On our winter retreat at the monastery, my friends and I stayed in the Women’s Guesthouse at the top of a hill, the highest spot for miles. Lovely British Accent, the guest mistress, welcomed us with hugs as we came in, stomping the snow off our boots and carrying bags of clothes and books. Inside the guesthouse, an old stone fireplace made the living room cozy, and the covered porch that serves as a dining room was warm from afternoon sun that poured in the windows.
Upstairs, we each got our own room. My room had a low ceiling, a bed with a pink bedspread, an old wooden desk, and a window that overlooked the pine woods. I keep a special journal just for retreats, and the first thing I did after arriving was to sit down and read through the journal. It’s in two volumes now, since this was my 30th visit to the monastery. By reading through the journal, I could see patterns in my life: ways in which I’ve changed and ways in which (sadly) I haven’t.
While we still had some afternoon light, I pulled on warm winter clothes, walked downstairs through the kitchen where Lovely British Accent was making soup, and went out into the cold. Outside the cosy farmhouse, the world was windswept and desolate. The fields and the road glittered: the snow was sparkling with ice crystals the way it does in very cold weather. When the sun shone, all was white and blue, with some gold edging from the dried grasses. I looked across the field, a horizon that held nothing but sky, and felt like I was at the top of the world.