retreat solo

Oct. 1996

rick_mugIn the early winter of ‘96 I enjoyed a solo retreat at Emma Lake, Saskatchewan. It was glorious. An ideal idyll; remote, quiet, in a beautiful wilderness setting. The lake froze over while I was there. I watched the first ice fishers of the season.

I retreated in order to finally finish the first draft of a book (actually a teacher’s lesson plan resource) which I’d been working on for the previous two years. It was wonderful to have all day (dawn until 3:00 AM) to work uninterrupted. I slept when I got tired. No phone, no TV, no undesired distractions. Luxury!

I’m cock proud to report that I returned home with a the book draft completed. (note — that “book” was not launched until June 2014, in video format. 18yrs later)

I was happy with my diet there. Most healthful. Fortunately there were no food reserves in the cabin; no tantalizing cookie jars. I sipped unending decaf and Earl Grey tea.

I loved it and now advocate that everyone should plan a solo retreat. Spend some quality time with yourself at least once each year. What would you do? Exercise? I ran every day down deserted forest paths, rural roadways, and on the lake. Nice. Swim? Cross-country ski? Stretch several times every day? (I’ll bring dumbbells next time, I think.)

Consider your inner life; meditate, or simply contemplate the sunset. Do some goal-setting. You’ll have enough time to read, finally, dammit, to get into those books you’ve been intending. Write letters. What else would you do with oodles of free time?

I listened to CBC AM radio most of the day, but I also took a whack of cassettes, CDs, and books on tape. You can play your favourite song over and over again at high volume while (hypothetically) dancing around nude, like a poet on payday.

I like a Spartan, minimalist experience (with no real discomfort, understand) … but you may want enough toys to really indulge.

Retreat solo. That’s solo, by the way. Any retreat with kids, family, or friends is some sort of holiday, and doesn’t count. (I’ll let you take your cat, that’s it.)

Solitude is the difference. Can you handle solitary confinement? Would you feel interred?

Find out.

Retreat solo.

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travelogue – the Middle East

Aging Disgracefully

Sept 1995

This is a laugh riot I penned (after returning from the Middle East) for a friendship newsletter put together by Ron Shewchuck and Kate Zimmerman.

red-eye_logo

rick_mugHere comes the end of the World.

This is no “Howling Down the Middle East” but rather “Howling Down Middle-age”. The Lifebeat Man should deny aging as he denies death, winter, and the dangers of aspartame.

But, in the fall of ‘94 I started to feel old. I don’t know why. The receding hairline? The steady decline of body functions? Or the fact that I really am old? After all, we’ve been running this fu¢k!ng planet for a long time; the novelty is starting to wear off.

When I reminisce of youth, I think of Mason — that great jumper-off-cliffs. Did he die at 19? Or did we all live forever like I thought at the time? Where has youth gone?

I left Calgary in 1990. Now it is ‘95 and I live in icy Saskatoon, where all forms of sexual deprivation are practiced. What have I done for the past 5 years?

Well, I have become a student of LIFE — which may be preferable to actually having a life. In preparation for this missive I read Maugham and Hesse. I watched The Shawshank Redemption and Groundhog Day. I re-watched The Big Chill and re-read Time Enough for Love. What better sources of life wisdom are there?

Unfortunately, I’m not sure that I’ve gotten any closer in my pursuit of life wisdom. I’ve had a good time trying, though.

And I’ve done a few things right. I traveled to visit with friends who had seemed to disperse in some weird Brownian motion. I’ve traipsed some damn fine golf courses. After all, no one on their death bed wishes they had spent more time in the office.

I’ve had the best possible mentor in Keith Russell who taught me to pay a little closer attention to detail, along with everything else.

And I’ve traveled the World. If you’re going to tread water, you might as well do it in the Nile.

step pyramids

I liked the Middle East; the spectacular desert landscapes, peerless architectural sites, the haunting call to prayer, and the fantastic starry, starry desert night.

The people are wonderful, especially the proud Bedu. Camel-herding desert nomads, the Bedouin are a cultural, not an ethnic, group. Their poverty and hospitality is legendary. In the land of baksheesh, they refuse money with contempt. They are untaxed, ungovernable, and free.

Our perception of the region and religions is laughably wrong. “Islamic fundamentalists” are the most honest, charitable, and least hypocritical people in the world. Jordan and Syria vie for the friendliest people in the guidebook awards every year! (Mohammed did muck-up when he included, in the Koran, that straight-to-Heaven Holy Jihad clause.)

Indeed, the evil Syria is probably the last best tourist destination left in the world. Jordan was even better until King Hussein opened the flood gates to Israel in ‘94. It is already too crowded with neo-crusader, white trash tourists.

I’d recommend travel in the Arab countries to anyone who has a stoic tolerance of raw sewage and intense cigarette smoke.

My main complaint is the plight of women in Islam. It is still 1100 AD for Muslim ladies there. I now realize that the single greatest advance of man is the emancipation of woman.

The study of Egyptology is the study of death preparation. The Pyramids were ancient when the Biblical Abraham got there. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn any secrets in the tombs nor from the Egyptian “Book of the Dead”.

Another Western seeker entreated a monk at Mount Sinai, Is there anything I can send you?

The monk replied, with a smile, What I want, you can’t send.

So, is it game over? No fountain of youth? No loopholes? No back door to Heaven?

Well, …I’ve checked out Hinduism and Buddhism and plan to report back. Perhaps there’s something in this reincarnation business.

In the meantime, did you notice that old age is mellowing the Lifebeat Man? That this is a kinder, gentler Lifebeat column? Devoid of personal attacks. No exposé by way of exaggeration and selective grotesquery. No libel.

Nah, I ain’t mellowing. It’s simply fear of the looming Day of Atonement. I don’t want to have to answer for additional sins to a vengeful Western God. That’s all.

May your moisture not be fled.
Ma sha Allah!

Apologies to Rob Glaser, Keith Russell, Ramses II, some monk, Mohammed, & Konwicki.

mcsphinx

masterful Photoshop work by Ron Shewchuk 🙂