The night after kayaking in Oban, I wrote in my journal, “I feel as though I have been on an incredible retreat already, and we haven’t even begun.” Little did I know the transformation that waited. We continued our journey within the journey – two ferries and a bus ride to the mystical little Scottish island of Iona in the Inner Hebrides.
I attended Joan Anderson’s “Time out of Time” retreat on this little piece of energizing geological rock that is 3.5 miles long and 1.5 miles wide, floating out past Mull across the Sound of Iona. A little slice of heaven or as it is described by George MacLeod, founder of the Iona Community on this holy isle, “a thin place where only tissue paper separates the material from the spiritual.”
I came to Iona with an open heart, willing to receive the gifts from the elemental energy of the island, Joan’s profound wisdom and the anticipated connection to my Iona sisters. Being surrounded by its majestic beauty, I instantly felt a link to the thin veil of the eternal the moment I stepped off the ferry.
It has taken me a while to discern what this life changing retreat has done for me, and as I reflected back on our time there, I recognized that so much of this inner journey was about letting go and surrender.
The first day we began our pilgrimage following a bagpiper, setting the musical tone for the Scottish influence that silently and gently descended upon us during the week.
During our opening session, we stated our intentions, identifying our “call” to Iona. Our protective veils began to fall during this sacred sharing with one another. Our first excursion was to the north beach, for healing. A rugged, “Maine-like” coast that gave us our first slice of the energy of this island, and the enchantment of the rocky shore encouraging us to let go of what was blocking our path to healing. That night I journaled, “To absorb all that Iona is, is my journey.”
Time on Iona was focused on celebrating who we were and who we are becoming. We collected rocks representing things we wanted to let go of, things that no longer served us, things outlived. “Be patient for all that is unsolved in your heart,” Joan encouraged us, “and do not seek the answers which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them.” Patience is my nemesis, and I always seem to want the answers NOW so I can plan the next step. Time here, with Joan’s words resonating through me, taught me that sometimes the best “answer” is no answer. To just “be” was a gift and the beauty of the west beach enveloped me in peacefulness. Letting go is a process, and I think one of the enlightenments of letting go, is that we are releasing a part of ourselves, and for a time, it makes us feel less than whole. But just like the gentle waves rolling towards the shore and out again, we are constantly shifting and there is no room for newness if we hold on to the old.
I chose one large rock and on it I wrote restlessness. Some of the retreaters had many rocks of all sizes and shapes, indicative of the different people we are and the different burdens we carry. In the middle of the table was the rock we all agreed was the keeper, Self-Love. That rock that would stay while all the other rocks of worry, fear and so many other unwanted emotions would be tossed into the ocean, to be tumbled and smoothed over time by the unrelenting waves. It was freeing to hurl restlessness into the ocean, not really knowing how I would be released of it, just trusting in the journey of surrender. Deepak Chopra said, “The crucial times to let go are when you feel the strongest urges not to.” Who would want to hold on to restlessness anyway?
The third day found us hiking to Columba’s Bay to the south for Clarity, but first, spending the morning writing our obituaries. We are going to read and burn them in the fire, continuing our journey of letting go and releasing our past lives. At Columba’s Bay, we walked the labyrinth, creating our very own path to newness.
On my first retreat with Joan to Whidbey Island in April, 2010, we wrote our obituaries and I wrote the typical story of one’s life. This obituary on Iona was strikingly different, as I only wrote about the last 3.5 years since Whidbey. It was amazing to me that I never gave any other part of my life a thought other than this last period which was so defining for me. As we each read our obituaries out loud, we became vulnerable to the moment as we released our former lives and stood ready to embrace the women we were becoming.
On to the gift of silence. Joan’s words provided the cornerstone of silent day, “Today is about time spent seeing, being intuitive, instinctive and hearing what your heart needs to tell you. This can only occur when you are silent and present to the living things around you. Iona waits for you to truly see.” This day I went back to the west and plunked myself way out on a jetty, trying to get as far out on the water as I could, to get the pounding surf in me, to feel the freedom of the salty air on my face. Soon the tide began to change, and by the time I climbed my way up and out to the high ridge, the jetty was almost submerged. The sea in its own way, embracing and releasing. On my way back, I was stopped in my tracks by the stunning beauty of a full rainbow, which for me represents new beginnings.
Late afternoon found us on top of Don-I, the highest point on Iona, watching a dazzling sunset to the west and the full moon rise to the east. Fitting bookends of surrender. The day releasing and the night embracing.
Our final day was a true pilgrimage, with a hike to a place called Hermit’s Cell. We were true pilgrims, hiking up hill and vale, helping each other across little streams, muddy patches and slippery bridges. This final day of seeking together sealed a bond unlike any other for all of us. It was a day of true connection, care and watchfulness for one another. When we began our time on Iona, we all pulled a pilgrimage card at our opening circle. Mine read, “A pilgrimage is a time to go from mindless to mindful, from soulless to soulful.” Here on Iona, my soul was restored and mindfulness became a way of being.
At the end of 2013, I wanted my new year’s mantra to be reflective of my time on Iona, to carry it with me into 2014. At first, I thought my mantra should be, “open every new door, in 2-0-1-4” because I wanted to continue to explore and grow and become. Every time Dee, Colleen and I walked through gates on Iona, and there were many, we made a conscious decision to leave something behind before we stepped through and an intention to step into something new on the other side.
But as I pondered further, I realized what I really needed in my life this year is harmony. For me, so much of that comes from being on the water, and although we found some kayaks on Iona, we didn’t paddle there. No matter because we were completely surrounded by the ocean and just being near the water is the breath of life for me.
There are so many moving parts to life anymore and sometimes I find that trying to keep them all in balance in not as realistic as keeping them in harmony. So, before the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, I changed my mantra to remind me of the beautiful shoreline surrounding Iona. “Harmony is on my shore, in 2-0-1-4.” The ever eternal ebb and flow of the ocean is in continual harmony and that is where I want to be this year. I need the reminder of releasing, surrender and the opening to something new, trusting the journey as I go.
Is there something lingering that needs to be released from your life?
Every time you are tempted to react in the same old way, stop and think about what it is that needs to be surrendered in order for you to move forward freely and openly.
We build a life of freedom and simplicity by letting go of little things. What one little thing can you set free this week, to set you on the path of surrender?