My second stop on my road trip through New Mexico was The Lama Foundation in Questa. Situated far up a dirt road on the side of Lama Mountain, the foundation’s collection of eclectic buildings is isolated in the best way. It is a quiet, pristine environment. This is not a post of travel tips, nor will it be full of beautiful pictures. This is a glimpse into my heart and one of the most powerful experiences I have had in my life thus far.
The Lama Foundation community has some permanent residents who live there year round and renew their commitment annually, but in the summer it grows to include both interns and guests of all spiritual walks. Anyone looking to pursue their spiritual practice in peace and love is welcomed at Lama.
One of the foundation’s most unique offerings are their personal retreats. These retreats, referred to as hermitages, provide an opportunity for one to spend anywhere from 2 days to 2 weeks in complete solitude, housed in one of the foundations’ designated retreat spaces and separated from the rest of the community by both space and designated paths.
I first heard of LF completely randomly, through an Instagram post I came across. For some reason I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and a few weeks later I found myself applying for a hermitage. The Hermit Guardian, Bobby, responded to me almost immediately and within 24 hours I had mailed my check. I was READY for this. I knew it was right.
When I arrived I was greeted by a tall, red-bearded fellow who turned out to be my email buddy, Bobby. He might be the nicest person I have ever met. After helping me gather some food from their larders (fresh vegetables, peanut butter, rice cakes, etc.) he gave me a tour of the property. I was amazed at the diversity of the different buildings and responsibilities of the residents. They have everything from a huge dome for yoga and meditation to a cottage industries building where they design, print and sell their own interfaith prayer flags.
Soon I was alone in the Maqbara, my home for the next two days. The shelter was minimal and lovely, all exposed wood, expansive windows and simple furnishings. There isn’t much to be distracted by- it sits up on the mountainside, high above the road and the rest of the buildings. The elevated position lends a sort of pure, isolated energy and the wind blowing around the walls is cleansing. I opened the windows to allow it to come through and move around me.
I came in not knowing exactly what my goals for this hermitage were. “Solitude, peace a communion with nature” I wrote on my information form, when asked about the purpose of my visit. Could I be more vague?
My immediate instinct was to make myself busy preparing my bed, putting away the food, and organizing my things. This urge made me realize that I had come for this hermitage in order to address and break the cycle of my habitual actions. I was looking for the pause- the feeling of what happens between the demands of everyday life. City life is so overstimulating, there is never a pause. There is the gym, then work, then the commute, errands, cooking dinner, etc. Then bed. And heaven forbid that every moment in between not be filled with Netflix or checking my phone. Sometimes I reach the end of my day and realize that I haven’t even looked at my wonderful husband, my partner, directly in the eyes. I’ve not given him my full attention for even a second.
That is tragic. That is not how I want to treat my beloved.
So, instead, I declined the urge and I sat down on the steps outside, looked up at the beautiful mountain and let my mind flow. I released my thoughts to wander as they may, and to quiet themselves.
My focus for the time began to hone in on recognizing my urges, acknowledging them, and processing them rather than immediately acting on them. When I began to feel hungry or thirsty, I let it linger a while and spent time really thinking about the delay of gratification. After allowing some time to pass I would prepare a simple meal, taking the time to enjoy the process of cooking and truly tasting the results of my efforts.
In my journal I scrawled, “Remember this feeling- standing at the tiny counter of the Maqbara, watching the sun set and cooking just fine on a 2 burner propane stove. So content.”
As the sun began to dip below the mountain ridge in the distance and the temperature dropped, I got up to start a fire in the wood stove and prepared candles on the windowsill, ready to light them when the sun vanished. There was something deeply satisfying about these simple acts.
My two days in the Maqbara passed in this way, full of intentional action, conscious pauses and a unique impression of time. I walked away a different woman, one who was both eager to return to the world with my newfound realizations but who also could have stayed in that tiny cabin forever.
If you are seeking solitude, a hermitage may be for you. My experience could not have been better (except to maybe have been a little longer) and I am so grateful for it.
Have you had a specific experience that was formative in your spiritual practice or personal development? I would love to hear about it!
My hermitage read: Manuscript Found in Accra by Paulo Coelho