by Nancy R. Catan, BCBP Manila
Last weekend, May 18-20, was a luxury ‘time out’ for me and our daughter Ruth. The two of us went up the mountain to Lake Balanan in Siaton, Negros Oriental, on Friday to rest, retreat, and recharge for the entire weekend. Rest from the unending treadmill of daily life. Retreat from “doing” and rediscovering the delight of just “being”. Recharging our body and our soul batteries with the wonderfully positive energy emanating from the mountain, forested hills, and lake, being serenaded by joyous wild birds and breathing in deeply the fresh, clean air. Recharging and enjoying God’s presence, listening to His voice speaking in our hearts.
Lake Balanan is a most serenely beautiful refuge away from the hustle and bustle of the world – no internet access, cell phone access is sporadic at best. No radios. No TV. Just century-old giant trees, a bottomless lake, mountain-fresh water in the swimming pools, plenty of birds and flowers, a nearby sparkling waterfall, pathways for meditation, and the aliveness of silence in God’s nature.
During the weekend retreat I could feel the shadows and darkness of everyday stresses melt away as I centered myself on the peaceful serenity of the lake and its reflections of Light. Saturday morning while journaling in a grove of trees under their canopy of dense leafy branches overlooking the lake, the morning sun’s warm rays suddenly shone directly on me. When I looked up to see how the sun was able to penetrate the dense leafy canopy, I saw an opening, shaped like a doorway, between two giant, ancient tree roots, radiating with the incoming light of the sun. It was as if a doorway had opened to the heavenly Light! A most sublime darkness-to-light experience!
Have you ever felt that your life was running away with you, albeit happily running down the path of life? That being fatigued and somewhat stressed out was becoming a normal situation? That as soon as you catch your breath from running errands, another two or three or four things to do pop up? That your “to do” list gets longer every time you cross off something you’ve accomplished? That you find you can’t say “no” to additional challenging projects?
Time for recharging! But how to find the time to recharge? I remember a book that I once read … all about stillpoints and stopovers. In the busyness of life today, I believe this is what we all need – time out for stillpoints and stopovers. And Ruth and I have vowed to make time in our schedules to repeat this stopover weekend at least several times a year. And next time stay at Lake Balanan for at least three or four days … two days is just too short to calm our minds and bodies and spirits.
What are stillpoints? They are life’s little moments when we pause for even just one or two minutes, take a deep breath, focus our attention inward in mindfulness, and remember what our heart wants us to remember. It can be a motivating event, an inspiring phrase, an encouraging word like “you can do it”. Stop, breathe, remember…and be instantly refreshed and strengthened for the task at hand.
Recently one such stillpoint in my life brought to mind a teaching of Teilhard De Chardin that the whole of life lies in the verb “seeing”. Stopping quickly and doing nothing for a moment clears my vision and sharpens my awareness. It can be done effortlessly and many times a day, while waiting for my morning coffee to cool, while standing in line at the supermarket checkout counter, or even while pausing to really listen to a happy little songbird sing right outside my window. The problem here is that we are prone to forget to be still, surrounded as we are by the incessant noises of life around us.
Stopovers are less frequent and are those times that are longer than a stillpoint, perhaps an hour or a day or two. This is a time of getting away from it all, of withdrawing from the busy chaos around, and finding oneself. Its ultimate purpose is to wake us up to what is really going on in our life, to keep first things first, to find and remember our ultimate values and the meaning of our life.
For this weekend Ruth and I were given separate retreat guidelines by Sis Carmeli Catan, our spiritual director, things to reflect on, memories to process for their meaning in our life, with instructions to be sure to spend time in contemplative prayer, thanking God for the wealth of good things that have happened in our lives. Truly it has been a time of deep communion with our Lord – resting, retreating and recharging in His presence.
As I write this, I am resolving to observe more stillpoints and stopovers, to take time out to breathe and remember, to be aware of the wonder of being alive and being loved. I resolve not to let my body’s battery exhaust itself, but to spend a few moments each day to let it recharge. I do this for my cell phone; should I do any less for my physical, emotional, and spiritual health?