Exiting the Solitude

It has been about six days since I was at the hermitage in Glendalough and I’m still drawing upon the strength and wisdom I found there.

Most of my time was spent sitting quietly in my hermitage or hiking in the countryside. I have seen photographs of Ireland’s green spaces, but what I saw in person was far more beautiful (and greener) than what I expected. In Glendalough, two glistening lakes sit at the bottom of a sharply sloped valley and a rocky waterfall feeds the waters at the back.

At the entrance of the valley, a 6th century monastery sits in stoney grey ruins. A man named St. Kevin first traveled to the valley seeking solitude in order to commune closer with God. Eventually other pilgrims joined him and a small monastic city was constructed where the men lived in a cycle of prayer, physical labor and contemplation.

The monastic city was bursting with tourists and school groups during the day, so one morning I went at 5 am in order to feel the solitude the monks would have had.

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The nuns of St. Kevin’s Parish (a church in town that was built much later) run the Glendalough Hermitage and encourage guests to practice solitude while there. No internet. No music. Even reading is supposed to be kept to a minimum, only reading a few scriptures to contemplate. You’re even supposed to quiet the noise in your head. Just be present. Observe what is around you. And pray. (And eat, thank goodness.)

For the first time, I lit a candle while I prayed in my room. I like how it makes the prayer more purposeful. I also learned something about prayer.

I asked Sister Margaret if she could could talk with me for a bit and counsel me about faith. During our conversation, she asked what religious rituals I do. I said, “Pray.” 

She asked, “With words?”

“With words?” I thought. “Is that a real question? How else?”

She invited me to their Thursday night Centering Pray. She said learning this practice can nurture faith and help with my anxiety.

We all sat in a room, in chairs, with our eyes closed and a candle burning on the floor. A scripture is read, a gong sounds and we sit in silence for ten minutes. We aren’t meditating in the sense that we concentrate on something or repeat a mantra. We aren’t even “listening to God,” like how many Christians say your praying should also consist of listening. We are to gently release any thoughts that come to our minds and simply sit in the presence of God.

The gong sounds again and, in silence, we walk outside and around a small path, purposefully placing our feet heel to the ground first, then pressing the toe forward. Heel, toe, heel, toe, heel, toe, heel, toe – in the same quiet state.

We return to the room. The gong sounds and we sit again in ten more minutes of silence. Ten minutes of gently quieting our minds. Ten minutes of being in the presence of God.

Entering the Solitude

May 16

After traveling for almost a year now, I’ve learned that I experience epic difficulty transitioning from one chunk of the journey to another, which tends to be about every two or three months. One or two – sometimes even three or four – days I spend in total mental and emotional meltdown. Questioning everything, worried about everything, sad about everything.

This time, I’m doing things differently. Instead of jumping into my Europe adventure by dropping myself smack dab in the middle of a big city, I’m going out into openness. 

I’m spending three nights at the Glendalough Hermitage at St. Kevin’s Parish, an hour or so outside of Dublin. They have single hermitages for people seeking solitude and lots of trails for hiking. At first, I was thinking of this as just an opportunity to relax after working every day (minus two days) at sea for the past three months. But I think it might be more than that.

Their website has 14 guidelines for practicing solitude, like “Listen.” “Be present.” “Move mindfully.” And I looked it over a couple times and asked, “But what do I do to practice solitude?” The answer, I believe, is nothing.

Finally

May 5

And we’re off! As the engine rumbled alive early this morning, the whole boat collectively said, “Finally,” and those hills shrank quickly behind us under the hues of the just-risen sun.

Waiting Game

May 4

I did not intend to still be on the boat when May began. Alas, I am here and we are still waiting in Togiak Bay for the last fish to be delivered. There is a rumor that we should leave tonight after 15 tons of herring are processed.

We have been without boats for a couple of days and it feels like we are sitting needlessly. I didn’t go to work tonight for the first time this season, save for the day I came down with a high fever. I couldn’t think of a reason to go because I’ll have work every day during the 10-day voyage home, once we pull up the anchor.

Every night I wake, hoping to feeling the movement of the boat sliding over small waves, making its way southward. But so far, I wake to stillness and the same pinkish twilight tickling the same surrounding mountains. It’s picturesque still, but becoming tiresome.

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Technically this is a sunrise. I usually wake up to the sunset. But this is pinkish, too.

Probably Should’ve Left

April 25

Today, I passed up an opportunity to make a break for it. 

The boss mistakenly thought I was scheduled to leave on the last helicopter to Togiak because I had previously inquired about the cost of getting off the ship in Alaska instead of sailing back to Seattle. He called me into his office, handed me a leave of abscence form to sign and said I leave tomorrow. Completely surprised, I told him I had never made arrangements to leave. He laughed, crumpled the paper in his fist and threw it over his shoulder.

I returned downstairs to the factory and immediately chided myself for always playing it safe. Why not just leave tomorrow? They thought I already was. Why do I feel the need to have a money safety cushion? I’ve already made enough to go to Europe. And I have time to figure out a way to make more money later on. 

Then I began to evaluate my mental health situation and thought, “Leave. It will be good for your mental health. You struggle too much here.” Then a personal problem came soaring out of my mind’s left field and I ended up fighting a panic attack for three and a half hours while we were packing frozen blocks of herring into boxes.

Good news: I won the fight. Bad news: I’m a mess.