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My mother has, thus far, taught me a great deal about being a strong woman.
Not the least of which was: always wear cotton panties because, and I quote, “You’ve got to let your crotch breathe!”
This was delivered on more than one occasion with an importance equal to that of: “Always look both ways before crossing the street.” As though disregarding either of these life-regulating principles would end in tragedy. (And if you’ve experienced a yeast infection, then perhaps you know this is transferable advice.)
She has also modeled the imperative need for a woman to take a retreat.
We were a family of six. In a small home. With one bathroom. Let me help you with the math. The equation ends with a mother often at her wit’s end as her children battled, sparred, and tussled around her over anything and everything, right down to the air we breathed and who was being a hog about it.
And so, my mother would disappear a couple of times a year for a few days, or for whatever she could manage without the fear of losing her home to a Lord of the Flies situation. Following those few days away, she would return with more pink in her skin, more peace in her eyes, and her hands and jaw loosened.
There was more space within and without, and our home took a deeper breath.
It was not the local spa to which she escaped. She was not whisked away via limousine to a resort where plush robes were the dress code, and then slathered down with exotic Egyptian mud masks and Japanese seaweed wraps. Nor was she fed gluten-free humus, nut milk, and hormone-free tofu, while sipping cucumber water imported from the last pristine glacier. We were not a wealthy family and luxury was not a luxury we could afford.
Instead, she retreated to a noiseless space—no voices, distractions, or demands.
In a dreamy memory, I recall going with her for a day. Her room was simple, with little to keep clean. There was a small chapel there; the pews worn soft by prayer and supplication. It was a monastic retreat space on the edge of a high cliff, overlooking a lake that didn’t seem to possess an other side, only a thin pencil line of the horizon.
And I am sure that my mother, while gazing out at that ever-changing water—one day roaring and throwing fists of waves and the next day demure—found just enough space to remember who she was beyond wife and mother: a woman, somewhere between roaring and demure.
That is the power of retreat for women. It is a space that offers the chance to retrieve the fragments of us that get sloughed off in the rush hour traffic of life—side-swiped and torn away by so many micro-emotional fender-benders or multi-event pileups.
And we can let the critical voice convince us there is no time for us. There is no money. There is no way. And most tragic of all, that there is no use.
As a mother, wife, daughter, sister, nurse, and community member, my mother’s actions flew in the face of all these scarcity narratives. A couple of times a year she put her needs on equal ground to all those squabbling, fussing, and wrestling around her.
As I examine my retreat-retrieval journey through life, I see that it has followed the path of my abundance. At times, my retreat has been modest: a day spent laying by the river soaking sun like a seal, or seated at the roots of a colossal cedar, journal in my lap. A sauna transformed into a writing nook by a comfortable chair, pillowy pillows, and a sacred altar. At other times of greater abundance, it looks like a king bed and staring out at the mountains and the lake that glistens between us. Neither setting is more fulfilling than the other.
Instead, it is the silence—the space in which we meet what animates us most as women.
It is time for our prayers to be slowed down, articulated, wept upon, and celebrated. The time in which words can be hovered over as they are scratched onto paper, or when worn, wooden rosary beads can be savored as they slip through our fingertips.
A space in time where we know that those trees, that lake, that mountain are in us. And we shall return to our lives and our beloveds with the expansiveness, the rootedness, and the strength of all of these elements restored in our divine feminine spirit.
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