By the time the end of the year rolls around, my secret fantasy is just to unplug. As holiday distractions beat a final retreat and winter lumbers its lugubrious self in for real, I’d love to rip the January page right out of the calendar and hunker down by the wood stove. Let the wind howl, the snow pile up till it buries my car —I’m inside.
Is it Friday? Sunday? Who cares? I could eat luxurious breakfasts, spread art projects across the table, read, write, follow the meandering of my thoughts. Periodically my dog and I would venture out, he tearing around joyously marking all the chamisa bushes, me walking meditatively down the arroyo amongst coyote and rabbit tracks, pulling frozen air deep into my lungs and studying the map of sky. Shivering more deeply into my coat as the chill seeps in, I’d hurry us back homeward across the mesa. Stoke the stove, pull up a cushion and, over dinner, in the flickering firelight, I’d sit, eyes unfocused, dreaming shapes in the flames. Shadows lengthen, time blurs, a comforting silence envelops and my witness self begins whispering messages of encouragement, nourishment, possibility. Until, at last, sated, I’d wander off to bed beneath stars, hard and bright outside my window. Wrapped in a cocoon of flannel and down, I’d drift into a childhood realm of magic, as fantastical creations come alive behind my eyelids, luring new sides of myself out to play.
In a perfect world, I’d already be barricading the door right now! Realistically, though, quitting work for a month isn’t really an option. Besides, some of us need a little more discipline. Otherwise, instead of giving ourselves conscious contemplation and soul replenishment, we’d fill the time getting lost navigating Facebook-land or compulsively cleaning the garage.
But baby steps work—and we don’t have to try this at home. New Mexico is the mother of retreat space, with its astonishingly rich offerings of beautiful places reflecting a whole world of traditions and cultures. Here are a handful to choose from, if you’d like to start the new year by stilling the inner voices and getting back in touch with You, and your dreams for this life.
If outrageously beautiful wilderness beckons to you, choose Desert Harbor, 33 remote acres bordered by BLM-land just south of Golden. The cottage is simple and elegant, with a luxurious bathtub. The creative menu is extensive and, perched on the edge of the world, there’s a ramada with a hammock and views that go forever.
Raymond Linam offers life coaching. “Are you scripting your life or just responding?” he asks. Wesley, his wife and co-owner, a licensed counselor, offers interfaith spiritual direction. “We’re geared to the quiet person with intentionality,” Raymond explains. “We give you a place to relax and do your work, whatever that work is.”
Featured on their website is this promise from Rilke: “How surely gravity’s law, strong as an ocean current, takes hold of even the smallest thing and pulls it toward the heart of the world…If we surrendered to earth’s intelligence we could rise up rooted, like trees.”
Desert Harbor, desertharbor.org.
Chaco Canyon’s evocative ruins of a vanished civilization is known as Yupkoyvi, “the place beyond the horizon,” by ten clans of Hopi who consider it part of their ancestral homeland. During the four-century span between 850 and 1250 AD, this was a central networking hub for thousands of Pueblo peoples. Today, the park and its roads, sites, trails and campgrounds remain open all winter.
Camping there is an otherworldly experience. From December through February, campers are relatively few. The feeling of stepping outside of time is especially strong when you have the place to yourself. Ancestors at Chaco make themselves known so watch and listen. A friend of mine spent a long Christmas weekend there, solo, during a blizzard. The insights she received changed her life.
Chaco Canyon National Historical Park, nps.gov/chcu/index.htm.
The embodiment of tranquility, Mountain Cloud Zen Center, beneath Sun Mountain, was hand-built by New Mexico devotees. Teacher Henry Shukman, of the Sanbo Zen lineage, conducts group retreats, with four cabins accommodating several roommates. “Everything in retreat is done in silence,” says student Katie Widlund. “Meals, meditating, walking. We keep a soft, lowered gaze.”
Katie explains why their teacher says it’s safe to let go here. “I trust as I sit that something powerful happens, that I’m letting this larger intelligence operate. Things come up that want to be seen, and you slowly learn to see and to accept the resistance. I get in touch with loving myself and honoring my experience.” In group retreat, she adds, you feel supported, so you don’t give up as easily.
The center, Katie says, “was built with love and still wants to give love.” They welcome beginners.
Mountain Cloud Zen Center, mountaincloud.org.
