Retreating

When I was working (many moons ago!) one of my colleagues told me that she went on retreat in a local convent two or three times a year. I was intrigued and she tried to explain to me what it was she found so useful from the experience. I kind of understood intellectually but struggled to imagine how it might feel.

Walking the dogs this morning I started to connect my experience of lockdown (which is still pretty much in force here in Wales) with going on retreat. I haven’t followed the horarium of a monastic day but a rhythm has developed which includes work (housework, gardening, decorating, time in the workshop); socialising via the internet; reading; and times to be quiet (yoga, dog walks and crafting in the evening). I have been less secluded from the world than on a retreat but because I live alone apart from my pets there has been a lot of silence. My dogs ensure I go out for walks, my cats give me cuddles and they all entertain me, but great conversationalists they aren’t! So I have spent more time alone with my thoughts and have had fewer means of distracting myself than usual. No longer can I find something to justify a quick trip to the shops or arrange to meet a friend for coffee.

In the early weeks it was fine. I did what I always do and kept busy. I had already planned to do some decorating and bought the paint. There were seeds to sow, veg beds to clear and planting out to do. The weather was glorious. My head was full of lists, plans and ideas. I finished my library books. I noticed that I then chose old favourites to read. Books of short chapters with gentle, amusing tales – Deric Longden and his cats, Jeanine McMullen and her small country living, Peter Mayle in Provence. I needed to be occupied but couldn’t settle to anything demanding. Knitting simple jumpers for charity was fine, complex patterns were beyond me.

Then matters in my daughter’s marriage came to a head and she decided she needed to get out whatever the long term consequences. She has the support of an amazing group of friends who helped her find a house to rent and enough furniture and equipment to live in it in reasonable comfort as well as giving her emotional support and encouragement. Apart from being one of the guarantors that her rent will be paid despite her low income, there was nothing for me to do practically. But emotionally my head was full to the brim! It was weird being unable to follow my instinct and rush to her aid. She was coping well, had all the support and help she needed and I would have been putting myself at risk for no good reason. I could commiserate, encourage and send love by Whatsapp from the safety of home. A hard but excellent lesson in sitting on my hands!

Rumbling in the background has been concern for my son’s brother in law who has been in intensive care on a ventilator and a lung machine since early April with Covid 19. It began to seem that whilst he could technically be kept alive indefinitely the decision might have to be taken to let him die. This weekend he finally improved, was brought out of his induced coma and is being taken off the machines.

Now that the dramas are easing my mood is shifting again. There are still projects I want to do and I find myself almost hoping restrictions aren’t eased too much too soon – not just because of concerns about a ‘second wave’ but because I don’t want to be faced with responsibility for making choices about how much time I spend on my own here getting on with things and how much I go out and about or entertain visitors. I have been surprised how much I have got done when there are no distractions. I have quite enjoyed the solitude. Yesterday I picked up a book on garden design I planned to re-read back in March and a philosophy book the librarian picked out for me on my last visit, also in March. Both had lain on the chest in the sitting room untouched, reproaching me for my laziness. Once I started on them I found I was enjoying them both. The garden one requires me to stop and think about applying the ideas and the philosophy one needs digesting so I read a little bit of each in turn!

I am lucky. I have a loving family, good friends, kind neighbours, a comfortable home, a garden I enjoy, a secure income which is enough for my needs. Even so I have found lockdown hard at times. There have been times of loneliness, worry, frustration. I have learned things about myself. Some have been good things; my resilience and ability to pick myself up when I am feeling down, my ability to cope with extended solitude. Others less so; my need to be always busy, my impatience, my bossiness. And some are just interesting; how much I have to learn about gardening, how my reading choices changed.

I am looking forward to being able to see friends again, to have a hug, to go to the library, to shop for things I want to see and feel before I buy. But I am also grateful for the experience of confinement. I have had no temptation to do an online search for retreat houses (of whatever religious persuasion) but I am beginning to understand better why some people do.

18 thoughts on “Retreating

  1. JanHanPhoto June 29, 2020 / 5:42 pm

    These have been strange times. At first I embraced lock down it was different and I can work from home. But after a few weeks groundhog day as my husband calls it set in. My job took me out and about so I wasn’t office bound all of the time, working from home during lock down I am tied to my desk. I haven’t had so much time for me but I am enjoying the garden, reading a bit more and having a go at crafts such as attempting to make face masks. Like you, I miss family and cannot wait to see them and hug them.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Going Batty in Wales June 30, 2020 / 10:39 am

      I have been intrigued by how different people have reacted to lockdown – partly due to their circumstances like being able to work from home or not, how many people in their family share how much space… but also their personality. I think we have probably all learned something about ourselves. Strange times indeed.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. anne54 June 29, 2020 / 10:22 pm

