Well, the long-awaited time has at last arrived! After more than ten years in the planning and ground-laying, I have arrived back on Eagle Island for six weeks of winter solitude. Six weeks!!! I have no official commitments until March 9. And while there will no doubt be trips ashore for groceries and errands, they will be at the dictates of time and tide, not crammed on either edge of a flight-to-somewhere-else that has to be risked, sometimes in marginal conditions, because “the show must go on.” If I’m content to live on macaroni and rice (with mussels gathered from the shore), even these provisioning trips may be few and far between.
Bob Quinn, our island boat captain, brought me ashore yesterday afternoon in a gathering easterly breeze and light snowfall. He drove the bow of his lobsterboat right up onto the beach, and in two quick passes of his dinghy we had groceries, cat, computer, suitcases, and the several canvas tote bags full of books and files that have accompanied me on the latest month-long roadtrip, all safely ashore and under cover at my little house before nightfall. Today, as snow turns to rain and the only sound is the steady drip-drip-drip from a leaky rain gutter overhead, I am tending my woodstove, lugging water from the well, and taking advantage of the still only nine hours of usable daylight to get as far as I can with the unpacking and sorting of mail and awaiting Christmas presents.
What now? How to use this precious time? There are a billion projects awaiting my attention, ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. There’s the Trinity book to “git further” on. Three major lectures, two Wisdom Schools to prepare, and the inevitable flow of correspondence that still manages to pile up in the twenty minutes a day I can be online without crashing my solar system. (Please forgive me if it takes a bit longer to get around to questions and queries these next several weeks!) It would be easy to simply bury the time in the usual sort of busy-ness, or the semi-Dionysian frenzy I always disappear into when a major writing project has my full attention. To emerge six weeks later with check marks next to everything on my “to do” list and an organized calendar for the next two years: well, that would be an accomplishment of sorts, but not really what I’m most yearning for in this precious hermit window of opportunity.
What I’m most yearning for is also what I (typical human being that I am) most strenuously resist.
My hermit teacher Rafe always headed up the hill to his winter hermitage carrying neither telephone (let alone email!), a good book, nor a to-do list. Not even a watch (I gave him one for Christmas one year, but he managed to lose it in less than a week). Real hermiting, he insisted, is consecrated to emptiness, to deep inner listening. Even the usual contemplative piety of regularly-apportioned periods for prayer, meditation, lectio divina, was too much structure for him, too much imposition of a human scale on the vast, cavernous spaciousness of silence. “You have to endure the tedium until something emerges in it,” he always told me (“in” it, not “from” it, he insisted). “It always takes me about four days to shift gears,” he added, intent that the real hermit’s work was not to do anything in particular, but simply to acclimate gradually to living in conscious fullness “at the intersection of the timeless with time.” It requires a steel-trap mind and a lot of patience—“enough being to be nothing” is how he put it. It is a slowly gathering capacity to live inside one’s own skin, directly face to face with the sheer immensity of the now, without running off downwind into schedules, structures, prayers, accomplishments: all our human defenses against reality.
Well, I can’t pretend that I’m going to do any of this particularly well. The lure to get busy is strong, and the worthy projects—and even fun ones, like finally learning a few more Bach inventions on the piano or cello, or reading through the pile of books that has been slowly accumulating for all these ten years—is part of the time, too, all part of that “with time” part of that “intersection of the timeless with time” equation, and my own restless spirit will no doubt relieve itself with any number of these little monuments—not to mention cutting up all that dead and downed wood out in the south pasture and having that long-awaited winter bonfire. But being present even to my own restlessness is all part of being present, and I suspect that if I can just keep myself grounded in the gentle rhythm of human busyness and cosmic attending, I’ll come upon the right stride and pacing eventually…
…like the slow, steady rise and fall of the sea against the popplestones down on the shore, barely but always audible as the underlying pedal point when the wind drops down and the piano (and cello) fall silent. One thing I know, this precious, magic time will be over in the blink of an eye. And I’m curious who will emerge on the other side of it.
With love to you all, from the heart of God!
Dearest sister, Cynthia:
My thoughts wander to you as I sit here in Kawerau, pondering you and your wonderful opportunity to sit in silent contemplation each day in the “Eagle’s Nest” (my name for your new respite place).
Can I remind that I often heard it said, “Less is more…” — in the midst of all the enticing, alluring distractions you mention “…the lure to get busy is strong, and the worthy projects—and even fun ones, like…. reading through the pile of books that has been slowly accumulating for all these ten years—is part of the time, too, all part of that “with time” part of that “intersection of the timeless with time” equation, and my own restless spirit will no doubt relieve itself with any number of these little monuments…”
The salient points of Mme Guyon’s doctrine I can really relate to the deepest are these: First, spiritual life is a process of ‘disappropriation’, a growing detachment that allows God to gradually take possession of the soul. Second, spiritual life is a teleological process involving design, purpose, and meaning, thus the spirit will move from lower to higher stages. Mme. Guyon summarized this in two words “humble abandon”.
I can see your times in the Eagle’s Nest as just that, ma souer — times of ‘humble abandon’. I can foresee in this sacred state of abandon, you will achieve what Price, citing Fenelon, mentions as our spritual quest:
“Price (1992) writes that when this state is reached the outward world becomes superfluous and sin is impossible, and that it is precisely within this “intimate union with God” and “loving knowledge of the divine” where consciousness is transformed and reconfigured (Price, 1992). Freedom gained through ownership and responsibility was for Fenelon “renouncing to the world” and dying to self (ego necessities, neurotic needs).”
