When I walked through the tall wooden doors of the Santa Sabina Center, thirty minutes north of San Francisco, I hoped for rest and revelations about what was next in my life. The former convent is tucked away in San Rafael among oaks and eucalyptus, and it is a place for quiet, contemplation, and meditation. Exactly what I needed.
On that rainy May weekend, I sought a break from navigating the litigious end of a long marriage. I was a sailor caught in a storm of emotions, seeking a safe harbor. No talking, just a place to take my tired self to bind my wounds, shed disappointments, and release anger.
Just as I was falling into bed in a room that once housed Dominican novitiates, my cell phone rang. Why was I getting a call at 9:30 p.m. from the father of my children? I jumped to the fear that my son or daughter might be hurt, so I answered the phone. Big mistake.
The kids were okay but he, an attorney, wanted to talk about our unsettled property issues. I didn’t. I referred him to my attorney. Before we hung up, I said, “Don’t call me again this weekend.” Sighing, I turned off the phone.
Then I berated myself. How foolish could I be? I knew better than to take a call from my ex-husband while on a spiritual retreat.
I stopped myself from a bitter downward spiral by recalling that the marriage had had its good years. We were blessed with two incredible children. I found some compassion for myself. It was okay that I answered the phone and besides, I had ended the call quickly.
Opening the window, I inhaled the eucalyptus-scented air, listened to the soft, steady rainfall whispering in the night, and reflected on how far I’d travelled in my post-marriage years.
Right from the beginning of the unraveling of my marriage, I knew that forgiveness would unlock the door to my new life, but finding the key proved challenging. How could I forgive someone I perceived as trying to take advantage of me? I chose to view the difficulties in the situation symbolically, as a life lesson specifically designed for me. Author Carolyn Myss in Sacred Contracts suggests that before birth, we make agreements on the other side, contracts to learn specific lessons.
Was my lesson about forgiveness? I re-considered the possibility as I fell asleep.
When I left my room at Santa Sabina the next morning, I found a note on my door. "No cells phones calls allowed inside the building." Startled and slightly annoyed, I took the cell phone outside, and stashed it in the trunk of my car. On my way back to the main building, I gave up my irritation and decided the nuns were quite right.
Tracing the flower-lined paths around the perimeter of Santa Sabina and stopping by the yurt and straw bale hermitage made me introspective. Inhaling the damp air, I mulled over what meaning I might find in my journey. I could learn from my marriage and divorce, but the universe was a tough taskmaster.
Back inside the main building, I felt drawn to the library where spiritual prose and poetry lined the shelves. I chose The Essential Rumi, a slim volume of poems by the 13th century Persian poet, and settled into a chair. I read many passages, including, “Be grateful for whoever comes because each has been sent as a guide from beyond,” and “What you seek is seeking you,” and “The wound is the place where light enters you.”
These ancient words became a reminder to have gratitude for all of life. I was strong enough to acknowledge old injuries while greeting the light and grace that surrounded me. I sensed that the hope I found at Santa Sabina would stay with me when I left, one more thing to for which I could be grateful.
During the marriage, I had folded away my personal dreams, deferring them for some uncertain, distant day. I let myself get reduced by living for others, by pleasing and avoiding confrontation.
After the marriage, out of necessity, I became a warrior. In this respect, my ex was my teacher. From knowing him, I learned how to advocate for my well-being. I became a worthy adversary. I stopped running, faced my fears, and fought for what was mine.
My vessel was on the other side of the dark storm. My inner world was sea-worthy, strong enough to celebrate life no matter what was happening on the outside.
Time has passed since my last visit to Santa Sabina, but memories of the spaces remain fresh--the gardens, library, chapel, places for walking, reading, sitting, and reflecting on life. With practice, I discovered I could find the silence needed for reflection almost anywhere, and at any time. But if I ever feel my ship founding, it’s comforting to know that Santa Sabina and other retreat centers are waiting to hold me anytime I need respite on shore.
Santa Sabina Center,25 Magnolia AvenueSan Rafael, CA; 415-457-7727; www.santasabinacenter.org
Kristine Mietzner organizes author talks for Benicia Literary Arts and Bookshop Benicia. She serves the adjunct faculty of Touro University California Graduate College of Education. Kristine was a broadcast journalist in Alaska in the 1980’s. Currently, she lives in northern California with her golden retriever Max and has a book project underway. Her previously published work appears in the Your Life is a Trip archives and at www.redroom.com/member/kristine-mietzner.