The Little Way
I am a little unimpressed by ascetic spirituality, which I am sure says more about me than others. So it is with a sigh of deep relief when I find here another form of spirituality entirely. It is a spirituality that celebrates the green, the soft and the aesthetic. This is found in the village of McGregor, home to artists and healers, as one enters into the hushed walled garden of Temenos Retreat Centre.
The garden rooms are designed in a series of low-walled and hedged spaces, each with a unique character. There are statues, water features, a labyrinth and well placed benches. A fusion of icons has been used throughout and a circle of marked stones encourages the retreatant to take up the seat of different religions with open-mindedness and respect. Each section of the garden has a unique meditation room, a quiet space for prayer and reflection. “The Little Way” is a lovely chapel, while a dark meditation room called “the Well” is a sunken sacred space with the gentle sound of trickling water. Temore, the “inner temple of the heart”, encourages one to “turn within”, with blue walls, stained-glass windows and mosaic inlaid tiled floors.
Beautiful food is served in Tebaldis Restaurant, which "celebrates the passion of good food and wine". Accommodation is offered in Georgian or thatched self-catering cottages, referenced to mystics and hermitages, with names like Assisi, Carmel, Subiaco, Liseux, Iona and Avila. The cottages, with deep-set windows and green shutters, are nestled into the lush gardens. Each cottage has stable doors opening onto private pergola patios with outdoor seating areas. Inside there are fireplaces for the winter and Tuscan-style cool terra cotta tiles for the summer. Wooden cottage furniture, a Kelim rug, mosquito nets and white linen complete the effect. The apricot, pink and green floral curtains in our cottage perfectly mirror the autumn vines of the pergola outside the window.
Earlier in the day I had spotted a prayer room which appealed to me, and in the late afternoon I made my way there alone. I had imagined exactly how serene and spiritual I would feel. But after sitting in the lovely space for a while I felt neither holy nor peaceful. Instead I felt restless, sad and lost, plagued by what David Whyte calls “those tiny but frightening questions.” The privacy of the space enabled me to stay with my vulnerability and I sat through the panic to see where it would lead me. It was an interesting experience to taste the feelings, instead of distracting myself with action or entertainment. And of course, once I let go of my expectations and passed through the intense feelings, I did find myself grounded in a deep sense of peace and certainty that all would be, and already was, well.
Every time I enter into such a space it is an invitation to renew my trust in the process of silence and solitude, in an acceptance of the little way. Stripped down to a seed, awaiting transformation, which somehow never comes with a bang, but a gentle breaking open to let the light in.