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Posted 11/17/2014

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  We come for community. We come for healing. We come for understanding. We come for refuge.

  I am writing this morning, watching a light snow fall on the mountains, from our second retreat for women with advanced cancer. We are at Wonderwell Mountain Refuge in Springfield, New Hampshire. It is an easy two hour drive from Boston, and fifteen of us gathered yesterday for three days together.

  We are a diverse group in many ways, but share the central experience of living with serious illness. About half of the women here came last March, and half are here for the first time. We miss those women who were here with us in March and remembered them in our first Circle yesterday. Most of them are doing well and are not here because of life choices an responsibilities, but Susanne has a new medical problem, and Amy is too ill just now, and, saddest of all, Norma died last week. We remember and hold them in our hearts.

  This is a magical place. The moment you enter the large house, you feel surrounded by warmth and sanctuary. The bedrooms, some single and some shared, fill the second and third floors. This time, I am on the third floor under slanted, cozy ceilings--best of all, the bed is centered exactly under a huge skylight and each time I awakened last night, the moon was right above my head. This was beautiful in and of itself, but even more wonderful because last night's meditation included a visualization of the moon's light spilling out and around to embrace us.

  We began with lunch, and, like all the other vegetarian meals here, it was delicious. I am particularly a fan of the spring rolls with peanut sauce and was thrilled to see them back on the menu. Like our first meal last year, lunch was a bit awkward as strangers made polite conversation and took one another's measure. We then moved to the gorgeous Great Room and sat in Circle. Midway through that long conversation, the sacred shift happened. We were no longer a collection of women sitting together; we were a community. The air was different. We cried, and we laughed, and we were together.

  Those feelings have only grown through appetizers and wine and a terrific dinner and this morning's Community Meditation and breakfast. I have taken my computer to a quiet room, but can hear the warm buzz from the dining room. It sounds like a group of very old friends at a long awaited reunion.

  This morning's Community Meditation was well worth the early start. And I was able to sleep an hour later than my usual 5:30 AM awakening, so it did not feel like a hardship. Again, in the Great Room, four of us from our group joined others from the Community. In warm silence, they were welcoming, and we watched to learn the routine. It began with the sound of what sounded for all the world like a shofar. (I asked about that later and was told it was a conch shell. Amazingly, conch shells are found in Tibet, the highest place on the planet. How the world has changed!) There was a prayer, some chanting, and then, seated, the turned outwards ("alone, but together") for 35 mintues of meditation. That was followed by a short walking meditation, another prayer, a short meditation, the gong. The day begins.

  We have a full schedule planned today with yoga and more meditation and discussion in Circle and plenty of time to just be together.

  We are blessed.


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  • Ginny Hoverman said:
    11/20/2014 11:20 AM

    Dear Hester,
    Your beautiful and vivid description of day 1 of this retreat drew me in instantly; as I read, I felt as if I were there with you and the other women. What could be more healing and deepening than being in a gentle and spiritual community of people supporting and growing with each other?
    Thank you for bringing me with you through your blog. I send warm and positive messages to you and all who were there.
    With love, Ginny