I turn left off Highway #64, 75 miles north of Santa Fe onto Forest Road 151. 13 miles ahead, at the end of a single-lane, dirt road, lay my destination, a Benedictine monastery where I will spend the next three days, reading, writing, reflecting, meditating, walking and enjoying the surrounding desert landscape bordered by magnificent rock formations. As I make my way slowly along the rough, rutted road, up and down, around sharp turns, I begin to slow down. Ah, I thought, my first lesson in being aware of what is happening. It must be part of the design for arriving at this new adventure. Leaving one state of being, entering another, I am both the same person and different.
As I drive along the dirt road, the Chama River comes into view and with the window down, as I got alongside, I can see and hear the rush of the water over the rocks, rapids where some of the kayaks and rafts put in to enjoy the ride down toward Lake Abiquiu. Signs for campgrounds invite another kind of wilderness experience. Then suddenly, the water is slow and calm and quiet. What a great lesson in a transition from the noisy rush of life to the quiet stillness and yet the river flows on. The river is like time and life. The water is constantly changing, always moving on, flowing. We too are flowing and we are able to recognize that we can be fully absorbed while being carried forward.
I have spent time in several different monasteries for shorter or longer periods, mostly for the purpose of a personal retreat without any worldly distractions. These are quiet places, where there is no TV, no telephone, internet, cell phone or wifi. And no traffic except for some minor coming and going of a guest or two and a few monks. It is a place of exquisite beauty here among the meadows, mountains, rocks and desert landscape. I, along with many of my friends and colleagues, had the benefit, blessing and burden of early religious training, Since then, over the years, we have evolved to a more spiritual and comprehensive position in matters of faith and practice.
The guest rooms are simple yet comfortable, a bed, table and chair, closet, shelf and two table lamps. Two woven rugs lay on the painted concrete floor. The bathroom is two doors down under the long portal where the guest rooms face an open courtyard and the mountains further on across the river. The church here was designed by George Nakashima and guests are free to join in the daily schedule of worship, or not, their choice. Meals are in a refectory with guests on one side and monks on the other, eating without talking, either listening to a reading or some music or just the silence. The food is carefully selected, well-prepared and served by the resident monks.
When we see things as they are and we are consciously present with them, we discover a depth of connection that needs no interpretation, no commentary nor judgment. When our attention is focused singularly on our natural surroundings, especially in field or forest, on a mountain, or by a river, ocean or a bubbling stream, we know that we are part of this amazing and wonderful creation. This day is another beginning, an opening of eyes, mind and heart. How grateful I am to be here, to be given this opportunity to connect my soul to myself and know that my spirit is open and receptive for the days ahead.