Susan Clarke, Queensland Regional Meeting
This past year I have lived at Silver Wattle Quaker Centre, volunteering as cook for our small permanent community of four, the Friends in Residence, Elders, course facilitators, participants in courses, and guests for the occasional venue hire.
When I arrived in January, I had the intention to heal and grow in the Spirit. I was going to read, study, write, have lots of in-depth discussions with spiritual Friends, buff up some edges and head off into the sunset, all sorted out and shiny. The reality has been somewhat different.
I didn’t anticipate the three months of grieving I would undergo for all that I’d left behind and for the past. Things I’d believed were resolved returned, and wounded inner children came back into my life with all the hurts and resentments they carried, and I realised there was more healing to do than I had imagined. One night, I was advised by a Friend, “You are here to walk, work and heal,” and I relaxed, knowing that I had the permission and support to do what I needed to do.
One of my early challenges was to get my body moving again. Having been relatively inactive for some time, I needed to walk, and Silver Wattle is the perfect place to start walking. On my three previous visits I hadn’t walked far at all – down to the tiny, whimsical cottage on the lake’s shore and once to the old boat shed, only a short distance from the homestead. I’d never walked up the escarpment, or to the water tanks. Physical challenges were emotionally distressing to me; I was scared of being out of breath, and felt ashamed at my level of fitness.
The day I walked to the lower water tank, I felt a small sense of achievement and enjoyed the view. I could see over the top of the rooftops for the first time and enjoyed seeing the greens and golds of summer in the landscape. The next time I walked to the top tank and was excited because I’d huffed and puffed and enjoyed it all the way to the top, where the view was even more spectacular. Every now and then after the evening meal when it was still light, a resident Friend would say something like, “It would be a nice time to walk right now,” and I would set off with my camera. It was the kind of gentle encouragement I needed to get moving; to exercise for the pleasure of movement, the scenery and communion with nature; not because I should lose weight or get fit.
Within a few weeks I made it to the top of the escarpment. Exhilarated by the experience and the breathtaking view I thanked God, as I have many times since, for bringing me to this place for the nurturing and support that was helping me to remember who I was and discover who I could be. From then on, I regularly went out to explore and found spirit everywhere, especially out on the lakebed.
At first I was nervous because of the long grass from the tree line to the dry shoreline. There are snakes in the grass, I would tell myself, and I would attempt to walk and couldn’t go far at all. I wanted to experience the lake at night, then one night by the full moon, with my heart in my throat I made it through the grass to the flat surface of the lakebed. I didn’t go far but I had overcome the fear to see the cosmos in all its glory and was grateful and awestruck. Since then I have been out at night many times, marvelling at the meteors, some orange with fiery tails, the Milky Way, and the moon in all its phases.
In May, a good friend came to stay as Friend in Residence for a week and we explored much of the property together. He had been surprised to find that when you lie on the lakebed there are no ants to bother you, no insects or irritants to disturb the peace. One foggy Sunday morning before Meeting For Worship, I set out along the fence line so I didn’t get lost and headed out to the middle of the lake. It was a mystical experience, with disembodied kangaroo faces peeking at me with curiosity as I walked to a spot where I lay down, cocooned by the mist. There was nothing to disturb me, no sound, no danger, no people, only the mist to see; just me, the earth and Spirit at one.
Over the next few months, I was able to heal and integrate several child selves through a spiritual practice I called YOTLing or Yelling On The Lake, which I named during the Silent Retreat. If I was upset, I was often led to head out in any direction on the lakebed and talk out loud. Sometimes I would begin by identifying which wounded part of me was present by asking Who are you? Why are you here? What are you here to teach me? and a conversation would begin that could lead to insight and ultimately healing with God’s help. At other times it would involve nonviolent communication, a process that helps me to observe and question the less helpful thoughts that are causing my suffering. The process would involve making an observation about what was happening, without judgement or evaluation. Then identifying the feelings being triggered, the needs that weren’t being met, and finally, making requests to myself and God that would meet those needs, which were often about clarity or support. I would shout questions like, What is it you want me to do? or Help me to understand or Show me who I need to be and in the silence and solitude that followed, answers would come. Sometimes if I was particularly activated I would YAROTL, which is Yelling And Running On The Lake, and I felt exhilarated by my strongly beating heart and the exertion in my limbs as I ran from shadow to shadow or one landmark to the next. With each healing, playfulness and joy bubbled to the surface and I would return to make the soup in the late afternoon feeling happy, nurtured and peaceful.
The lake is women’s business, I was told recently. It is the womb, giving life, renewal and rebirth. In times before settlement there was a river that emptied into it that indigenous people saw as the umbilical cord leading them to the Mother. Knowing that, I am not surprised that my inner children have found peace in my wanderings, cradled by the belly formed by the surrounding mountains, nurtured in an ancient place of women’s dreams and knowing.
Sometimes melancholy leads me to the Sorrow Tree. Towards the northern end of the property are grassed “rooms” as I call them at the base of the escarpment, each with its own character and scenes with features like granite outcrops and particular arrangements of vegetation. The Sorrow Tree is a large dead branch on the ground that looks to me like a twisted man with facial features marked by burns from long ago. He can’t look at the lake and seems to be twisted in shame or guilt, two familiar emotions to me. One of his arms invites me to sit, and I climb up easily to sit and talk to him, feet dangling like a small child, watching as the shadow of the scarp spreads out across the lakebed as the sun sets in the late afternoon. His spirit is comforting, he understands suffering, and I am moved to feel compassion for him and feel it returned as he holds my sorrow with tenderness and understanding.
The Silver Wattle community, which for me includes the landscape, has nurtured and healed me to the point I am ready to begin the next phase of my life with faith and equanimity. I have reconnected with my inner child and nature, and the spirit in everything around me. I have found playfulness and joy, love and peace, and feel grounded and centred for the first time in my life. I know who I am, that home is within, and that with faith and my Inner Guide I have all that I need.
I feel intense gratitude for the gift of being accepted for myself, and the encouragement to find my way in the spirit without judgement or interference, while being offered guidance and truth when I’ve requested it.