About 5 years ago, at the end of an 8-day retreat (notable for the heat — it was in the high 90s, humid and the retreatants were dropping like flies) my director suggested thinking about how I entered and left retreat. He said that over the years he noticed that it seemed to take busy people three days to settle into the stillness of retreat, and by then it was time to think about moving out of the retreat! (I suspect this conversation was prompted by the fact that I appeared for our first meeting with my laptop under my arm, having sent off a piece of writing moments before, though he never once mentioned my electronic companion.)
Did a retreat begin the moment I blasted through the doors of the retreat house, dropping into the silence like a sky diver? Or did it start when I left the house, or perhaps, when I began to pack? Gradually I've come to see packing, whether for retreat or not, as a contemplative exercise. And despite my best intentions, I always take too much.
This time I'm carrying everything I need on my back and walking a significant chunk (time wise if not in distance). This should get me to pare down to the minimum. I started packing on the weekend, putting what I wanted to take along in a bin in my prayer space (an offering, as it were). I already had decided not to take my laptop along, though I do have my iPad and a wireless keyboard with me. The contents of the bin finally threatened to overflow and the discernment began in earnest. What do I need as opposed to what do I want? By 9 pm the question had become, what will fit?
Besides my laptop and its ready collection of music and software, I've left behind my travel pillow, my tea kettle, my Bible, my breviary, my knitting.... my lunch.
I finally realized that this was the first step in my retreat. Leaving behind comfort and control. I do have a Bible with me, on the iPad, it's just not my favorite translation, nor is it the well worn version that accompanied me on the Exercises. There are breviaries at Eastern Point that I can pull off the shelf, and I do have my small, British travel version along. There will be food along the way, and a way to boil water for my morning cup of tea. I'm watching my choices evaporate...as the wants are stripped away, then the needs.
And so I begin: Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.