I went on a retreat yesterday with a bunch of friends to nearby sanctuary called Universal Pathways, run by a fabulous woman named Mary Browne. Mary and her husband had lived on a sheep farm for over forty years; but in recent years they have sold the sheep and converted the land (and a few surrounding parcels, too) into a restful place to wander the meadows and forests, walk the labyrinth or peace garden, or settle down by the river and listen to the water's laughter.
The house that serves as the center for the retreat space (or, as Mary calls it "my office") is filled with books, statues and art from every possible spiritual tradition (even Yoda!). Each room is a new place to explore and we made the most of it as we waited for everyone to arrive. One of the upstairs rooms has been turned into a beautiful temple with trompe l'oeil stone walls and marvelous decorations. I sat on one of the meditation cushions and looked out the window at the colorful leaves -- autumn is truly here at last! -- and watched a hawk spiral in the sky. It was lovely to have a quiet moment before the rest of the gang got there.
Once we got a tour of the grounds and set a time to meet for lunch, off we went. I went off through the woods then climbed toward the highest point I could find. All around the valley was a riot of color. I found a spot between the meadows where the trees separated them and a pile of rocks and sat down to play my drum for a while (the Remo doumbek as it had looked like rain might be possible). I was hoping I was far enough away that I wouldn't disturb the peace of others and later folks told me that they had enjoyed the drumming. There was a squirrel who seemed not to share that opinion, chattering at me for a while. I wandered around the fields looking at plants (I don't think I've seen milkweed for years; I forgot how silky it feels) and enjoying what turned out to be a beautiful day.
We all squeezed around the dining room table for a big potluck lunch and shared the things we had seen or done. As always the varieties of food and conversation left us with a great feeling of satisfaction and plenty. The day was proving a rare gift in our over-booked, stressful lives, and everyone was making the most of it.
No one had found the cave, but I had made sure to ask directions from Mary, as she appeared from their house with steaming mugs of freshly made grape juice (oh, was that good!). I followed the river as she had advised and soon found myself before the imposing rocks from which issued forth the stream. After exploring a little (I didn't actually go inside the cave as the opening would require crawling and I would have needed waterproof shoes) I sat down to check out the acoustics, drumming softly. A few people came by, drawn by the rhythms and joined the gurgle of the river with some friendly conversation.
I remember walking in the woods in Connecticut and always being worried about hunters -- for a time it seemed like someone was accidentally shot every other week. While we could hear the guns from the rifle range down the valley from time to time, on Mary's land we had no fear of that happening. Perhaps the strangest thing was hearing the loud call of the donkey over on the next farm. There's a voice that carries! Mary had mentioned there being ravens nearby, but I was not lucky enough to catch sight of them.
The rain held off until we were chatting with Mary at the end of the day, telling her about our favorite places and our eagerness to return. The sudden shower had stopped before we went out to our cars, vowing that we would take some of the peace and tranquility of the day back to our busy lives. I can't wait to go back!