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Posts Tagged ‘retreat’

Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding:  126                                              Days Blogged: 108

New Mileage: 5                                                                 Total Trip Mileage: 895

As I climb on the bike this morning we are preparing to visit our fourth pilgrimage site in four days!  Those of you who have been following my progress know that I go through a kind of a feast versus famine experience with respect to pilgrimage site visits. At times there are long stretches where either few sites exist along our virtual path or I may for various reasons simply ride and go “off map.” However for the next week there’ll be a number of pilgrimage/retreat sites that we will visit as we leave the Orlando area and head east toward the coast.

Dazzling Blossums

In an earlier posting I talked about how I classify retreat sites based on the degree to which they offer nature as part of their experience. Retreat sites range from “indoor” sites, to ones that feature Gardens, to those that offer what I call “nature tranquility” where there may be walking paths and extensive botanical Gardens and then what I call “nature sites.”  Nature Sites are typically places like national parks where there may be little man make development and the awe inspiring aspects of nature predominate.

 I came across an article, from which I took today’s blog title, in which a researcher from the University of Rochester in New York talked about the impact of nature on humans. The researcher noted that numerous studies point to the positive physical and mental benefits of immersing oneself in natural phenomenon.  In the researcher’s newest study he found that the effects of nature which they call a “naturally nice” effect, does not hinge upon immersing yourself in nature on a daily basis but it’s more important to pay attention to the natural elements that we encounter each day.  As the researcher notes: “it’s about stopping and smelling the roses as opposed to passing them by as you think about  your next meeting”.  The researchers found that in fact this “nice effect” can be stimulated by simply having a nature scene as your computer screensaver. This is significant, especially for individuals living in the northern climates, for sometimes winter weather can limit our opportunities to go outdoors.  I guess we could say that these results provide scientific evidence for the importance that nature plays in the retreat experience.  These results would also lend support to the construction of an indoor winter altar featuring nature scenes and artwork.

Yellow Swallowtail

Today we’re stopping by a pilgrimage retreat site in Orlando just up the road from the theme park we visited yesterday. This site is run by the city of Orlando and is entitled the Harry P. Leu Gardens. The site includes: America’s largest camellia collection outside of California; the largest formal rose garden in Florida; a house/museum dating from the 1880s; acres of tropical spring gardens, butterfly gardens and assorted other specialty gardens.  It’s clear why I have classified this location a “nature tranquility” site as it offers ample opportunities for visitors to find solitude and/or to get lost in the beauty of the flowers and joyful fluttering of colorful insects.

Welcomed Garden Visitor!

 Also of note on the history of the garden which ties into our visit to the Monument of States two days ago.  At that site I highlighted the importance of finding meaning in our life and the fact that for many people taking on a “special project” can provide them with a sense of well-being and at the same time serve a greater purpose with their community and nation. Harry Leu’s story represents another example of this search for meaning and the consequences it can have for a community.  Mr. Leu was a hard-working dedicated local boy who worked his way up within a local manufacturing company. He started as a lowly worker, became the “go to trouble shooter” and eventually the owner.

Skipper Butterfly

He and his loving wife traveled the world collecting exotic plants which they carried back to Orlando for their expanding garden.  He was called “the Johnny Appleseed of Central Florida” as he would propagate his plants and then give away seedlings to his neighbors and friends.  He opened his estate and the Gardens to visitors, sharing the beauty and the joy he found in the flowers and butterflies.  After his retirement he and his spouse made the decision to leave their estate including the home and the expansive gardens for future generations.  The property was willed over to the city of Orlando with the agreement that the city was forbidden to sell it or change its “not-for-profit” status.

He found meaning in a life of hard work, he found meaning in a life of exploration, he found meaning in the diversity and beauty of nature, and he found meaning in sharing that joy with generations to come.  He can serve as an inspiration to all of us! I, for one, send out a heartfelt thank you to the universe that people like Mr. Leu inhabited and continue to inhabit this planet we call home.

I hope you have enjoyed this are pilgrimage site visit. Tomorrow we will visit the last of our Orlando sites it brings together artwork, nature’s beauty and light!  Have a wonderful day!

If you have enjoyed the blog please sign up for stationarypilgrim’s e-mail subscription by going to the upper right corner of this page For more information about the Gardens please visit the Pilgrimage Site tab at the top of this page.

