I walk this week in silence. I retreat northwards to the thin place, where mountains rise high and mists lie low. I walk to find the next stage of my journey. I remove myself from daily routines and daily connections, seeking a stronger sense of myself by being still, by being quiet in this place where the landscape is large and it is safe to be small.
I take time to arrive, to settle into this space. I park my car in the carpark and unpack my possessions in the room I am given but I am restless. I bring imprints from my daily routines and daily connections and these take time to dissolve and disappear. I walk to release them. I seek the still point but it eludes me. I am impatient and forget that this week of silence is a journey and the sweet spot is earned. In this place where outer and inner self merge and meet, the pace slows gradually. I walk further, softening my steps, seeking a stronger sense of this landscape that I walk in.
The season is autumn, the colours deep and intense. Red and crimson, orange and gold. Even as they fall to the floor, the leaves I catch are vibrant and alive, glowing. I let them go as these are not the colours I seek. I search for calm and the sanctuary of a softer palette.
I look to the water. I watch the mist settling, the edges blurring. I look further, listening. My disquiet continues, in a place where the water is calm and the wind soft, I remain restless, longing to match the mood the landscape is showing me. I long to walk the straight line but this journey is curved and I must meet myself where I am.
I do not walk this journey of retreat alone. There are companions. I share a room with two others, each of us in our own way seeking our own connection to this landscape we retreat to. There are more, 22 of us in total, sharing meaning in this place we call home for this week we visit. I take the sense of otherness I feel outside and move inward, walking instead along the inner walls of the building we live in. And it is here, inside with these companions whose path I have only just crossed, that I begin to arrive. In the stories we share, hesitant and awkward at first, but easing with connection, there begins a softening and an opening to the place I seek.
There is laughter and there is food, vibrant colorful delicious food that feeds our bodies and nourishes our senses. There are words and there are pictures, inspiring uplifting catalysing sounds and images that challenge us to be creative, to come alive. There are breakthroughs and realizations as we chop vegetables, wash dishes and clear up after ourselves and each other. There is also silence and contemplation and kindness as we each take what we learn and put it to the measure of our own inner compass. I breathe, deeply.
I unravel. I open the cover to my journal and I write. Pencil on paper, my thoughts tumble easily from head to heart and out into the world.
I paint. Simple drawings of this landscape I inhabit. Soft glowing colours appear out of a brush that senses my transforming mood and obliges. There is flow and there is movement. Delicate watercolours match intricate words. I do not call myself an artist but there is delight in the matching of image and sound, the sight of a journal that grows fat with creativity, the expression of the connectivity I now touch.
It is not easy to be in this place that I walk this week. There is a challenge to open up to the experience, to allow the call that is here to be heard, deep inside where no-one else can go. I learn to move out of my own way so I can listen to what is being said. In the company of others I hear myself and the message tells me to keep walking. Daily. Deeply. Listening and looking with all my heart as I walk. Accepting companionship when it is offered. Taking solitude when it is required. These are the steps that will let me find the way I seek, the answers I am waiting for, the straight line that will take me home.
In this place of solitude I have found connection, companionship, shared meaning and a stronger sense of how to be in the world. In retreat I have reached out and the thin place has spoken to me, rewarded me for my patience, acknowledged me for my acceptance of myself. I return home renewed and refreshed, as I had hoped, but with so much more than I could have wished. This is the gift of this place that I have walked, where the margins are fine, the mists soft and revealing. This is the gift of the thin place.
This place I write from is on the shores of Loch Voil in Stirlingshire, Scotland where I take part in a photography, painting and meditation retreat.