Friday, January 12, 2007

The Briar Patch

I've been reading an interesting book. It's the follow on to a book by Joan Anderson who took a year's personal sabbatical near a New England seaside. Sabbatical might not be the right word since it implies a thought process, and some planning. Anderson, I believe, just sort of decided one day she was leaving everything she knew behind and went looking for herself.

As a woman who has been on that same kind of search for as long as I can remember the orginal book was a tease. While I don't particularly want to leave my family, friends, pets, books, etc., behind, I often fantasize about having a beach house (or log cabin in the woods) to run to on any given day for an indefinite length of time.

"I've gone to the beach" the note I leave on the refrigerator might say. And after a while everyone who knows me would also know that I could be gone for an hour or a week, but when I got back I'd be a happier person. Well, maybe not necessarily happier, but more rested, more in touch.

I was pleased to discover that after Anderson's year by the shore, she's written several books on the same theme. The one I'm reading now is called "A Weekend to Change Your Life." It's about the weekend retreats she's been facillitating for women all over the country. Women who are tired, burned out, full to their eyeballs in doing for others, etc, etc., etc.

I'm intrigued by the idea of a retreat. I wonder, would I use the two days digging into my psyche and trying to cram all the personal insights into a place in my already jam-packed brain so they stick with me the way my "character defects" always do? Would I even have any personal insights? Would I sleep the whole time? Would the silence wear on my nerves? Would I watch the clock and wonder what's happening at home, did they remember to defrost the meat in time for dinner? Would I care if they didn't?

Anderson talks of "Turning up the Silence and Turning off the Voices" (pg93). I can't speak for others, but I think that would be hard for me. Sometimes I talk just to hear my own voice, or sing for the fun of it, or cry or laugh, or turn on the radio, just to fill in the what Simon and Garfunkle must have meant when they sang about the sounds of silence.

But isn't that what a retreat is all about? Doing something different. Listening for new sounds? Whispers that might have been drowned out by the white noise of every day life.

Anderson also writes of getting physical. She has her retreaters go on a five mile hike across a sandy beach. Five miles! Well, there goes my idea of a good retreat! But I have to admit there is a tiny part of me that is kind of, sort of, intrigued by the idea. I love to walk on the beach, digging my feet into the coolish sand, looking for connections between me and my astrological sign (Pisces)sisters, listening to the sound of the ocean until gradually my heart beat and the waves are in sync. I realize that after you get in the groove, five miles might just be a cake walk. But it's the getting in the groove that I worry about.

I have never really considered myself a nature girl. My experience at Girl Scout Camp when I was 11 years set me straight on that point. Yet, sometimes, I think one of my hidden personalities (and I have several) might be an Indian princess. She loves getting the Fall LLBean catalog and turns down page after page of clothing that could only be worn on a cold winter's day in some woodsy landscape. She loves listening to the sound of the birds singing their various songs, and even if she can't distinguish a cardinal from a whooping crane, the bird tunes make her smile. She loves getting her feet dirty, walking through piles of multi-colored leaves. She thinks the sound of wind through the trees at night is as good as any lullaby.

When one gets alone and silent and physical at the same time, does one automatically starting thinking deep thoughts? One of the things about the kind of retreat Anderson talks about that worries me is the way all her retreaters have these metaphoric ephiphanies. One lady picked up some seaweed on the beach and carried it along behind her until she was ready to "let go" - an obvious reminder that her life needed to be pared down some. Others looked at sea shells, some rough and some worn smooth by the sea, and caught glimpses of their own strength or lack thereof. I'm pretty sure that when I see a shell, I see a shell and not much else. When I see the limp form of a jelly fish lying on the beach, I think to myself, better not step on it - not that the long stingy tenacles are symbols of the things in my life that are keeping me tied down.

Here are some of what Anderson calls her lifelines for change - take action ... have an adventure ... face your fear ... seize the moment... tolerate isolation ... reach beyond your grasp. (p 112). All grouped together like that they sound kind of scary, but one at a time, any of them might be kind of interesting, if not fun.

I often recall a story from my childhood. It's the tale of Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox who are sort of the Southern version of Roadrunner and Coyote. Brer Rabbit is always tormenting Brer Fox, and Brer Fox is always looking for a way to get even. In one particular story, the fox has ingeniously entangled the rabbit in a ball of tar. Quite pleased with himself, Brer Fox spends a little too much time devising ways to get rid of the rabbit once and for all.

"Drown me! Roast me! Hang me! Do whatever you please," said Brer Rabbit. "Only please, Brer Fox, please don't throw me into the briar patch." And that, of course, was what the fox did, thinking the rabbit would be torn to shreds. Alas, the briar patch was the exact place the Rabbit WANTED to be, as it was his home and he knew just how to survive amongst the brambles. Brer Fox was foiled again.

As I look at the things on my "To Do" list, and see the new year's calendar already filling up with doctor's appointments, school classes, and church meetings, I can't help but think ... Retreat? Why Brer Fox, you can just throw me in that briar patch!

*A Weekend to Change Your Life," Joan Anderson, Broadway Books, 2006

No comments: