Permission to stop

A long time ago in a lifetime far far away, I lived a vastly different life to what I live today. (Hey that rhymes!!) Let me state from the outset that this is not an exercise in thinking about the “good old days”. It’s just that lately I’ve been thinking about all manner of things that I used to do. Thinking, assessing, wondering; what was that 13 odd years of lifestyle all about? Smiling as I remembered the “many” faces that graced us with their presence. Feeling humbled as those faces turned into the ones who courageously committed to come live with us for various periods of time. (Most came for at least a few years). There were small remunerations available, but generally, community members came and committed as what could only really be described by the term, volunteers. When I think about those people and those times, I remember that they weren’t all homogeneous, and neither were they full of dissonance and tension. My most prominent memory is that they were all part of what a poet might call a “rich tapestry” of flawed & triumphant humanity. When I allow myself to go even further with my reminiscing about the people who came to stay there, I have never been able to get past the phrase “heroes all”.

If memory serves me correct, +/- 25 people came to live there over our 13 year journey. This is not to undervalue the wider circles of commitment around us that couldn’t make the “live in” arrangement work, but they were very much part of who we were and what we were attempting to do. Honestly, this number measured in the hundreds. The phrase “what we were attempting to do” is the phrase I want to look at for a bit. Indulge me please as I search for the right words.

What we were trying to do at Casa Pallotti was simple, complex & everything in between. There is no short narrative that could sum it up. If I was pushed for a brief answer it might be something like this; “we were in the business of stopping”. We ran retreats; we ran training programs, we lived in a simple expression of Christian community based on a somewhat poetic understanding of a few lines of Scripture”

They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, 

the life together, the common meal, and the prayers.

Everyone around was in awe—all those wonders and signs done through the apostles! 

And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met.

They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, 

every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God. 

People in general liked what they saw. 

Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved.

They were heady times. Fast forward to 2020; during the recent two year isolation challenge, I found myself reflecting more than once that I had lost the art of stopping. I used to bottle it and sell it. After all, a retreat was all about stopping, reassessing, becoming quiet, listening for that “still small voice”. 

Sometimes at the start of a retreat, I would tell the following story. It was about my very early days of bush walking, something that my wife & I loved doing in our younger fitter years. I remember that on my first ever extended overnight hike, we packed all of the wrong stuff. I had a frypan, a whole chicken (apparently salmonella didn’t exist then) a bottle of port and so on. By the end of the first day everything that we “thought” we needed to sustain us was causing us much grief. When you are on the trail, you have make estimates about what you need, how much you need, & how to pack it in such a way so that you don’t end up as a cripple by the days end. You don’t get to run back to the car for something that you’ve forgotten. At the end our first day, my wife and I had to make decisions and throw out some stuff that we just didn’t need; we also needed to repack our packs so that we were able to more easily walk with what we had decided we needed. 

In my mind this was and still is a great metaphor for what a retreat was all about. You stop, you pull everything out of your “pack”. You look at it, make decisions about what you might or might not need, then you repack your pack and go on your way. You do all of this through a variety of processes, activities and discussions. Thinking about retreats in this way, you get a glimpse of what I mean when I say that we were practitioners in the art of stopping. 

So what of it? Why this article now at what appears to be the end of two incredibly hard years? Amongst other things, lockdown has had me thinking that with all of this time available to me to do little else but stop, I had lost the art of stopping. The many discussions that I have had with friends, colleagues & peers over this time has suggested that there were many people in similar situations, ie, they had lost the art or they had been awakened to the notion that maybe they needed to learn the art. 

In a recent conversation with my very wise (and beautiful) daughter, we both mused that there was nowhere (or at least, very few places) that either of us knew about that still offered the idea of directed retreats. Long before I took on the full time challenge as director of a retreat community, I would generally go on my own retreat at least twice a year. I valued it then (as I do now) as a critical pathway in my own spiritual growth and development. 

So, (here’s the pitch) the reason I am writing this article is to garner expressions of interest in the idea of a directed retreat. ie, if myself and a few of my highly skilled colleagues were to offer two directed retreat weekends, sometime in 2022, here in the breathtaking beauty of the Yarra Valley, would you be interested? 

There are no details yet. Just an idea that this could be worth a weekend or two of your time; to stop, to breathe, to unpack the pack & re-assess what’s in there, to examine & plot a pathway for your spiritual growth.


Let me know

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