Spiritual retreats don’t have to be all about meditation, quiet and withdrawal from the everyday. Joyce discovers the sacred joy of tidying up.
When I think of a spiritual retreat, I imagine a lot of meditation, quiet walks, no computers or media, listening to gentle music, and withdrawing from the busyness of the world.
Several weeks ago, Barry left for eight days to raft the Owyhee River in very remote Southeast Oregon. He had wanted to raft this river for a long time, and had just found out that this year the abundance of rain provided enough water for a spontaneous late spring trip. Typically, every year, Barry leaves for a week doing some kind of an adventure by himself. I am generally OK with this, and plan on having a spiritual retreat for myself.
Even though I had work planned, I cancelled it and planned to have a spontaneous spiritual retreat. I thought I would work in my garden as that brings so much pleasure to me. I imagined myself meditating long periods in the day, reading my abundance of spiritual books, going for long swims at the gym, and sitting peacefully on the garden swing on the deck Barry made for me, and envisioned turning off all media and going within for a beautiful retreat. Some of that happened, but a different type of spiritual retreat emerged.
An unexpected turn
The night before Barry left, while he was busy packing up, I opened my Facebook. The first thing to appear was a short talk given by our friend, John McClean, a Unity minister in Nashville, Tennessee. The subject of his talk was ‘Tidying Up’, from the book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. As you can imagine, that short talk by John slowly became the center of my spiritual retreat.
As Barry was driving away, I looked in our garage to see what I could throw away. We have a habit, which I have insisted upon, of throwing away something from the garage every Tuesday when the garbage goes up the hill to be picked up. You would have to see our garage to understand why this is so important. The first thing I noticed was something I notice every time I enter the garage… the corner!
The tidy-up begins
The corner holds boxes of random tiles from the building of our house twenty-five years ago. I have often wanted to throw them away, but Barry insists that we should keep them to replace broken tiles. Well, twenty-five years have passed and not one tile has needed to be replaced in our house. We both agreed to donate them. I called Habitat for Humanity and other places, but no one wanted the tiles. So there I was on a Tuesday evening once again staring at the dreaded corner. Each tile was very heavy, but I got the idea that if I carried perhaps a few at a time to my car, I could drive them to the garbage can. One hour later, the tiles were in the garbage can. I then totally cleaned twenty-five years’ worth of dirt from the area and was thrilled to see the concrete floor once again. An absolute thrill of joy passed through me. I skipped around in the garage, I was so happy. I then stood outside in the sunset and felt a warmth of spiritual presence around me, like I had just meditated for hours. My joy was bursting from me.
My next adventure was the closet in the room that used to be our oldest daughter’s bedroom. I used that closet to store wedding presents that were given to Barry and me forty-eight years ago. These were expensive things, crystal candle holders, silver trays, delicate candy dishes and an assortment of exquisitely decorated bowls. Forty-eight years later, I have still hardly used any of this stuff. I brought it all out and ran it through our dishwasher. The pieces shone magnificently. I wanted to put it all back as it looked so pretty. But I didn’t!!
We have an upscale secondhand store named Caroline’s, named for a young girl who died of cancer. Her mother started this store, and all the employees are volunteers. Last year they gave over a half million dollars to children’s cancer research. I know the prices they probably would charge for my items, and I added it all up to $300. The next day, I took my precious wedding gifts to Carolyn’s store. As I drove away, a thrill of divine joy again passed through my body. It was as if I heard the angels singing, “Yes, you did the right thing.” I felt so happy and so proud of myself.
And thus it went, day after day that Barry was gone. I took a huge volume of stuff to Carolyn’s store, the Goodwill and lots went into the garbage. Each time my joy was increasing.
I did swim at the pool every day and I did take quiet walks. But I only meditated a little and spent no time just sitting in the garden, nor did I read one spiritual book. The joy of getting rid of things was addicting to me. I was having so much fun. I visited my cleaned-up areas every day, and the thrill of seeing them so clean continued to delight me.
When one of my uncles died, his sons found forty years of various farming magazines stored in his basement. What a mess to clean up! And when my grandfather died, we found 20 years of brand new birthday and Christmas presents, all with the tags on them and rewrapped up. There were maybe 60 brand new flannel shirts. He liked his old ones the best. As I look around our house, I keep thinking, do I really want our children to have to deal with all this stuff or can I get rid of most of it before we leave this world?
I had a beautiful spiritual retreat. It was different than planned, but very fulfilling and joyful. As things left our home, I felt lighter and the light of God seemed closer than ever before.
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