This is an excerpt from my Memoir
through the Woods to the Sea: Stepping into Myself, Stepping into My Life
By Cathy Teoste
Running into the Woods
I have done it. I have run away. I actually got on the plane and flew to Wisconsin. No turning back. No looking back. It is September in North County where the leaves of the trees are already turning, red, yellow, orange and brown.
I have spent the last couple of days visiting with my friend, Myra. Myra is the reason I am here. This was her suggestion. Several months ago we were having a phone conversation where I said, “I am tired. I can’t deal with all of these changes around me. I just want to go to a retreat center and hide out for a while, but I can’t afford to do that.” Leave it to my friend Myra to find a way. Not two days later she sent me an e-mail with a link. “This might be the answer”, she wrote. “This place sounds just like you and they need volunteers- you can stay for free for 30 hours of service each week. And if you don’t like it I can come and get you and you can stay with me for as long as you need.”
I looked at the website. It looked perfect, but Wisconsin? Why would I go to Wisconsin with the winter coming? The only time I had been there was to visit with Myra. For several days I would return to look at the pictures on the website, but quickly log off, I did not want to go to Wisconsin. One day without thinking I downloaded the application, filled it out and sent it off and forgot about it, until that day of Divine Intervention.
Now Myra is driving me down a highway that is surrounded by woods, nothing and no other car in sight. No signs of any kind of civilization. Our eyes are alert for any sudden movement between the trees. We are more likely to run into a deer then another human being. I have lived in the woods for many years now, but nothing could prepare me for this ride deep into a forest of trees. How far in are we going? Will I be lost to civilization forever?
Finally Myra turns off the paved roadway onto a dirt road heading into the retreat center. We turn a curve, pass a few small cabins, up a small incline and are greeted by an empty parking lot and a silo. I love the woods but what in the world am I doing here in the middle of nowhere? I asked God for a miracle. I have been divinely led here. Why here in the middle of the Wisconsin Woods? I have no idea but I am about to find out.
I walk into the building and into an equally deserted hallway. The silence is deafening. My footsteps echo. I am greeted by a tall thin grey haired women, Sr. Cecy. She shows me around the main building then I follow her down another dirt road to the cabin that will be my home while I am here.
Opening the door exposes everything there is to see. A simple cabin with two twin beds, a small lamp table, a small dresser, a lazy boy chair and a small desk. Hidden behind the open door is a port-a-potty. The cabin has electricity and a gas heater but no running water. It is about 12 feet by 12 feet in size. Much smaller than my bedroom in the four bedroom house I just walked away from. Everyone back home who thought I was crazy would be convinced of that now if they saw where I am going to be living! I much prefer this than remaining there in that empty life or rather the life that they want me to live.
As I unpack the few personal belongs I brought, I pull out my Angel pins, my crystal Angel and my Angel cards. I have believed in Angels all my life. My faith has centered more around Angels than God. Is this another sign that I am staying in a cabin named Holy Angels?
“Angels, lead me, guide me, and show me the way. I really need your help here. I have so much to figure out, so much to heal. I have taken a leap of faith. I am placing my trust in you. Please be with me. If I am to heal and move forward with my life I am going to need your help.” I rub my crystal Angel and hang it on the bedside lamp. I am leaving the past behind while putting the future on hold indefinitely. A future I am not yet ready to face and so I have chosen to ignore it and run away.
Have I runaway to find me and my life or just to escape myself and my life? I do know that I am running away from the person I was in danger of becoming if I had stayed. Will I ever go back? Do I want to? Can I really leave the past behind? How much do I want to leave behind? Is there anything worth keeping? Can I really do this? Am I brave enough? Am I capable? I hope I have done the right thing running away like this and putting my life on hold. Is it really a wise decision to step out of life to create one?
The Christine Center
The Christine Center is an interfaith retreat center. It is located in Willard, Wisconsin. It is about 50 miles east of Eau Claire. It isn’t exactly in the middle of Wisconsin but it sure is close. It is run by three nuns, Sr. Johanna, Sr. Cecy and Sr. Henrita. (This has changed now since I’ve been there. There are two more nuns on the core team now.) It is run strictly on donations.
Here one can get lost in the natural environment, the meadows, fields, ponds, the wildlife, and the trails through the 122 acres of woods surrounding the center. People come for a variety of reasons, to rest, relax, and renew, for quiet reflection, do deep inner work, or to participate in one of the many programs the center offers in spiritual deepening and global transformation. Cabins or hermitages as they call them are either modern or rustic. The rustic cabins have electricity and a heat source either a gas heater or a wood stove but no running water. The modern cabins have water and hence have bathrooms and kitchenettes as well. The hermitages are scattered around the property. Volunteers stay in the rustic cabins. The center does have an office staff, cooks, dishwashers, housekeepers and a maintenance crew some of who you will come to meet in these pages.
