Sister Mary Lydia
By Lynda Shadbolt
Last week I was preparing to go on a four-day silent meditation retreat and two friends were coming with me. One has been before, and one was coming for his first ever silent retreat.
We were having a cup of coffee and talking about what to expect and I told them that these retreats were the closest thing I would ever have to being a nun for a few days.
I talked about how during the four days as I sit, walk, eat and move in silence I feel like I experience what the life of a nun or monk would be. Our eyes are respectfully lowered as we move around the facility. There is no need to say thank you or pardon. All 35 participants move so quietly, and carefully to ensure that they hold the “noble silence” for themselves and for the group. Each person has their own room.
There is no technology, reading, knitting or any other distractions.
Only the meditation teacher talks when she or he teaches throughout the day. As soon as the silence begins I move into this quiet, contemplative mode and I know I will stay there until Sunday at noon.
Each of us takes turns ringing a beautiful bell to indicate the start of a session, or the start of a meal. The sound rings throughout the building, like a church bell, and quickly becomes a support in the four days. On this particular retreat the instructor brought a Tibetan bell from one of his trips, and it made a sound that felt like it moved into and through my heart every time it rang. As I told both of my friends about the feeling of being a nun they quickly named us Sister Mary Lydia, Sister Barbarella and Brother Peter. It added some lovely humour to our journey.
And so we went on our retreat “a soft radical transformation of the heart” and it was as it always is, sometimes beautiful and sometimes challenging. Sometimes easy and sometimes difficult. And then we go home and go back into our lives.
This weekend I find myself in Ottawa visiting friends for Family Day and 14 of us decide to go play laser tag. It’s a large room with wooden walls, nooks and crannies, ramps, windows and there is loud music playing. Fifty people are in each group and we all run around trying to tag each other with our laser guns.
We laughed and laughed and it occurred to me at one point that Sister Mary Lydia has a very interesting life. The beauty of silence and introspection, and the beauty of a loud family-oriented game of tag on a Saturday night in Ottawa.
I wouldn’t want to do either of these activities full time, but the contrast keeps me young, learning, centred and playful.
We all need to find the things that fill us up and challenge us: The things that are for ourselves personally, and the things we do for our families and to connect with our friends. When that’s in balance our heart is happy. And as Rumi says, “The only lasting beauty, is the beauty of the heart.”