The Emmaus Road Prayer Walk at Kings Fold

My Silent Retreat – The Rest of the Story

by Tina Thrussell

Allow me to begin by saying that King’s Fold Retreat and Renewal Centre  – a large parcel of heavily-treed land located NW of Cochrane, AB, through which the Ghost River runs – was the ideal location for my retreat. Far removed from the hustle and bustle of the city, it is quiet and peaceful.

The staff at King’s Fold were very accommodating. When I called to see if they had a cabin in the woods, so I could maintain a silent retreat, I was told that the fasting cabin, called the Hermitage – a tiny little log cabin about a ten minute walk into the woods from the main lodge, with no running water nor electricity, and an outhouse nearby – was available. It sounded perfect.

“But, as someone with diabetes, I can’t fast. May I request a meal package along with the fasting cabin?”  I inquired.

“We’ve never had anyone stay in the Hermitage who wasn’t fasting,” was the woman’s reply, “But as long as you don’t keep any food in the cabin, we can accommodate your needs. We serve two meals per day in the lodge– 10am brunch and 4pm dinner. Do you have any dietary restrictions?”

“Two meals!?” I internally squeeked. Having diabetes, I eat 3 square meals a day plus two or three snacks between meals. The idea of only two meals a day really freaked me out, but I think I managed to calmly reply, “I am doing my best to avoid dairy and wheat, and I have diabetes.”

“No problem. We can serve gluten free and dairy free. And there are snacks available 24/7 in the lodge, including protein-rich snacks to keep your blood sugar levels up.”

I gulped. My past experience with snacks at group facilities has been carbohydrate and sugar rich foods (how is it that everyone thinks yogurt is a good protein-rich snack? It’s LOADED with sugar!!), but I didn’t want this to be a deal-breaker for me. I really wanted this experience. I told myself I could pack my own snacks and keep them in the car. “Ok, I’ll book Jun 30 – Jul 4.”

I needn’t have worried. Their snack fridge not only contained yogurt, but also turkey pepperoni. They not only had muffins and cookies, but gluten-free crackers. The two simple, but generous – and delicious! – meals they provided proved to be ample sustenance.

Although, by the third day, I wondered whether the soul-nourishing that Mother Nature provided me helped sustain my body as much as the food.

I was so warmly greeted upon my arrival at 2:30pm, that I immediately felt at home. Randy, the volunteer who met me at the front door to the lodge, took me through the usual covid questioning and gave me a quick tour of the lodge.

By the time we were done, there was less than an hour until dinner. After considering the options Randy offered, I decided to make the ten minute hike through the forest to go settle into my cabin (thank goodness the heavy rain had stopped by then. The paths were wet, but at least my gear stayed dry while I carried it out to the Hermitage) then come back to the lodge to have my ‘last supper’ with the small group of people staying there.

I had a huge grin on my face as I made my way through the magical forest. I smiled when I stepped onto the little veranda of the tiny log cabin with sliding doors that provided a full view of the simple interior. The cabin was just barely big enough to house a short, single bed, a small desk, two chairs, a two-burner propane stovetop (to heat water) and a little side shelf that held a small plastic basin for washing in.

I sighed with satisfaction. The Hermitage was absolutely PERFECT for my time of solitude.

Still feeling a bit fearful at the 4pm dinner – 18 hours til breakfast!!! – I went for big second helping. Feeling absolutely stuffed after I gorged myself, I stood and wished the few guest in the dining hall a wonderful stay. I snapped my “In Silence” button onto my raincoat (provided by King’s Fold – they host a LOT of silent retreaters), waved good-bye and stepped into the great outdoors.

I went for a nice long walk, then was drawn back to my little cabin in the woods. Between the huge meal, the exercise, and the anxiety I’d been experiencing leading up to my arrival at King’s Fold, I was bushed. I kicked off my wet hiking boots, lay down on my sleeping bag, and closed my eyes “for a minute”. I awoke a short while later. “Well, I guess I should get up and get ready for bed,” I chuckled. I made a trip to the outhouse, brushed my teeth, and glanced at my little clock on the shelf… it was only 7:30pm!