The cranes are back! Every year, they return to spend the winter in this 30,000 acres of richly irrigated farmland and wetlands, part of the Rio Grande floodplain, a designated wilderness refuge in the high desert grasslands and foothills of the Chupadera and San Pascual Mountains. Many other migrating species join the exotic cranes, including water fowl, shorebirds and birds of prey, all roosting together here by night.
Lodging is plentiful in nearby Socorro. Plan your retreat around the birds’ schedule, arriving at sunrise as flocks wing their way to nearby feeding grounds, or at sunset when the skies fill with their return. It’s a spectacular sight.
Take your bike or just wander the footpaths, replenishing your soul as you, like the birds, take refuge here. As your retreat companions, these wild visitors from afar can reconnect you to your own untamed self, if you dare to make eye contact with them.
Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, fws.gov/refuge/bosque_del_apache.
For those who treasure the subtle mind-altering journey of a labyrinth walk, Stardreaming is your Louvre. Located outside of Galisteo on 22 acres, this sacred site was created by artist and magician James Jared, who chose the many individual boulders and stones, hauling and placing them here. Each creation is based on ancient traditions of sacred geometry, alchemy and magic. Stardreaming is home to 13 labyrinths collectively known as the Temples of the Cosmos. Each one is oriented to specific stellar, lunar or solar alignments, and each has its own creation story.
Most recently built are the temples to the ancient grandmothers (“They dreamed me, and I dreamed them,” James says), to the ancient grandfathers and to their grandchildren—this latter being the first temple you see as you arrive because, says James, “they are the future.”
Stardreaming provides a powerfully charged experience, a safe place for individual pilgrimages, ceremony, prayer and experiencing your own inner alchemy of healing. Reservations are required.
“We’re the getaway that isn’t that far away!” says Ten Thousand Waves’ public relations director, Mary Johnson. Just three and a half miles from downtown Santa Fe, this artfully crafted Japanese-inspired spa on the road to the ski basin is a different world. And because it offers 13 separate lodging choices, each balancing luxury with a wonderfully spare Asian aesthetic, you can design your own private retreat that incorporates all the wonderful amenities. Communal and women’s baths are complimentary to lodgers, as is the breakfast of organic coffee, granola and fruit.
There’s a sweet, reverential hush at the Waves in January. The crisp mountain air, the steam, the attention to detail and the principle of nothing extraneous usher in your inner exploration. A long soak, a flash in the cold plunge, a return to your room to bask beside the fire—it all reawakens your senses. Treat yourself to dinner at Izanami, the spa’s new restaurant and sake bar.
Ten Thousand Waves, tenthousandwaves.com.
Martial arts teacher Sifu Lin, founder of Albuquerque’s Chinese Culture Center, demonstrates the way we breathe as babies: fully, deeply, with gusto, pulling air into our abdomens until they swell like balloons, then exhaling completely. The effects on our bodies of pulling in such health-giving chi, or life energy, are vitally important. Chi Kung, with roots dating back over 4,000 years in Chinese culture, is dedicated to “building up the fire” and stoking the body’s inner furnace with deep abdominal breathing. Chi Kung students learn from their own experience that the martial art brings warmth to the body’s core, along with an infusion of life-enhancing oxygen, resulting in not only more inner strength but relief from chronic pain and supposedly incurable diseases.
With a few lessons in the basics, you can make this art your own daily practice, in a group class or in a natural setting of your own choosinga beach, an arroyo, a mesa top.
Chinese Culture Center, chineseculturecenter-abq.com.
La Farge Library’s Children’s Room
Remember simpler days, lying on the rug with a picture book, becoming part of the world described within its illustrations as a whole afternoon goes by? You can still do that. Venture through the rainbow tunnel into the children’s room at the Llano Street library. Picture-book shelves create a circular haven. Shuck off your coat, sit on the carpet, absorb the colorful book jackets. Let books choose you. Curl up in a window seat.
One Morning in Maine. Inhale. Robert McCloskey’s soft pencil drawings of a time out of time. Jane spills her milk, but only the cat notices, lapping the floor. The sisters run down the beach, calling to seagulls and tall pines as their father digs clams. They all row to the mainland, hair blown straight back behind them in the stiff wind. Men at the general store admire the gap where Jane’s loose tooth used to be. Exhale. Ahhhh.
Santa Fe Public Library La Farge Branch, 505.955.4860, 1730 Llano Street.
Story by Gail Snyder