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September’s scarlet crisped tips of maple leaves overhanging the asphalt road on our way to East Gloucester, Massachusetts, and the retreat house, a sacred place of cleansing silence. “And we didn’t get too lost this time,” said my buddy Pat, her pink cowgirl hat aslant upon her forehead, “not like other years.” It was 2014.

For miles, bracing wind currents from the nearby ocean and cawing sea gulls heightened our anticipation. It had always been the same: for thirty years we had left landlocked St. Louis, only to relish the Atlantic’s watery moods, at times like a fickle lover.

No matter that accommodations were spartan, the fixtures rusty, the cream walls smudged from retreatants’ luggage, the all-weather carpet stained, the acoustical tiles discolored, the mattresses lumpy, the casement windows corroded.

Of more importance were spirited retreat guides seasoned by life’s hilarity and tears, the retreatants’ prayer-weaving-mantle protecting scary descents into in our psyches, long hours of walking shady paths carved out from the surrounding forest, the boulder-lined coast affording multiple sits atop blankets, clam shells splattered upon sands with each tide, honey bees flitting around clumps of Queen Anne’s lace and goldenrod pushing through the sands. And chef-prepared meals energized everyone with New England cuisine.

Central to this experience, however, were long hours spent in meditation, relishing its fruit, and recording significant messages: always about conversion of heart. Within Love’s dream we were washed, until the next directed retreat.

At times, I feel like I’m participating in the directed retreat of my life, one that is moving me toward the contemplation for obtaining divine Love, the last meditation found in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. I’ll know it when I get there.

As an aside, 2017 saw the opening of the new retreatants’ wing at Eastern Point Retreat House, staffed by Jesuits from the New England Province.

 

This morning’s dream invited me to enter Silence. I was alone. Soft light-warmth permeated every cell of my being: Tingly with joy all over, like nothing I’ve ever experienced. It seemed to last forever, until jolted back into my old body with its worsening symptoms, but not to fret. In memory, I can return to this exquisite revelation of what is surely to come. Someone loves me with exceeding gentleness—and everyone else, as well.

 

Step Twelve of Chronic Pain Anonymous – Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others with chronic pain and chronic illness, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

 Step Twelve’s spiritual awakening evidenced Higher Power’s unconditional love for me; it seized my awareness and often buoyed me above the worsening symptoms of my terminal illness. As a lodestone, His presence steadied the subtle erosion of my energy, until again surrendering and living within new limits. The only way out of total exhaustion would be my death, but that did not seem imminent.

More opportunities to study the Twelve Steps with my sponsor and to practice the Twelve Steps filled the in-between moments of each day, even pre-dawn hours. Sharing the fruits of this endeavor during conference calls also attested to Higher Power’s healing presence in our midst. And Sunday Skype meetings with a co-sponsor from Australia also deepened the spiritual awakening we shared, our hearts warming with enthusiasm.

The rub of Step Twelve came in practicing these principles in all our affairs. That required consciousness and the willingness to change, and to change often. Given decades of robot-like behaviors, I’d find myself in disassociation or idealization or some other defense mechanism—much easier to deal with than the unknown of my diminishing body. Again, I’d scrape off the muck with Higher Power’s help in Step Two and surrender in Step Three to its serenity in the present moment.

So the ultimate goal of CPA recovery is to so live in accord with Higher Power’s will that I become a co-creator with Him: New life abounds with joy, all the more reason to let go and let God.

 

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