It wasn’t long before I fell fast asleep again. Other than a middle-of-the-night trip to the outhouse with my flashlight, I didn’t open my eyes again until after 7:30am! I was amazed. I can’t remember the last time I slept that long or even spent that much time in bed.

I started my day with a stroll to the beautiful ‘Green Room’, a large cabin near the lodge with floor to ceiling windows that over-look the river valley. This is a space dedicated to silent reading and contemplation, and artistic expression (there are water color paint supplies in a desk in the corner of the room, which is heated by a wood-burning stove). Since my yoga mat wouldn’t fit on the floor in the Hermitage, and doing my morning yoga routine on my veranda in the rain didn’t feel like a great option, I was delighted that the stepped into the empty, quiet space was empty and I was free to stretch and meditate without anyone else around. After the wonderful stretching, I walked to my car to get a protein shake. This became a daily ritual.

That first day I watched myself spending my time waiting – waiting for the ring of the cow bell that would signal breakfast, and then later dinner. Waiting for internal peace to settle in. Waiting for insights to come in my meditations. Waiting for the rain to come, or the sun to shine. It was unsettling to see that this habit of waiting for what would come next, rather than being right here, right now, that I’d lived with all my life, was still with me.

I had no journals, no books to read. I had come determined to spend my time with SoA (Source of All), learning to surrender. My intention was to sit and meditate for four days.

But somehow I was drawn to go walk in the woods. Then to wander in the meadows, or hike down the switchbacks to the river.

Rather than consciously meditating, I found myself listening to the call to just sit and BE in between, or in the midst of, walks. I found myself sitting on tree stumps, or on clumps of sphagnum moss, or on a rock or small wooden bridge over a creek, just looking the trees, the sky, the clouds, and listening to the birds. I watched myself get quieter and calmer…

Until I thought about having to leave this magical forest and go back to the city.

I had to keep pulling my thoughts back from wondering what the future would be like, to be grateful for being here now.

I took four separate walks through the labyrinth on the grounds, each with a very different intention.  Each time I walked out feeling that I had gained something powerful – a greater sense of confidence, an increase in the awareness of my personal power, letting go of old ways of thinking and embracing new perspectives.

More and more, I appreciated the lack of contact with humans. I came to love not talking and hated to break the silence even to indicate what I wanted placed on my plate at mealtimes. I was invited to be first into the dining room to receive my meals so that I had minimal contact with others. Once I’d said yes or no to each type of food, and indicated which type of tea I wanted, I slipped back into solitude and silence. At rainy times, I took my meal to a quiet room in the lodge, otherwise I took my meal outside to a picnic table.

Have I ever before spent four days taking a minimum of an hour to enjoy each meal??? I don’t think so! I took my time eating, savouring every bite. I had a couple of cups of tea after my meal. Most importantly, I just enjoyed quietly sitting while allowing my meal to settle.

I never wanted this bliss to end!

Those four days went by far too quickly. With each passing day I realized more and more just how tired and worn I’d been prior to arriving. So many years of living a life of obligation, duty and guilt (despite all the work I’ve been doing to free myself of those patterns!) had taken their toll. After a lifetime committed to being in service to others, my soul – or was it my inner child? Or Both? – craved teh silence, self-care and nurturing I was receiving from Mother Nature and Silence.

On the fourth day, after I cleaned up the cabin and checked out at the lodge, I chose to stay on the grounds for the day. Even tho I’d walked through the “Emmaus Road” prayer walk in the woods a multitude of times over my stay, travelling from my precious cabin to the lodge for meals or snacks, or to reach the labyrinth or the pathway to the river, I had never stopped to sit at each contemplation station.

On that last day I chose to consciously walk the entire Emmaus Road and stop to read each of the signs that were posted at each contemplation stop.  Expecting a bible scripture and preaching on these signs, I found myself being interested in the stories presented, and surprised by the perspectives and insights that came up for me as I read, and then contemplated the messages. The message that moved me the most was “Let the eyes of my heart be opened.” 

This was such a profound statement to me. Those words meant so much as I stood there, the lone human in the woods. I don’t have words to explain it because the message spoke to my heart, rather than my head.  All I can say is, I left my beautiful forest with the request sitting in my soul, “let the eyes of my heart be opened.”

May the eyes of your heart be opened, too.

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