As I paddled a kayak across the crystal-clear water of an Adirondack lake on a gorgeous Friday afternoon recently, I turned to my paddling partner and said, “If everyone could do this, our world would be a more peaceful place.” General overstatement? Yes. Absolute truth? Also, yes. Why? Because nature heals; silence heals; self-reflection heals. And all of it opens our hearts and minds to something beyond ourselves and the problems that weigh us down. All of it makes us more compassionate—toward ourselves, toward others, toward our beautiful-but-broken world. And that is the beginning of peace, our own and the kind that stretches beyond us.
To be honest, I almost skipped the overnight trip to Pyramid Life Center in Paradox, N.Y., because I thought maybe I should just stay home and take care of the responsibilities in front of me. But my better angels won out, and I packed my life vest and hiking boots and headed north. As soon as I turned onto the long road that cuts through the woods and leads to the lake, my shoulders relaxed and I said (out loud), “Home.” Because this sacred spot that has become a regular destination when I’m in need of spiritual renewal—and where I lead a retreat every September—really does feel like a soul home, a thin place where God’s presence is palpable.
At a time when the news coming at us from every corner of our country and world is beginning to cause a collective sense of hopelessness (at least based on conversations I’m having), stepping outside our routine can help break that cycle and remind us that no matter what is happening around us, there is always beauty to be found.
Oftentimes, all that’s required to make that shift is intentional silence—no kayak or lake required. It can be a little more challenging to do that right where we are, but it’s worth the effort. What does it entail? Simply finding a quiet spot where you won’t be disturbed, and being willing to silence your phone, turn off the TV, and go inward. If you can add a little natural beauty—your backyard, a pocket park, even a beautiful view spied at 55 MPH from a car window—all the better.
When I lived in the Pelham Bay section of the Bronx many years ago, I found so much joy in the beautiful maple tree just beyond the fire escape outside my window. Today it’s the towering oaks in my backyard in upstate New York that keep me anchored and aware. Find a spot that speaks to you.
What do you do once you get there? You wait for the still, small voice, just as Elijah did (1Kings 19:12). It can be a challenge at first, so start with just a few minutes at a time. If it suits you, read some Scripture and contemplate a line that speaks to you (known as lectio divina), but don’t be afraid to do absolutely nothing. You’ll be surprised how healing it can be.
Years ago, I wrote about my early forays into this sort of meditative prayer, and an editor slapped a headline on it using the term “navel-gazing.” It was meant to be derogatory, and it served as a reminder (at least to me) that too many people out there see silence and self-reflection as a waste of time or self-indulgent; it is anything but.
It is only when we sit face-to-face with God in silence—gazing into our own hearts (not our navels)—that Spirit will speak to us. If we’re always talking, running, doing, there’s nowhere for God to get a word in edgewise. But, when we stop all the doing and take time to just be, whether it’s in the middle of a quiet lake or from our seat on a crowded commuter train, God speaks, beauty surfaces, and we are found.
Mary will lead the next Stillpoint retreat at Pyramid Life Center Sept. 9-11, 2022. For more information, visit the Events page.
This column originally appeared in the July 1, 2022, issue of Catholic New York. Copyright Mary DeTurris Poust, 2022.