I trust your solitary time spent wisely yields much fruit in terms the “…the Trinity book to “git further” on; three major lectures, two Wisdom Schools to prepare, and the inevitable flow of correspondence that still manages to pile up…” I also trust that you will, with all that ahead, feel the peace of God that transcends all understanding!
Pax Christi, Alan
You are in my prayers for a full replenishment and more . . .
“……………………………………………………” ’nuff said!
May your hermit space be filled to overflowing with emptiness!!
Cynthia: I feel the pull of your island hermitage and the vast expanse of the possibilities that lie before you. Again, you lead me to look into my inner space with trust. And these lines spoke to me “But being present even to my own restlessness is all part of being present, and I suspect that if I can just keep myself grounded in the gentle rhythm of human busyness and cosmic attending, I’ll come upon the right stride and pacing eventually…” Thank you. Jessie
Blessings be….I pray you go well Cynthia.
I have recently just become aware of Cynthia and am currently reading her book Contemplative Prayer. What a treasure! I have also become part of a Contemplative Prayer group in southern BC and am planning for some time alone at a local retreat center. You are an inspiration,Cynthia!
In my exuberance, I mistakenly referred to the book as Contemplative, when it is Centering Prayer…..Teresa
Rabbi Rami Shapiro was wonderful, though I would have loved to be in Aspen that week. I hope everyone there enjoyed “Mount Analog” as much as we did. May you enjoy Eagle Island and the silence as a precious gift. My prayers are with you.
Til we meet again,
Einstein said that the pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all of our lives.
In this time of winter solitude dear precious one, enjoy being the child.
Thank you, Cynthia. Very useful and reassuring, and beautifully expressed as always.
I am currently reading your book “Love is Stronger than Death.” There is such beautiful strength in the vulnerability you share. God bless you in your winter hermitage Cynthia, for “who will emerge on the other side of it” will no doubt bless my own “becoming” ~ which I have so gratefully experienced already through your wisdom teachings ~ Shalom
I read your blog after my last email, so will respond here. I am so touched. You are such a wonderful example and your Rafe even more so. May the time fill your heart and soul to bursting, you of such big heart.
May your hermit time touch the reality of heaven, as you helped us touch it at our final session of
the wisdom school.
And may Christ enfold you in his arms.
All love to you, dear one.
Wishing you loving discernment. I continue to be grateful for all you give and look forward to seeing you later in the year.
Peace and light, Charlotte
I loved this: “vast, cavernous spaciousness of silence. ‘You have to endure the tedium until something emerges in it,'” and “enough being to be nothing”
thank you for beautiful words that speak to the heart of my soul’s silence
Wishing you much peace and presence.
Thank you, Cynthia, for your honesty and humility as you share your journey as well as the words of your hermit mentor. It models for me an inner freedom, acceptance and trust in yourself and in the life in Christ meant for you, while continuing to ask and listen within. It helped me today. I sometimes question my choices in life. Did I take the path that was meant for me? Should I have spent more time in the fire of full solitude? But then, perhaps there is not only one path but the activity of the path that is important. Does the fire of solitude come upon us in different ways?
Today, I received a call for someone who is dying that is a three hour drive away, but the brakes of my car gave out as I was inching my way (thankfully slowly) down the snowy mountain. And so I remain here at home in my unknowing, and I must admit that I am content – light snow is falling, the cat is snoring by the woodstove, a feeling of mystery covers all, and the inner motion of time is brought to a pause, at least for now.
With hopes for many blessings, as you have blessed the world, during this time of quiet and rest,
You have given and give me and the world so much. I feel an ache and pang for you as I catch sight in this blog of the cost to you amongst the beautiful rich whirl of it. I have been given a very quiet life that is enfolded with reading your books over and over. I shall take this up with even more reverence. May Quietness reach you at just the right velocity to be gentle in your winter solitude.
Great blessings and thank you, Kaia
We have never met, but after several people told me I had to read your book on Mary Magdalen, I purchased it and am 3/4 through it. It is such a gift for where I am in my journey. Just got back from babysitting on the West coast and read your blog regarding your hermitage time! You are DOING the precise thing that our hearts long for! Time to be still and know we are the beloved of Sacred Mystery! I spent 4 days in Dec. At a mretreat center in Maine, but spent too much time reading and writing and way too little being still. I left disappointed in myself! Felt I had wasted the precious few days I could spend away from work. Your teacher was soooo wise! Next time I will go with very little! One book only!
My prayer for you is that you are able to follow your teacher’s advice and allow Source to find you in the quiet!
Peace and blessings to you and thank you for your writings!
Dear Cynthia may you be richly blessed during this hermitage time, as you bless so many .
Love, Michelle+ XOXOX
Richest blessings to you Cynthia from each and every direction and each and every dimension. You are a true modern day Master and I for one have been spiritually enriched (in ways I am only just beginning to comprehend) by your life and work.
In my enthusiasm at finding your books and ‘devouring them with gusto’ I wrote you several emails which I DO NOT want you to answer. Let nothing take you from your Holy task for one second.
Your Hermitage will bless us all.