The Retreat

A short story

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 I am awake at 2.36 am, this is normal, I don't do sleep very well in the early hours. What is not normal is that the inflatable excuse for a bed is throwing me off, off towards the seemingly fragile table which has been placed precariously alongside the bed. Perhaps it is a monk thing, some kind of discipline of strength to have to negotiate a sliding upturned dingy from underneath oneself, whilst avoiding shattering someone else s (probably sacred) property. Could this be the first indoctrination to spiritual awakening?

Disaster is somehow avoided, I ponder the bed set up and rather than remove the cause of the sliding bed, I mathematically position the futon (which has been placed unnecessarily underneath) dead central hoping that gravity will hold me in place. I arrange myself very carefully to go back to sleep and remind myself over and over not to move until sun up.

Having survived the night the day begins at around 7.30 am.

Muesli and chamomile tea bring me slightly back into the world, I fetch myself a bowl from the cupboard to be told by Kate that there are bowls on the table. Why are there bowls on the table when the food is in the kitchen? Makes no sense to me at this time, probably at any time, I mumble a joke flippantly and continue with my cupboard bowl.

First thing is not my best 'human' time. Sorry Kate.

Back in the book browsing room Peter is smiling, it kind of brings me round to the fact that it is really OK to be in the company of others. He instructs a walk, now this is perfect, a walk alone now that is my kind of 'first thing' activity.

We are told to notice so I walk and I notice, I notice exactly what my feelings are telling me and follow, leave my intentions at the gate, ignore the neglected allotment. I turn left, am led passed the friendly tree from yesterday, we nod good morning he acknowledges that I have to observe and says he is going nowhere if I need him.

I turn left again, into overgrown bushes, but the calling is there so I continue. Upon arrival I see why I have been brought here, there are steps, I climb to a small stone hut, check the door but it is padlocked, shake the padlock just to check, but that is intention and I am not here to find out what is behind the door of the hidden hut, told to turn around, I do, from the enclosed balcony of the hut I lean on the protective rail and take in the expanse of country before me.  An open field stretches out populated by sheep, we look at each other, I assure them I am going to keep my distance, and they go back to grazing. Apart from one, she hobbles across the field, my heart goes out, why do we breed these animals when we cannot care for them, when they suffer for the conditions we keep them in, we huddle them into tiny moving vehicles to take them to places of death where we torture them to feed humans who have no idea. These thoughts take an instant; they are with me always thankfully this beautiful hobbling creature has no idea either.

I want to find more at the hut, but there is no more, I go to leave, again told to turn left, almost questioning this I hesitate then follow. I see why I have been brought here there is a stream it is flowing, bubbling slightly, and carrying discarded leaves to a new destination.  It is perfect. A solid raised shelter, openness beyond and water to live.  I dream for a moment then know I am done here.  I see Kate and Peter walking along the path to the abbey; I briefly wonder what they are talking about.

I have no further directions so I go it alone, it is peaceful and quiet, just the sound of the breeze and the leaves dropping. I find a small tree, branches curving downwards, he offers me a place to meditate, I accept, lower myself to enter his world, then stand, eyes closed. Is this the most beautiful sound I have ever experienced? He sheds his leaves rhythmically, softly, sighing as he too prepares for a long sleep. I know nothing but the sound and total peace and serenity.

Back in the guest house, most others are there, I sit. Unsurprisingly there is one person missing. Several minutes later he arrives and sits, damn those joggers! And I am back in the room!