Sunday, January 15, 2017

Solitude at the Carmelites Missionary

March 17, 2016 - my travel calendar was marked with a 7-day trip to Busan, Suwon and Seoul. The itinerary includes Kimchi-making, complete tour of Busan (for it was a short visit only in Year 2013), overnight in Suwon, a stay in a dormitory (to really feel like a real backpacker) and finally watch Nanta musical. I came to do a  sort of celebratory ritual on my birthdays just like how I spent in Year 2013 when I had my incomparable experience wandering alone in South Korea for ten-days.

I was supposed to do that again in 2016, with a ticket booked as early as June 2015 and many plans on hand of the things that I haven't brushed off yet from my bucketlist. Those were all planned but because of a wrong decision that turned my life upside down, all my travel plans were all set aside.  As to when I would be travelling to a foreign country again, I don't know yet.  For now, I would be spending the days reminiscing my travel memories by browsing my pictures and reading blogs.

Days before my birthday, I dread "my day" to come. It was not supposedly to be celebrated.  It was so difficult that I thought life should end at that point in time.

But the fear in God was greater. 

And I helped myself to find solace, to find acceptance that an organized person like me has actually messed up her life, to find forgiveness and come terms to myself that I made a mistake and I should accept it.  I thought of going through a yoga, a meditation or anything where I can calm my mind. But then I know for the fact that I cannot do meditation - my mind will just wander. I've been to a lot of prayer meetings during my teens and my friends were already experiencing the gift of tongues of the Holy Spirit, but I either fall asleep or things just came randomly into my mind.

Again, I still haven't figured out that it was actually my faith that was not at ease.

Two days before my actual birthday, I started searching about "soul searching" or private retreat and read about it. But something still hinder me to go through it. The programs are a bit intense, some a bit pricey and some are just like getting rid everything about yourself, including that some are not of my Catholic faith.  I have difficulty opening up about my problems.  I always solve them on my own and I would never share even to the closest persons I know.  And I am not ready to it yet.  

And then, something about private retreat popped up through the search engine. I read through the blog where they offer private guided retreat.  At first I thought, I just need a quite place surrounded with religious people to silence the noise within myself.  So I sent an email and asked if they can still accommodate me.

So on Thursday, March 17, 2016, I drove to Tagaytay for the first time on my own and alone for an overnight stay at the Carmelite Missionaries.  Along the way, at times I cried. I was scared, a bit uncomfortable and anxious but then I knew I had to do it.  I kept on praying for God's guidance not to back-out. Otherwise, I wouldn't know where to pick-up myself again.  I knew how uncomfortable the process of retreat and recollection as I experienced once before I graduated from college - you would just eat and eat and cry and cry (that's how we jokingly described it).  But seriously, it's uncomfortable because you will be opening yourself with the rest of other people.

A few kilometers before turning left to the Carmelites, I stopped by the church near Java Kafe to gather some courage and then ate my lunch.  It was like I was scheduled for a death sentence.  Then, finally I reached the solemn place.  Sr. Flor met me at the receiving area and introduced me to Sr. Esther. They are both Ilonggos.  Thank God, I'd be comfortable.  Then, my bountiful lunch was already prepared in the dining hall, on an exclusive table with my nametag on top.  I felt shy. Do I deserve this? But I saw two more solo persons on retreat with their names too (one a nun and another private individual like me). Sr. Esther told me to take a rest first with a schedule on how the retreat would go through.  Just like how I experienced it before I graduated from college, I was fed with bountiful meals (lunch, PM snack, dinner and then breakfast, AM snack and lunch again).  

The private retreat was like talking to a grandmother or anyone who can talk about life.  There are things that I cannot open up with my parents especially if those will just give them something to worry about. The guided retreat that Sr. Esther made for me has taught me how to meditate in a way that it was actually talking to God.  There are bible readings as my guide and Sr. Esther guided me how to open up to God from the heart. I am not a Bible reader.  Unless there is a reflections along with a Bible verse (just like the Didache), I can then reflect what the Bible says. Sr. Esther asked me if I keep a journal and I said yes. She advised if I couldn't really utter and voice out a prayer, then I can write instead. She told me to find a place where I can be comfortable as the place itself is solemn.  I meditated in a garden, in the chapel, in some prayer rooms, and found the time and the way that was comfortable to me. She also informed me that the nuns were doing their nightly prayer in songs and I might want to observe and have it as part of my retreat.  I went and just sat down at the back.  One of the sisters gave the song book.  Those were new to me but I felt at peace and comfortable.

That night, after five long months of sleepless and crying nights, I was able to sleep in the most peaceful I can ever remember.  The next day, Sr. Esther told me that I looked different, much better and at peace when we continued the guided retreat.  I told her that my worry is when I get back to Manila - to deal with my real life. With the world that I live in, I am afraid that I might forget the retreat that restored myself.  She advised me to keep praying for the grace to sustain and endure and they will pray for me. From time to time, Sr. Esther would text me, asked me how I was doing. And I was just too shy to reply.

Almost a year after, January 2017, looking back I still missed out the daily motivation habit and still struggle to do it especially that I came home late from overtime at work.  I cannot get up early and do it.  I got buried with the overlapping responsibilities at work and at home but it is different now.  I know how to turn to God, to talk to him, to attend mass when my mind and heart is in trouble. I now look for God just to talk with him, and not just looking for him because of problems. When problems came, I prayed and lifted wholeheartedly to Him.  And miraculously, it was indeed different than a year ago.  

the Carmelite Missionaries

I may have not traveled again on my own but this solitary travel is the most fulfilling of them all.

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