Jeanne Stodola, 68, a sister of St. Joseph from St. Paul, is one of the founding mothers of the Dwelling in the Woods, a retreat center near Willow River, Minn. For 18 years, the Dwelling has provided a place for people to rest and reflect in peace and quiet. Stodola shared her thoughts on traveling an inward path.
Q Why did you think that creating a retreat center was important enough to devote a part of your life to the cause?
A We wanted to share with people what we had benefited from in our religious community, in having time for prayer and study and meditation. We need time for our souls -- every day, every month, every year. We're all very busy with everything else that life demands of us, and sometimes we can feel that life is careening out of control. In silence, we can find the wisdom and love that we are. So we felt it was very important to create a place where people could be taken care of and find that soul time.
Another thing we really felt was important was to give people a chance to find their true north, a compass in a sense. ... In all that busyness it can be easy to lose your way. [The Dwelling] is beautiful, it's quiet, you're taken care of. You can get grounded in yourself, who you are and where you're going.
Q What advice to you give people setting out on a retreat? Are people often a little anxious about it?
A Often there is some anxiety, and we invite people to talk to someone about that -- a spiritual mentor who understands that. A typical response is 'How am I going to get through this?' ... It's almost like a practice to go with the flow of what's happening inside, to notice it, and be patient. The anxiety will go away, and you will sink into that quiet.
I think it takes a full day minimum to quiet down. People who do more than one retreat usually schedule more time the second visit. I have one guy, who decribed himself as a high Type A. The first time he came he brought a huge stash of books and he had all these plans to keep busy. Because he was scared. Now when he comes he doesn't bring any.
We can't be open to something when we're stuffing our lives with so many other things. When people come we have a little box by the gate, and we invite them to leave all their cares and worries there in that box. It's a symbolic action to help release all those things, and make room for an open heart and an open mind.