I like dabbling in photography, although I’m clueless when it comes to photography technicalities and all I own is a rather old Canon Ixus compact camera. The shots it took were better when I first bought it, but now and then it still delivers some fine results for a basic point-and-shoot camera. An example is this photo of a tree I took in a wood just outside Pamplona in northern Spain. I was out walking at the time with some friends on a rather overcast day. I changed the settings slightly to create a blue effect, giving the tree and its reflection a rather mystical quality.
It has been a while since I wrote here. Much has happened since! The main thing being that I am now living in Spain, in a city in the north called Pamplona, and I have taken up a teaching job. It’s a refreshing change from London and I’m gradually forming friendships with other teachers and Spanish people living here.
I am blogging about my experience at www.ayearinpamplona.wordpress.com. Pamplona lies on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail, that has various starting points across Europe, which all meet at the Pyrenees and finish in Santiago in Spain.
Tomorrow I set out on the Camino de Santiago for 2 days, begining at Pamplona, and heading for the towns of Peunte la Reina and Estella. I hope to do much of the pilgrimage while I am living here, over weekends and holidays.
Have you been on a retreat lately? Where did you go and what was your experience?
I’d love to include on this blog other people’s experiences of retreat-going, alongside my own personal reflections, and to cover more retreats across the country.
Maybe you had a life-changing experience while on retreat – an experience you’ll never forget, or was it the most boring weekend of your life with the worst food you’ve ever eaten?
Whatever type of retreat (silent, workshop based, a day retreat), and whatever the experience (amazing, awful, hilarious), it would be great to receive your comments.
You can write your comments here below, or if you’d prefer, email me at email@example.com
It’s true what they say about job hunting being a full time job. It’s pretty all consuming, and creatively sapping. It’s also never ending – there’s always another job around the corner to apply for, a further tweak to make to the CV.
So the other day I did something really brave: I turned off my PC off and decided to paint something. Now this was really hard: dropping everything and focusing for a few hours on a painting. I felt like I ought to be doing something really productive (like another application form) rather than messing around with paints.
But it’s been like this for roughly the past four years, which is the amount of time I’ve been in this London houseshare, and the amount of time our large kitchen wall has remained bare. From the day I moved in I said I’d paint something, and four years on, still a blank wall. The reason is maybe a mixture of procrastination and not being able to decide what to paint.
So I bought a large canvas and the other day and began to paint. After a couple of hours a blue bird began to emerge from the blank canvas (I’m copying a lovely Wedgwood design – The Orange Bird). It’s not perfect by any means, but it was satisfying. I’ve toned down the orange background a bit as this would be way to garish for any kitchen wall.
Quite often I find I’m waiting for a creative moment in order to be creative, whether it’s painting or writing. And the result is that quite often that creative moment doesn’t come, so I get on with something else.
I read this the other day and it helped a lot: “Don’t wait for the muse to inspire you, to put you in the mood. That comes only with doing. So do. Momentum is a lot easier once you overcome inertia… Move a little bit and the muse will get behind you and help you push” (Danny Gregory in the Creative License).
On Saturday I went on a day retreat at the Guy Chester Centre up in Muswell Hill, North London.
The Guy Chester Centre is Methodist run, and besides offering retreats and quiet days, has many other projects and initiatives – halls of residence for students, nursing care, sheltered accommodation, a tennis club and a high dependency dementia unit.
The theme of the day was ‘moving forwards’, with around 25 others on the retreat (the majority women) seeking a day of quiet reflection for the start of the New Year.
The day was led by Glynes Mewton, a multi-disciplined Energy Therapist, who took us through some group discussions and a few activities to get us thinking about the theme. She gave us some free time too for our own reflections and to wander around the gardens.
One of the exercises involved picking out a couple of postcards from a pile that was scattered across the floor – one to represent where we are currently at in our lives, and one showing where we wanted to be. We then went round and explained to the group why we’d picked the cards.
One woman in her mid forties picked out a photo of dogs and said she had the desire recently to get a dog to keep her company. She said she thought the postcard was telling her something else, that what she was really looking for was company of a man in her life, and that she hoped this year would open up new opportunities for that. I thought it took courage for her to say this, to a group of strangers.
My choice was different to most peoples. I started with a tranquil scene of a lake, followed by a photo of a lighthouse, engulfed by waves in a storm – for me, not a chaotic image, but one of energy, vitality and movement. I wanted to move away from calm in some areas, and seek out new opportunities.
This raised a few eyebrows as for most people it was the other way round: images of stormy scenes followed by something much more tranquil. They had come here for rest, to find a way through life’s problems.
There was a ‘magic eye’ exercise, where we were shown various images and if we stared at them for long enough, another image appeared (you know the ones). It was a simple but effective way of getting us thinking about how we see our lives.
‘As we go through life we can be focusing hard on some things, and miss some of the other things’ Glynes said. ‘We can have a tendency to over-complicate. We make things difficult when they are actually really simple.’
At the end of the day, one woman, an accountant with three unruly teenagers, said she liked my ‘energy’ – that my choice of cards really stood out to her, that I brought something really positive to group (which was really encouraging considering I wasn’t feeling especially energetic).
Another older guy alluded to how going on retreat when you’re young is really valuable, and helps later in life. He said he use to be a high school teacher and tried to make the hyperactive kids sit for five minutes of meditation before lessons. It was hard, he said, but the results were amazing.
We wrote lists of things that were preventing us from getting from the place where we were at, to the place we wanted to be, and then shredded them in a paper shredder – a way of saying that we were not going to let these things stand in the way in our lives, from achieving goals and moving forwards. We were encouraged to pray for each other as we went up to shred our bits of paper.
We were given a pot of daffodil bulbs and a Bible verse to take home with us, to represent new beginnings and a fresh start; the casting off things that held us back. Now it sits on my kitchen window sill, the daffodil heads slowly opening, some pointing in the direction of the sun.
My London houseshare is busy these days. Nicola, the teacher, has bought a new blender and is experimenting with a variety of dishes, with interesting and varied results. Caroline, the film maker, is preparing for a pitch she has to give in a film competition tomorrow. And we have another addition to the house, Louise, who is lodging here for a few months – meaning there are now five of us in the house. It’s busy, but fun.
Thankfully we got rid of the mice that seemed to be making a home for themselves in one of the kitchen cupboards. Mice are really the last thing we need, not least in the kitchen.
Another reason it’s really relevant to me is because I finished my job yesterday, a short term contract, so need to seek out the next thing. It’s all a bit uncertain really, but hopefully tomorrow will give me a new sense of direction.
The other evening I and my housemates – the four of us – sat around the dinner table discussing what our aspirations were for the coming year. We talked about everything really – work life, spirituality, relationships…
It was good to do this as one year rolls into the next – to pause and think about what we really wanted from the year. I always think it’s good to have goals even if they don’t materialise in the way we imagine.
I’m now thinking about a January retreat and where to go. Having not been on a retreat for some time, I really feel ready for one now. Christmas was a little exhausting and I went away to the New Forest for New Year with a big group of friends. It was lovely but I didn’t really have a chance to carve out any space within that.
So this month I will probably head off for a day retreat somewhere, maybe the convent down the road. There are several really well-known retreats that I have yet to visit, such as Worth Abbey in West Sussex, St Beunos in Wales… hopefully I can carve out some weekends this year to visit them.