August 31 is the feast day of Saint Aidan, a Celtic missionary monk who journeyed from the island monastery of Iona to establish the island monastery of Lindisfarne. It is also the day on which I was received as an oblate at the Benedictine New Camaldoli Monastery and Hermitage near Big Sur, California.
It takes some time for me to get to New Camaldoli. The drive is a significant part of my retreat; getting away, leaving things behind, heading into the solitude and the silence.
I begin my journey in Pasadena, on the freeways of Southern California. Our freeways often help remind me to slow down, be patient, and be courteous to others. I am eager to make progress and excited to be on my way.
My path to New Camaldoli is well paved and clearly marked; the beginning is familiar from visits to other places in California. After Los Angeles and Burbank, the freeway heads west toward the ocean and follows the coast. It is an excellent way to settle into a retreat.
The journey turns inland north of Santa Barbara. There is still plenty of traffic, but not so much as starting out. The rhythms of driving and getting away help me settle into being alone. Slowly but surely, things fall away. I lose the radio stations with which I am familiar.
In August, Monterey County looks like a John Steinbeck novel come to life; lots of gold and browns. This is where, the first time I visited New Camaldoli, I got lost. I was making good time and thought I could see an easy way to get there. It turned out that it was not an easy way, took several extra hours, was frustrating, and required that I turn around and go back the way I came. That experience reminded me about quite a few aspects of my spiritual journey!
My path turns back to the coast, which is often shrouded on coastal fog. The trip becomes more challenging; it is harder to see, and there are more distractions.
Eventually, I arrive at the driveway and begin the final two miles up the mountain. The last thing I leave behind is my phone coverage. Now I am ready to enter the silence.
[Image by muirtrail68]