Mindfulness: Nowhere but Here
What a beautiful day, cloudy with the sun peeking in and out. Warm for this time of year. The leaves have all turned now. They crunch under my feet as I walk the trails alerting the deer and all the animals that I am coming. The sun is a huge very bright white light sitting in the sky. I have never seen the sun so brilliant. As it sinks into the trees a green light then a pink magenta light flood into the clouds and down into the horizon. Then it is gone as quickly as it appeared and dusk arrives. It easy living day to day. I am lost in each moment.
I am completely living in the present moment. Nothing outside of this community exists. There is no past or future just right here now. I think I could live this way for a long time. I feel at peace, I have peace of mind. The only time I reach out into the outside world is to check in with my daughters. When other communications reach me they are an unwanted and unwelcome intrusion.
I have put everything I have left behind out of my mind. Being present and enjoying every moment, working, walking in the woods, socializing, getting to know everyone and just being. I realize that I have not had one single tension headache. Not one! What does that tell me? Here I am miles away from everything and everyone I know among strangers in a strange place and I am not nervous or anxious or tense. How can I be relaxed and happy in this situation when I have been so anxious and unhappy in my own home? I am living completely in the present moment and loving it.
Maybe my life is simple here. I know others think I am being selfish and irresponsible focusing on myself. But the only life I can control is my own. My life purpose is to contribute what I have to offer. What more can I contribute except to be myself, and share and give of myself? I am helping out here while I figure out who I am and what I might have to offer. It is the best I can do right now. I need this safe haven because I have failed to figure it out while I was out there in the outside world.
My daily life has become my mindfulness practice. I am only here. My mind does not wander to the past, to what I left behind or what might be going on outside my daily experiences. Nothing outside this center exists for me. I spend my days working, doing whatever chores I am asked to do.
Routine it seems is the structure of my day. Up at 7 am, breakfast at 8 am then I begin my daily chores. Stop at 12:30 for dinner as the noon time main meal is called here. Work some more. A light supper of soup and salad at 5:30. By the end of the day I am so physically tired I could fall into bed. Yet not wanting to be alone I stay up in the main building in the library on my computer or reading.
I have formed a relationship with a guest, Trish. She is a nun from Australia on sabbatical. We spend hours in the library talking, watching movies and laughing. I can’t even remember when I laughed before. Now I laugh every day. I have never laughed as long and hard as Trish has me laughing! This is what keeps me from sheer exhaustion.
I walk down the hall and see a man standing in the laundry area starring confusingly at the washing machine. I feel pain oozing off him. Hurt. The energy is so strong I am strangely drawn into it not sure what it is but if there is anything I can do to ease it, I have to try. His back is to me, I approach slowly, “Can I help you?” I ask. He turns around and looks at me still deep in thought.
“I was going to do laundry but I don’t have any detergent. Do the sisters have some in the office they sell or I can use?”
“No they don’t, but here use mine.” I say as I reach into my locker and pull out my jug of laundry detergent.”
“I couldn’t, that’s ok. I’ll just go buy some”
“Please just use mine, it’s no problem Just put it back here in this locker when you are finished.”
“Thank you” He pauses then continues, “If I don’t speak to you next time I see you, please understand that I am here for a silent retreat. I will just acknowledge you he says as he brings his hands together in prayer form and bows his head, “Namaste” I replay in kind.
The next few times I see him we acknowledge each other as we pass in silence. This happens often here as people come to be in silence and do deep meditation and contemplation. I now notice he is wearing a wrist brace on his right hand.
On his last day he comes out of silence and joins us for a meal. The sisters are intrigued by him especially when he mentions that he is a musician and plays the guitar. Despite the fact that he is still wearing that wrist brace, Sister Trish asks him if he will play for us. The rest of the sisters’ jump right in requesting him to play. Not wanting to disappoint the sisters, staff and guests, he agrees to play a few songs.
An impromptu concert has everyone excited. A half hour later a group of women are drooling over the romantic musings of Raymundo. He has this group of nuns, staff and guests mesmerized. Everyone is hypnotized as we watch and listen to him strum and sing ballads that has stars in everyone’s eyes. The pain in his wrist gets to him and he finally begs off. He asks the cook if she can get him some ice so he can ice his wrist.
Sitting in the dining room I offer to do Reiki on his wrist for him. He asks me what Reiki is. I tell him that it is an energy healing. “Sure, not sure I understand or believe it will help but I’ll give it a try.” I place my hands around his wrist and focus sending healing energy to his pain. He feels the heat coming from the palms of my hands. I tell him that this along with the ice, heat and cold should help ease the pain some. After about ten minutes I stop. He thanks me. We all once again tell him how wonderful he plays and thank him.
The next morning as he comes to say his good-byes, he stops me. “Look I don’t have my brace on. I don’t understand what you did but it worked. I can move my wrist without it hurting so much. Thank you.” After all the good-byes he heads off back into civilization.
I am spending much needed time with adults. I realized that I crave socialization. It may be that I am just avoiding being alone but I also haven’t been around adults much during the years I was raising my children.
I ran away from my life hoping to rest but I find myself deep into the mundane chores of life. If I wasn’t so exhausted and in so much physical pain I would be laughing at the irony of the situation. If I needed to rest when I got here I will need to rest when I leave. Still I am happy.