers no hint whatsoever of what lies within. Designed by Michelangelo (his last architectural design project), this Basilica was transformed from the ancient ruins of the Diocletian Baths. It almost appears to be carved out of a pile of rubble. And yet, inside, we are greeted by a massive dome - with stained glass cupola - and a bright vaulted transept bathed in light. The allegorical figure of "Meditazione" make this space especially meaningful to me.

Favourite Gelato...
No contest here: the chocolate meringue gelato from Il Gelato di San Crispino in Roma! This place was highly recommended by Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame. (BTW, if ever you plan on meditating in Italy, this book is a must-read!) Of course, I didn't try every Gelato place in Tuscany, so more research may be required here...

Favourite Gelato Display...
Dolce Vita in Cortona. We happened upon this place early in the day and stepped in "just to look" (it was still morning, after all). Ha! So much for that plan. You simply cannot look at this display without yearning for a taste. And so we did. Yum!




Favourite Moment...
So many to choose from, but interestingly, one does stand out in my mind. Standing on top of the Campanile in Florence and looking at the city below. I remember being overwhelmed with gratitude for the blessings in my life, and for the path that had led me to that moment. I wiped tears from my eyes and did my best to take in the moment. I now believe this is what is called a "moment of transcendance"...


That's all for now!
Pace e bene,

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Sulla Terra Ferma...

Ciao... from Ottawa! :-)

Having never travelled through so many time zones before, I couldn't have known what to expect upon my return. The physical symptoms of jetlag have really caught me by surprise! I had no problems at all in Italy; the transition to their time zone was smooth. However, my return to Ottawa has been somewhat bumpy...

We arrived in Montreal on Monday around 12:30pm local time. Hubby was there to greet us. It took a bit of time before I eventually made my way out of Customs. It seems my honesty on my claims form led me to some "quality time" with a Canada Customs Officer named Claudia. :-) Fortunately, she was very helpful & pleasant and my 30 minutes with her were not too stressful. Admittedly, I didn't know if I'd be able to close my carefully packed suitcase again, but it all worked out! I had to pay a whopping $9.00 in taxes on the items purchased in Italy.

In an effort to fall into the local time zone, I forced myself to stay awake until around 10pm Monday night. That meant that, apart from a shallow 45-minute nap on the plane, I had been up for 23 hours. Oy. Tuesday was tough. By Tuesday evening, I was experiencing some serious dizziness and I didn't know what was happening. At one point, I had to get down on all fours because I was sure I'd topple over! And I wasn't able to lie down & close my eyes to go to sleep; the room was spinning so hard that I felt sick to my stomach. I fell asleep propped up on pillows. But I did fall asleep...

Wednesday was back-to-work day, but I only lasted a couple of hours. I was in a fog. My body was present, but I was not. I was here, yet not really here. Tr├Ęs bizarre. But at least the dizziness had stopped... Today is much better. Although not completely alert & sharp, I was able to put in full hours at the office - I took the opportunity to catch up on some work-related reading.

And so, here I am, wondering how the heck I can possibly wrap up the sharing of this experience of a lifetime (so far). I think it'll take time... I've just started organizing my photos; I took between 600 - 700 pics, so that too will take time! :-) For now, allow me to offer these few teasers:
Pisa and its famous Tower

Firenze at Sunset

JAG at Rocca Maggiore (Assisi)
Typical Street in Cortona


JAG at the Colosseum (Roma)

Crete Senesi Landscape (Monte Oliveto)

Until next time...

Pace e bene,