Mepkin Abbey, fourth day

The Cooper River, from the abbey gardens.

The Cooper River, from the abbey gardens.

Thursday 29 August

I brought three books to breakfast, intending to read in the library for a couple of hours. Eating my hard-boiled eggs (the eggs yesterday were scrambled, perfectly, and were delicious), it occurred to me that I hadn’t been living fully according to the spirit of the place. “Occurred to me” gives me too much credit for the thought, which was probably an inspiration, divine or otherwise. What I needed to do was to meditate as much as possible, all day if possible. As I sat there, the titles of the books I’d brought got indistinct, unreadable.

I did a few things, folded clothes, packed bags for my early departure the next day (those shoes!), and was ready by 8 to face the challenge I’d set myself. I began with a walking meditation around the grounds, down the Oak Allée, around the labyrinth, down to the working farm, which I’d seen only from a distance. On the farm road, the African or African-American monk drove passed me in what I think may be called a “ute,” i.e., a small farm utility vehicle. (Lily, my farmer-daughter, informed me it’s a Gator, a John Deere Gator, like one she used at the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, CT, where she spent the summer before last as a farmhand. She worked this summer at Thirty Acre Farm in Whiteville, ME.) Dressed in a dark blue Mepkin Abbey t-shirt, he gave a friendly wave as he went past. (I say “the” African or African-American monk because there are only 15 monks and he is the only black one and one of only two under age 60. The other young monk is Asian or Asian-American. Two of the monks are over 90. One of them uses a walker to get around and does so at surprisingly high speed. I encountered him in the guest dining room the first morning I was there and we exchanged nods, which is all one does. (He may be Father Joe, who is responsible for this sign on the inside of a guest dining room cabinet door:)

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At around 10:45, I went into the retreatants chapel, pulled one of the cushions from a cement bench onto the floor, and did a seated meditation for an hour. Then to dinner, to listen to more reading from what I now know was Into the Depths: 
A Journey of Loss and Vocation, by Mary Margaret Funk, about her work with indigenous people in Bolivia, of all places, including Cochabama, of all places, which Trisha and I passed through on our trip to Bolivia and Peru (and Argentina, for her) in 2003.

After dinner, I did another walking meditation through the labyrinth (it was probably 95 degrees F and I was thankful for my Panama hat), then walked down to the river and looked for a place to sit. One of the couple of benches was behind a tree that blocked the river view, another was in a spot with no breeze at all. I dragged the second bench to a vantage with a swell breeze, and sat there for an hour. (Fans of “Blow-Up,” if there are any, should recall the sound of the breeze in the park where the murder victim lies.)

It was three o’clock by now and I’d been meditating since 8 am. I went back to my room and finished packing and took a shower and went to supper. Afterwards, I read for a while in the library (it was too hot to sit outside even in the evening), then went to bed at about 8, setting my alarm for 4 am.

Ah, yes–the “pumps.” I’d had a chat the day before with the foreman of the retreat center project. He’d asked me the day before that how I liked my room and I’d asked what his role had been. The next time I saw him, I mentioned the “pumps.” He said they’d had pumps going at one time, to control water in the ponds, but that they hadn’t been used for a while. I insisted that I heard a mechanical noise and we agreed to agree that perhaps it was a noise from across the river, amplified by nighttime acoustics. During my meditation in the chapel, I’d convinced myself that the sound was that of the chapel air conditioning.

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