Greetings from Wonderwell
The sun has risen over the White Mountains, and another day has begun at Wonderwell Mountain Refuge: www.wonderwellrefuge.org where we are for our third retreat for women with advanced cancer. Both previous retreats took place during winter months, and it is a delight to be able to walk outside and open my window at night before snuggling under the duvet. My bed is under a large skylight, so the stars shone over me as I slept.
This is a smaller group than has come here with me before. Given the community of women, it is, sadly, not surprising that some had to withdraw at the last minute. One woman is in the hospital, another has the flu, a third started a new chemotherapy regimen and is not feeling well, and a 4th has needed fluid drained from her lungs twice recently, and is feeling too wobbly and vulnerable to make the trip. We hold them in our hearts. We hold also, so tightly, the five women ( Norma and Marilyn and Amy and Susanne and Grace) who have been here before, and have died. Our sadness is touched with gratitude for their lives.
Lama Samten, who is the person in charge here (she has a much nicer title than that), had lunch with us the final day of the first retreat. At the conclusion of the meal, she said: "Thank you all for being here and sharing your spirits with this house. All who have been here leave parts of themselves, and our house is enriched by your presence. All who come later will be better because you were here." It feels that way, and it feels that way especially as I remember our friends.
I was up early this morning and attended the 7 AM community meditation. Following others' leads, I watched and felt welcomed as they chanted, and then we all meditated for half an hour, followed by a short walking meditation, and then a final brief silence and chanting. What a glorious and tranquil way to start the day. We then had a long and delicious breakfast: fruits and yogurt and eggs and breads and jams and miso soup and brown rice and a ginger porridge. As I sit in the next room to write this, I hear our group talking and laughing. Soon we will have gentle yoga and a guided meditation, and the day will continue in community.
It is utterly remarkable, although no longer surprising, what happens here. We arrive at lunch time, and that first shared meal always feels a bit awkward. Some women know one another, some know no others. There is conversation, but there are pauses, and it all feels a bit uncertain. Then we gather in the beautiful large room, sitting in a circle on cushions or on chairs, and we talk. Two, three hours pass. And sometime within the first hour, there is a palpable shift in the air. We are no longer strangers. Our hearts have come together.
It is also remarkable how many life intersections are discovered and needs are met. For example, one woman has just moved back to MA from Richmond and just spent her first night in her new mostly empty home. Another woman, who used to live in Richmond, has two houses worth of furniture in her home here, and immediately asked if she needed things. She does, and a happy arrangement for both was immediately brokered.
I feel so fortunate to be back in this special spot with these very special women.