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Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding:  117                                              Days Blogged: 101

New Mileage: 10                                                               Total Trip Mileage: 853

As I climb on the bike this morning I am pondering the fact that it’s been almost 4 months since we started the stationarypilgrim’s journey.  In fact we have now passed the 100th blog threshold.  I believe this is a good time to share with my readers a few of my insights, especially with respect to choosing and finding a pilgrimage sites and retreats.

Solitary Contemplation!

 So far we have  visited 14 specific sites across Florida.  We are nearing the Orlando area and will visit four more sites before we head for the East Coast and then turn north toward St. Augustine. In addition to the specific sites we have visited, I have also been busy uncovering potential sites further down the road within Florida and beyond.  The list of sites (over 100 and growing daily) can be found on my webpage (go to the Pilgrimage Sites tab at the top of this page and follow the link). It includes entries from nearby states  as far away  as California and in New York.

Boston Sufi House - Retreat Site

As often happens on such journeys,  you start off with a sense of where you’re heading and what you’re doing but the process of the journey combined with the unexpected sites and scene on your path to help you clarify and refine your goals.  I knew that a Spiritual Retreat is often defined as any kind of solitude experience where you remove yourself from the usual environment in order to immerse yourself in either in a particular subject matter or a particular experience.  Retreats may be as simple as sitting quietly in a secluded portion of your yard, or as complex as a weeklong trip to a monastery where no speaking is allowed.  Spiritual retreats are often times for reflection prayer, meditation, and rest.  They  allow time for “taking stock” of one’s life and/or  a re-commitment to connecting with the spiritual aspects of life. They may be undertaken alone, as a couple or as part of a larger group.

On my journey to uncover pilgrimage and retreat sites I have found that most retreat centers offer settings that promote solitude and reflection.  In my classification of Retreat Sites I place them along a continuum with respect to the use of nature (a natural setting) to promote this solitude. 

Charleston's Gateway Garden Walk - Garden Retreat Site

On one end are Simple Retreat Sites that include little or no contact with nature, these may be residential settings where solitude is provide behind the closed door to your room, or sitting silently in a chapel.  As you might expect these sites are often found in larger cities where natural surrounds are limited by development.

Further along the continuum are Garden Retreat Sites, where nature makes an appearance in the form of an enclosed garden space (such as a Zen garden) or a flower garden like you may find surrounding churches.  These sites usually provide shaded benches, fountains and/or paved walkways and are often found in cities and more populated areas.

Charleston's Middleton Place - Nature Tranquility Site

Next on my classification continuum are Nature Tranquility Retreat Sites.  These sites typically include large grassy and wooded areas for walking, praying and meditating. They often include water features in the form of beaches, lakes, rivers or streams.  They may offer more extensive gardens, including grottos, shrines, labyrinths, and statues.   These Nature Tranquility Sites may feature distinctly Spiritual/Religious connections, such as monasteries, convents, church camps.  However, other sites may be represented by secular local or state parks.  While it is not my intention to list all state and local parks, I do include a number of these sites, especially if the natural features of the site, like undeveloped beach front, old growth forests are a prominent feature.

The Grand Canyon - Nature Site

My classification continuum ends with what I call Nature Sites.  These are composed primarily of National Parks which present us with  stunning and awe inspiring experiences of the vastness, the beauty, the diversity of nature.   They do more than offer us a moment a tranquility or an escape from our daily struggles, they very often hold our attention captive and offer us an opportunity to transcend the mundane and approach the spiritual plane.

Those of us blessed to receive Nature Mystical experiences may describe these Nature Sites as “our cathedrals.”  Other people may visit these sites and praise the divine for the beauty of “God’s creation,” either way these are very special sites.  Most of us are not lucky enough to live within commuting distance of these locations so they most often represent “special retreat trips” or vacations.  For some people they may represent the destination of a personal pilgrimage.

                              Retreat Site Classification Continuum

Retreat Site — Garden Retreat Site — Nature Tranquility Site  — Nature Site

What is the difference between a Retreat Site and a Pilgrimage Site?  While we most often undertake a retreat to “get away” and enjoy some solitude, a pilgrimage journey is often directed toward a location/place which has some special significance.  It may offer the pilgrim significant historical insights into their faith or culture.  It may present the pilgrim with an example of spiritual diversity.  It may lead the pilgrim to answer a specific question or present them with a new realm of possibilities. They may marvel at man’s artistic achievements or ponder the mysteries of a weeping icon or healing springs.

 How do I make sense of and classify the dizzying array of Pilgrimage Sites?  That will be the topic of my next blog.  Have a wonderful weekend!

