Friday, December 30, 2011

Experiencing "The Joy of Quiet".

Monastery of the Society of  St. John the Evangelist, Cambridge, MA
(photo: © Lynn Schweikart)

In The Joy of Quiet, an opinion piece that will appear in this Sunday's New York Times, travel writer and essayist Pico Iyer writes about the importance of "stillness", which he believes is the path to "sensing not what is new, but what is essential.".

Iyer writes of one of his favorite getaways: a Benedictine monasatery near Big Sur. He doesn't participate in services, or even meditate when he makes a retreat there; rather he "walks, reads, and loses himself in the stillness". (The fact that this spot, located between the Pacific Ocean and the mountains of California's Central Coast, is one of the world's most inspiring natural landscapes no doubt contributes to Iyer's sense of peacefulness.)

I immediately googled "Benedictine monastery, Big Sur" and found the place he was describing: the New Camaldoli Hermitage, where a guest retreat room runs $95 a night. (In contrast, at the posh Post Ranch Inn, just up Highway One, rooms start at $595 a night.)

Of course, you don't have to travel across the country to experience this level of quiet.  The Monastery of the Society of St. John the Evangelist in Cambridge, MA accepts guests for a night or more. Here, too, you can participate as much or as little as you please in the monastic life . (Though I'd recommend attending at least one chanted service in the circa 1936 French Romanesque chapel.)

Iyer quotes the Benedictine monk Brother David Steindl-Rast, who describes joy as “that kind of happiness that doesn’t depend on what happens.” One of my New Year's resolutions is to devote more time in 2012 to experiencing the stillness that inspires that kind of joy.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Stop, Look, and Above All, Linger

Boston Public Library Courtyard Copyright: Lynn Schweikart
 Frank Bruni's column in this morning's New York Times entitled Time, Distance and Clarity, had a poignant message: too often we rush about our busy day without really taking in or appreciating our surroundings.

"I’m talking about subtle, incidental blessings that are strangely invisible to us. My friend N. realized that there was a towering, flowering Schefflera plant in front of her childhood home in California only after she’d moved to New York and begun coveting one in a Manhattan store, which wanted $500 for it," says Bruni.

Ah, yes, the blessings that greet us every day, which we are often too preoccupied to acknowledge. Bruni's column was inspired by his recent trip to Rome, a city where he'd lived and worked for a number of years, and was visiting again on a brief vacation.

"Above Rome’s pale yellow and dusky orange buildings, the sky somehow looks bluer than it does almost anywhere else," Bruni muses, "Did I take proper note of that when I saw it all the time? When it was the canopy over my waking, my working and the all-consuming, all-distracting tedium of daily life?"

I had similar feelings as I wandered around Boston last year, doing the research for Peaceful Places Boston. Was this stretch of Beacon Hill always so beautiful? Had I ever really paused to sit in the in the courtyard of the Boston Public Library and listen to the fountain? Why had I never taken the time to indulge my urge to wander along the Southwest Corridor Park and admire the South End's garden squares?

Especially in this season, when there is too much to do, and too little time to do it, it's good for the soul to rest for a moment and really notice.

"My companion halted in his tracks one afternoon to point out the heart-tugging perfection of the square we were in," writes Bruni. "It was the Piazza di Sant’Ignazio, one long side of which is traced by elaborately curved 18th-century buildings that evoke a rococo chest of drawers. I’d zoomed through it repeatedly years ago. And never once lingered. On this occasion I did. And then, my lesson learned, I stopped by again the next morning, before I headed to the airport and lost the precious chance."

Don't miss your precious chances: watch the sunset over the Charles River. Listen to the joyful sounds of children skating on the Frog Pond. Stop and smell the rich sea air near the waterfront. You'll come away restored and refreshed, with a deeper appreciation of the beauty that surrounds us every day.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Best Places in Boston to Kiss

Photo: Copyright Lynn Scheikart

Today, ran a feature on the 21 best places in the city to kiss. I was pleased to see that I'd already featured 18 of those romantic spots in Peaceful Places Boston. But if you want to steal a smooch in a place that's a little more off the beaten path--such as the Peter Fanueil House Garden on Beacon Hill, pictured above--you'll discover plenty of ideas in my book. (NOTE: This lovely garden is maintained by the Beacon Hill Garden Club. Part of the proceeds from their annual Hidden Garden Tour, held in mid-May, are earmarked to care for this special place.)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Christmas Tree Lighting Tonight.

The Annual Tree Lighting Ceremony will take place at the Frog Pond, Boston Common tonight. Festivities are slated to begin at 5, though in the past, the actual lighting has happened closer to 6:15. Here's a link to the Boston Globe article describing the event.

Peaceful Places Boston tip: Tonight the lights will also start glowing on the Commonwealth Avenue Mall. That ceremony takes place closer to 7:00 near the Taj Hotel -- it's a little more laidback than the Common event -- and afterwards, you can take a peaceful stroll down the Mall.