I sat in the stillness of Clare House at St. Joseph Family Center and listened to winter. A ceramic mug of coffee warmed my hands and I closed my eyes. Winter sounded like soothing music and quiet sighs.
A small, green announcement tucked inside the St. Joseph Family Center newsletter had brought me to this place. “Relax, Refresh, Renew,” it said. “Experience a variety of activities that will refresh and renew you. Options include guided meditation, healing touch, mini-sessions of massage, reflexology and more. A healthy, tasty lunch included.” The price? A mere $45.
That’s all I needed to read. The brutal winter coupled with a dour economic forecast had left me feeling more stressed than usual. So, earlier this month, I walked through the doors of Clare House, determined to relax.
Celeste Crine, director of spirituality, hospitality and healing arts, greeted our group of nine women and one brave man. Crine softly read a poem by David Whyte called “The Winter of Listening,” and led us in a guided meditation.
Ironically, meditation often makes me anxious – I’m just not good at it. My mind drifts; I think about my grocery list or mentally write my next column. But somehow the cadence of the words caught me, and I allowed myself to sit quietly.
A soft chime called us back from our private thoughts. Crine instructed us to open our folders and check our itineraries. Each individual had been assigned short sessions of chair massage, reflexology and Reiki, in addition to a half-hour body massage. Yoga, Tai Chi and other classes were scheduled throughout the day, with plenty of breaks between, and places set aside for quiet reflection.
The sessions were optional, and I struggled to resist the urge to try to cram in as much as possible. My first activity was a 10-minute chair massage. “You respond well to healing touch,” said Roxanne, the massage therapist. “Mmm …” I replied.
After the soothing treatment, I had a half-hour break. I made my way to the chapel in the administration building. I’m drawn to chapels, whether they are in airports, hospitals or along the side of a dirt road. The sacred stillness of these places speaks to me.
At St. Joseph I pondered the artwork in the chapel. Since I’m not Catholic, I invented stories for the unfamiliar saints represented in the art – stories that did not involve martyrdom. I watched the pale winter sun trickle through the stained glass. It probably wasn’t proper meditation, but I felt wonderfully refreshed as I made my way to my next session – Reiki.
I’d never heard of Reiki, and had no idea what to expect. A nice young woman named Jill greeted me and invited me to take a seat in the middle of a small room. She explained that Reiki practitioners believe there is a universal life force all around us that can be used to promote healing and stress relief. She gently held my hands and “read” my energy. “That’s all we’re doing when we meet someone and shake their hand,” she said. “We’re reading them.”
Then she circled me, moving her hands gracefully through the air around me. “Wow!” she said, “You have a very big aura.” I was relieved to discover that’s a good thing. She placed her hand on my upper back. “Some people feel warmth when I do this,” she said. I didn’t, but my scalp tingled in a good way, and I felt incredibly relaxed. I closed my eyes as she moved her hands in the air around me. My jaw relaxed, my breathing rate deepened and slowed. I remember thinking, “I hope I don’t fall asleep and tumble off this chair.” And then she was done.
“You are very resilient,” Jill said, and when she spoke I felt energized, empowered – and hungry.
After a delicious lunch of chicken Caesar salad, I was ready to discover reflexology. I submitted my toes to the tender hands of Maria Bircher and inhaled the invigorating fragrance of lavender and citrus as she rubbed lotion into my tired tootsies.
Next, I wandered up to the conference room, where Crine taught about sacred rounds and mandalas. A mandala is a geometric shape within a circle and is often used in meditation. I selected a printed mandala and grabbed a box of crayons. “Let the colors choose you,” Crine had instructed. Bittersweet and Mango Tango chose me, and I began to color.
I noticed the pristine points of the Burnt Sienna and Asparagus crayons. “I bet nobody chooses them,” I muttered to myself. So I plucked them from the box. I allowed those two wallflower crayons to dance across my page until I was almost late for my Swedish massage – a perfect ending to a tranquil day.
Crine said the Relax, Refresh, Renew day originated because the spirituality and healing arts committee saw the need for people to “get away from the hectic, nonstop pace of today’s society.”
As I drove toward home that evening, a quote from author Mary Pipher resonated, “I have rushed through my life as if I were late for an appointment.”
Sometimes, all we need is people, like the staff at St. Joseph Family Center, to give us permission to slow down, take a deep breath and listen to the winter around us.