If you like the blog please consider joining the stationarypilgrim’s e-mail list by visiting the subscribe button on the top right corner of this page.  Have a wonderful day!

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Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding:  106                                                 Days Blogged: 96

New Mileage: 12                                                               Total Trip Mileage: 797

As I ride the bike this morning I’m thinking about the pilgrimage site we are visiting today. It’s the St. Leo Abby and Holy Name Monastery in St. Leo Florida. The site includes a monastery, a convent and an adjacent College. The site is manned by Benedictine monks and nuns. It overlooks a lake and offers beautiful grounds, including a grotto and college campus to walk, contemplate, pray and meditate. Like many of the retreat centers at the monasteries and convents, they offer the opportunity to spend the night and if you so desire, you can join the monks and nuns in their daily prayer and religious routines.

Thinking about this site brings back an important memory for me.  After I finished by first year of college, I took a summer job with a book company based in Nashville. They trained me to sell Student Handbooks (dictionaries) door to door. After a week of training they dropped me and my roommate off at a small rural northern Alabama town and drove away. It was suggested that we speak with a local church to ask if any church member might be able to “house” us for several weeks before we moved on to the next location. I asked my roommate which church he attended to which he responded “I’m Catholic” and I said “Me too!” As we sat in a small greasy-spoon diner, I asked the waitress: “Where is the local Catholic church?” She all but laughed in our faces, shaking her head as she exclaimed “Ain’t No Catholics in Blount County.” I sudden felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz when she exclaimed “We’re not in Kansas anymore!”

This sentiment was driven home even more profoundly when three weeks later, as I and a new roommate were told to move a couple of counties to the west and resume our sales. As we pulled into the new town I asked him which church do you belong to and of course he reported: “I’m Catholic.” I’m not one to give up on an idea without trying it a few times, so I checked the local phonebook. Much to my surprise, there was a Catholic monastery on the outskirts of the town. We drove there and spoke with the monk in charge. For the next two weeks we stayed in a simple, austere room with a marginally comfortable bed. We ate with the monks who were a pleasant and cheerful group. One humorous aspect of the experience was that no alcohol was allowed in the county. Yet the monks brewed their own beer in the basement of the monastery. On Saturday night each monk would use his personal mug to enjoy a few “cool ones,” mixed  with plenty of laughter.

I didn’t realize at the time, but this experience with the monks in this beautifully tranquil setting would plant a very important seed that would blossom into my future spirituality. In the years to come, as I travelled the world in the US Navy, I would come to experience and recognize the power of a contemplative approach toward spirituality. I would find solitude in nature and through meditation and I would come to recognize the deep well of creativity and wisdom residing at the core of my being. Only now do I realize that this chance meeting with a Monastery full of monks presented me with a glimpse of a tranquil solitary path to a deeper level of understanding. The priests and nuns who had populated my experiences at the church schools I attended, while well meaning, seemed more like task masters and overlords than models and guides. It would be in the Hindu and Buddhist temples of the East that this seed would take root and I would find my first spiritual teachers and ultimately, my inner guide.

St. Leo's Abby

As I have been conducting my search for pilgrimage sites and retreat centers I’ve come across many Catholic monasteries and convents. This makes sense given that the church has long recognized the importance of the inward focused, often solitary contemplative approach to spiritual journeys. During the dark ages in Europe it would be the monasteries and convents that were often the repository for knowledge where books were copied and housed. These facilities were often located in remote and isolated places to lessen the distractions of the world allowing for the residents’ endeavors to connect with the divine (mystically) or receive revelation through studies of the sacred scriptures.

Given these feelings, you can perhaps understand why I was “taken back” when my Google search of “contemplative spirituality” produced 10 references that all presented a negative view of the practice. It was described as wrong, evil, non-Christian and as a highly suspect movement towards mysticism. They specifically mention problems with the use of labyrinths, promoting pagan rituals, and of meditation, not involving the sacred scriptures.

In my last posting I spoke about the levels of analysis one can use when examining examples of religious behavior. We can use a form/substance level of analysis or we can analyze it on the functional level. As I look at this criticism directed toward contemplative spirituality I see that all 10 of the references make use of the form/substance level of analysis. They do not believe the contemplative approach fits what they define as the “true religion.” It doesn’t quote the “correct” sacred scripture or make reference to a valid source of truth in their view. I take a functional approach toward this issue. When I see people walking a labyrinth, sitting in quiet prayer or meditation, writing a poem, creating an artwork, or walking quietly along a river, I recognize all of these as functioning as forms of prayer. All can represent forms of connectedness with parts of themselves, with the world about them, and with something greater than ourselves.

