RetreatShirt, photos & all text © Irene O’Garden, 2013

I recorded this post, but too much visual data for it to upload–sorry!

The burning question: Did I get a lot of writing done on retreat? I did not return with a pack of monologues like the ones which turned into my play “Women On Fire”. Nor did I return with a 17-minute choral piece for four voices, as happened the year before last with “The Toast Cantata.”

Responding to deep inner urging, I made meditation, reflection, and trusting spontaneous impulse my top priorities for this retreat. It took effort to refrain from nagging myself about “production.” Midway through my second week the phrase on the t-shirt above hit me. At last I was able to laugh at myself. Of course, I journaled the whole time (but that’s not really writing is it?!)  But come the third week, formal writing roared through some longstanding obstacles and I came home with several finished pieces.

Now, as I ease back into my quotidian rhythms at home,  I want to say a word in praise of one of the great gifts of retreat: increasing awareness of subtlety.

I don’t usually share doodles, (after all, they are not “art,” are they? And we’re only supposed to display the most polished, finished, finagled-with stuff, aren’t we?) I hardly doodle at all any more. I used to doodle during phone calls and classroom lectures and board meetings. But now I’m out of the classroom, I’m sabbaticalling from boards and whenever I’m on the phone, I’m always doing something else: running errands, organizing sweaters, cooking dinner.

However, as my faithful readers know, I left with a fine supply of “retreat candy,” among which were a double box of fat oil pastels and “The Gift,” a book of poems by Hafiz. I found the following quote in that book,  immediately doodled it on a blank page, and decided I’d make it come true.


I decided that every night when I called my husband on my cellphone, I would sit down, put a blank sheet of paper and the box of colors in my lap, and give my hand and eye perfect liberty. In this early paisley,  you can see how happy they are to play.


A few nights later, I drew the bulb basket I had brought along. Note the detail gets a bit subtler here:

TulipsOnThe Way

But I did not want to have to hold to representation, so, the next night, back to bold abstraction:

Still somewhat representational.  This “window” below emerged from a conversation a few nights later. It was fun to photograph these and email them to John before I could think about them.



After several more days, I looked at the doodles in sequence. I saw that while I was finding more freedom, I was also putting things in their “places.”  It was happening internally as well. Each image had something going on in the center, which was also true for me. Suddenly, I began to tire of the bright fat colors, the thick strokes, the messy waxen flecks.  I remembered the colored pencils I brought, and switched to them for the next conversation. Immediately this quieter, more subtle Square Mandala appeared:




I began to see that even the paper itself had something to say. It wanted to be included in the event of the drawing. This final image revealed to me what the whole process is of subtle awareness is really about.


May you take the time to see yourself mirrored in your work (whatever form it takes) and may you relish your own subtlety.

How does it best reveal itself to you?


Many thanks to one and all for your kind comments and good wishes! More about my new book next week–

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