Updated: Sep 1, 2021
Looking forward to things is a phrase that has morphed into something new, as it applies to almost everything these days. I keep catching myself writing “I’m looking forward to seeing you as soon as we can”. We’re most definitely looking forward to resuming retreats as soon as we can.
We miss our guests more than you may think, as well as the whole team of people who make them happy while they’re here; including Shannon, our catering team, massage therapists, yoga instructors, and our wonderful authors and facilitators. Many have asked if we mind having so many people we don’t know come to stay, and we’re quick to answer, we love it! Our retreats are a highlight of our lives here, and it is very quiet without the beautiful buzz of people milling about, on their way to workshops, strolling around Springfield, sharing meals and quietly gathering to enjoy sunset together at the end of the day.
We only offer retreats that focus on things we are passionate about, like writing, creativity, health and growing our own food, so we attract curious people who share similar passions. Living in a sleepy rural village while enjoying an abundance of people in our lives, is a dream. Each guest brings their own stories and interests to share, and each retreat group offers new connections, friendships and memories. I miss seeing people emerge, after a few days of creativity, community and deep nourishment, with wide smiles, sparkling eyes and open hearts. I miss their hugs as they leave, glowing, rested, refreshed and inspired.
Luckily, I atleast have my weekly online ‘inner landscaping’, ‘wild writing’ and ‘marigolds’ groups to tune into. They may not be as much fun as face to face gatherings, but these groups are essential, nourishing moments during these weeks in relative solitude.
For now we potter about pretty much as we do in between retreats, with Peter in the garden or on conference calls, while I’m writing in the studio. We love walks around Springfield too, flocked by the dogs (and the cat who often comes too) - the new trees look very happy in the almost-Spring rain, Peter shows me his new garden beds, and we harvest veggies for dinner.
Most days I go bushwalking with friends at Fitzroy Falls, but I rolled my ankle this week, sliding off a sprinkler head in the lawn. In response, I spent a day in bed, reading, daydreaming, staring out the window, watching the rain and the kangaroos in the far paddock, and listening to the dogs snoring. The roos looked particularly buoyant in the rain, as elated, as we were, at the prospect of new green shoots.
I was reading ‘The Labyrinth’, by Amanda Lohrey, a book I picked up at Fullers Bookshop in Hobart, because the author is Tasmanian, and Peter had just built me a labyrinth, and it seemed to mark the moment. The book is dreamy, well suited to the weather, cold and drizzly outside, and me tucked inside, under the doona.
I’d been thrilled to have our own labyrinth, even though I really only had a vague notion of why. A labyrinth is a single path that leads you to its centre and back out again. The path meanders in an intricate coil that spirals and doubles back on itself. ‘The maze’, Lohrey writes, ‘is a challenge to the brain (how smart are you), the labyrinth to the heart (will you surrender).’ To come back to the beginning, you have to let go, and by the act of surrender, you arrive back ‘somehow changed’. Our labyrinth at Springfield was made using the oldest recorded design, the seed pattern, the same one featured in Lohrey’s book. Surrender became my theme for my day in bed.
Peter, I also discovered while reading Lohrey’s book, is a classic homo faber, man the maker. The labyrinth he made for me is just one of countless examples of things he makes to enrich his days; including cricket bats, quail palaces, compost systems and gin. ‘A man who does not use his hands is a mind untethered’, Lohrey writes. ‘When you make something you become a rivet in the fabric of the real.’ Peter, I now know, is well riveted, but does writing classify as making something with one’s hands, I wonder? Reading and writing does seem to tether me, but perhaps more to ideas and imaginary worlds.
Feeling dozy, reading in bed, I put down my book to day dream. My mind drifts to one of the retreats we’ve postponed. My past love for making things was one of the strong appeals of Kate Forsythy’s ‘Mythic’ retreat. I can’t wait to sink into the magical making sessions we’ve planned. The idea of being in a circle of women, making things with our hands, sharing stories, is strangely exciting. Anticipating working in circles around the fire, the kitchen table, in the garden and in our beautiful studio, stirs my heart. Suddenly my palms are twitchy, and remembering my love of sewing, I resolve to dust off the old Bernina, roll my sleeves up and make something to ‘rivet me into the fabric of the real’. I’m thinking, tablecloths.
All this from one day in bed. I do not remember the last time I had a day in bed, but from now on I will be enjoying this practice, with a new book, once a month, at least. It was so delicious. To rest, with no goals, and read in bed, is a simple and rare luxury that nourished me in ways I didn't expect and can't describe.
Then of course, in the Catholic tradition of my childhood, this pleasure was followed by guilt. I confess, most of the time, I am in a state of contentment in this slow, quiet time, but with the appalling news of international turmoil and suffering this week, I sank into deep guilt about the abundance and safety of my own life. Now I’m chasing an antidote to the guilt that lurks in abundance.
With a delightful synchronicity, last week, in the inner landscaping group, we shared stories about abundance, giving, receiving and reciprocity. Giving and reciprocity are complex issues, so for convenience giving has been reduced to simple, clean and clear monetary transactions. We give regular donations, birthday and Christmas gifts, but giving is not always woven into the fabric of our daily lives as it used to be.
Potluck, a word derived from an archaic tradition known as potlatch, is a centuries old custom of sharing abundance within, and between communities. In the past, this type of giving and receiving was the glue that held societies together, but these days, we don’t depend on our neighbours as we used to, and we simply buy what we need. There is little residual relationship, indebtedness, or responsibility.
Giving, the old fashioned non-monetary way, revives our souls, grows connections, and nourishes our social ecology. Springfield’s gardens, overflowing with produce that we’d grown for retreats that have been postponed, were a perfect place to be reminded of the gifts of giving. Two phone calls was all it took. We soon found a way to distribute our fresh produce to those who are most in need in our community. In the process we discovered that we know some of the volunteers who help with collection and delivery of delicious organically grown food hampers. Various local businesses contribute on a regular basis, and Springfield is now one of the many collection points.
Abundance-guilt is often layered with personal history, but can also be a simple reminder to give more. Giving feels good too, which inspires you to give more. In exploring how to nurture deep roots of giving, we’ve also connected with two grassroots non-profit organisations, designed to make it easier for us to give.
Crisis Heroes is a free platform where you can offer or seek help. It’s Australia wide, and community based. If you need help with shopping, supplies, food, mail, business or emotional support, you can find people in your local community who have registered to give. It can be as easy as offering time to have a chat with someone.
GIVIT is another grassroots nonprofit designed to help you find an exact match for what you have to give away. You list your donation knowing it will help fill a real need. Southern Highlands now has its own GIVIT, launching this week.
So now, our routine includes a weekly produce pick-up from a volunteer, and we know Peter’s home-grown veggies will not be wasted. We’re also in discussion with a local group who might be interested in growing their own plot of veggies, here at Springfield, to bring their community together, save money, and eat healthier too.
My note to self, this week: stay in bed, read a good book, make something. These are all good things to do. Next time it rains you’ll know where to find me, tucked under the doona, this time enjoying an advance reading copy of Inga Simpson’s new book, ‘The Last Woman in the World’.
Despite the horror show that continues to deluge us with evidence of insanity in our world at large, this week I can honestly say, as Rachel, in ‘The Labyrinth’ said, ‘In the midst of madness I had been happy.’