I point out to my students that the theory we use to make sense of the world can have significant consequences for ourselves and others around us. If you use a form and substance analysis you often label behaviors and rituals as true or false, or right and wrong. If you take a functional approach you often end up seeing many diverse behaviors and rituals as meeting the same function for different individuals or groups and that’s OK. Just as the world is made up of people with different tastes for food, different preferences for cars, and different ideas about politics so too the world is made up of people who experience the divine and connect with the divine in different ways and that’s OK! 

Sunset at the Abby lake!

If you would like to visit the Abby’s webpage please click on the Pilgrimage Site tab at the top of this posting.

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Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding:  89                                      Days Blogged: 89 

New Mileage: 10                                                   Total Trip Mileage: 721

I am an optimist!  I believe that with a focused effort people can regain control over their individual lives and that we as a culture and society can solve the dilemmas and threats we face. However, I am also a realist!  I know there are many opposing forces at play in our lives and that of our culture and society.  Some forces bring us together while others push us apart. Finding the middle ground, the point of balance between these forces is a daunting task for an individual and a society. This is part of the reason why people seek out therapists, spiritual leaders, and the wisdom of the ages.

Yesterday I paused at the entrance to a colleague’s office, an historian, to inquire about his holiday break.  I know his beliefs on a lot of topics and they bear little resemblance to my own.  An initial discussion of his lingering head cold soon turned to politics and religion. I had not intended to steer the discussion in this direction but it went there at his insistence.  He wanted to talk about “them Muslims and terrorists” and how they are all the enemy. Several times I caught myself becoming defensive and pulled back from confronting his views.  Instead I argued for the need to learn more about the Muslims viewpoint so that we might connect with the more moderate element of their faith. He eventually agreed with my statement that an “us versus them” or an “I’m right and your wrong” approach to such matters leaves no one a winner.  Then with barely a pause he noted how the Muslims needed to change first as it was their fault that these are increasingly dangerous times.

Dichotomous Thinking and it's Solution.

This represents an example of dichotomous thinking and can be defined as: thinking that is also sometimes called “black or white thinking.”  This is when someone is only able to see the extremes of a situation, and is unable to see the “gray areas” or complexities of the situation.”  Such thinking sits up a vicious “us versus them” trap. If truth and righteousness are on our side then why is there any need to understand, accept or compromise with anyone we see as an opponent.  If we hold up a pre-conceived idea of what it means to “meet us half way” then are we not simply demanding that they endorse our position?  Is it at all surprising that presented with these demands, those on the other side will become defensive and see their only option to be resistance in various forms, including perhaps suicide bombings?   I’m reminded of reading the following quote by Pat Buchanan to a Christian Coalition meeting: “Our culture is superior. Our culture is superior because our religion is Christianity and that is the truth that makes men free.”  With this attitude why do we need to sit down and have a discussion with anyone of another religion, culture, sexual orientation, or political party?

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

I am reminded of Abraham Maslow’s well known “Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid”.  He notes that the lower level “Deficiency Needs” of safety and belonging seem stronger in pull than the higher level “Being Needs” such as justice, beauty, compassion and love. One needs to be reflective and attuned to recognize and hear the “voices” of these higher needs. One needs to be aware of the “humanness” of those people who seem opposed to us and of the similarity of our own emotions and needs.

Label them a beast and they will act as one!

I left this disturbing interaction with my colleague and immediately took a walk. I savored the sting of the winter breeze on my face, filled my lungs with deep breaths of the cold air and listened to the rhythmic sounds of my footsteps.  I let the calming influence of nature bring me back to the moment. 

A tranquil retreat and pilgrimage!

 Why do some people create altars in their living space, place a bench under a cherished tree, walk a favorite path, or go on a spiritual pilgrimage journey?  I believe it is because during these times and in these places we experience moments of balance in our lives which help us to see the possibility of similar balance in the larger world.  If only more of the dichotomous thinkers could or would avail themselves to these peaceful places.  Perhaps then we would all be closer to finding true peace.

Disasterous retreat from a no win situation.

Thanks to The Curious Animator at www.tomjech.com/blog/category/images for the dichotomous thinking cartoon. If you enjoyed this posting please consider signing up for the stationarypilgrim’s e-mail list by clicking on the subscribe button at the top right of this page… thank you for visiting!

 

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