    I have been on a couple of artist in residencies, which, in a way, are like retreats, and your experience of lockdown. What they all have in common is removing ourselves from the ordinary life to focus on the inner life. It was lovely to read your reflections on the rhythms of your life at the moment.
    Your son and his family must be feeling such anguish, and brings home the terrible truths of this virus.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Going Batty in Wales June 30, 2020 / 10:46 am

      Yes, I think being artist in residence must be rather like this lockdown experience – a time out of normal time. Having a fit, middle-aged family member so ill has indeed brought it home to me why we are putting up with the restrictions and I am thinking carefully about how I respond to the easing of them. It has indeed been hard for my son and family to worry about him. As my daughter in law and her family are from Bangladesh English is their second language so it has fallen to my son to be the point of contact for the hospital relaying the news to the others. That plus worrying about his sister and working from home at a stressful job has been hard on him. Thank goodness both situations are now easier.

      Like

  3. tidalscribe June 29, 2020 / 11:53 pm

    When our daughter had her dad and little son in hospital at the same time she said she could not cope with anything else happening – and then the pandemic hit us! Pandemics and isolation are enough for most of us to cope with without family dramas as well! Hope all goes well for your daughter.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Going Batty in Wales June 30, 2020 / 10:50 am

      Thank you Janet. She is loving being somewhere she can make her own choices , go out without having to account for her movements or say when she will be back. There will be other trials ahead but for now we can all breathe. I know that your husband is now home and stable – I hop your grandson is better too. Crises seem to hunt in packs!

      Liked by 1 person

      • tidalscribe June 30, 2020 / 12:56 pm

        Yes grandson fine now, a hernia operation in London followed by chest infection at the local hospital! Daughter back out working in the community with NHS.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Going Batty in Wales July 1, 2020 / 10:00 am

        Glad to hear he is OK now. Let’s hope all our loved ones stay safe and well – there have been enough dramas!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Laurie Graves June 30, 2020 / 2:00 pm

    Very thoughtful piece. I think this time of the pandemic really brings out all our qualities, the good and the bad. So glad your daughter is doing well and that your son’s brother-in-law is off the ventilator. In this country, too many people are behaving in ways that are incomprehensible, led by the grimacing fool in the White House. But the tide might be turning. I am hopeful.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Going Batty in Wales July 1, 2020 / 10:05 am

      I read the news from the US as reported here and am bewildered by it. Some people in the UK are behaving irresponsibly, others are being very careful and following the advice to the letter. Personally I have taken some carefully calculated small risks like allowing Matt to come and do the utility room knowing he was a low risk person and we would only meet outdoors. I am pleased the Welsh government is being extra cautious – more so than other parts of the UK – because it sets the tone. I wish I could visit my kids but that would be too big a breach of the rules and of common sense.

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  5. tialys June 30, 2020 / 4:08 pm

    I too was pootling along fairly happily in lockdown but that’s because most of my leisure interests are indoor ones – although I do have a lovely garden to play in too – and also my husband got locked down with me here instead of in the U.K. All was going well until one of my daughters got taken into hospital over in the U.K. Luckily, my other daughter was on hand to drive her to A & E and was even allowed to visit a couple of times but she found the responsibility scary and was desperate for at least one of us to get back there which, of course, we couldn’t and, even if we could have, we wouldn’t have been allowed to see her anyway. She’s O.K. – or at least they don’t know what caused it – but it was a very trying week for all concerned.
    So, family dramas together with a pandemic definitely not a good thing.
    It sounds as if your daughter has an excellent network of friends to get her through the worst of her situation which must be a relief for you but there’s nobody quite like Mum is there?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Going Batty in Wales July 1, 2020 / 10:11 am

      Your daughter’s experience sounds really scary for all of you. I am so glad she is well again now. I could have gone to see my daughter if she had really needed me – as the police were involved I could have told anyone who questioned me for travelling the incident number and probably been allowed to continue. But with so many friends rallying round her there was no practical need and we could chat by phone or messages. It must have been much worse for you knowing that come what may you couldn’t get to her.

      I think I’ve had enough dramas for a while and I am sure you have too. Let’s hope for some calm until something resembling normality can be restored.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. My Home Farm July 5, 2020 / 10:35 pm

    It’s a crazy time. We’re rural, so embracing lockdown and social distancing was quite easy for us. The bigger question at hand is what happens after the lockdown is lifted, with the prospect of a second wave. Uncertain times.

    Like

  7. Helen July 15, 2020 / 2:28 pm

    You have had quite a challenging time in some ways over the past few months! I’m glad to hear your son’s brother-in-law is pulling through. And that your daughter has had the support of her friends to find a new home etc.

    Like you, I have mixed feelings about the easing of lockdown (apart from concerns about all our healthes). I don’t feel I have accomplished anywhere near as much as I could have done, although teaching online has blown my mind, so crafting and reading is as far as I’ve realistically been able to manage.

    Liked by 1 person

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