The thoughtful K gifted me with a few days at St. Gertrude’s Monastery in Cottonwood, Idaho.
Built in the 1920’s, the monastery sits on the Camas prairie, with two red domes lifting over the four-storied stone building. It’s perched on a wooded hillside with hiking trails, the cemetery, and damp grotto shrines. The monastery halls are quiet, quiet—Benedictines treasure silence. The stones seem to be full of prayer.

It was mid-November. Ready to work on the Walden book, I settled into the toasty-warm library right beside the chapel, which meant regular serenades of hymns and organ. The library held wooden shelves, knitted pumpkins, and that fragrant old-book smell. I was supremely happy.

Over three days of writing an introduction to yoga and chatting with the sisters at meals, I learned about their volunteer and artist residency programs. The Prioress, Sister Teresa, sent me the volunteer application, and I began imagining mornings cutting veggies, assembling newsletters, helping Sister Carlotta in her herbal lair; afternoons and evenings back in that extraordinary library.

Forward to January. The application is lengthy—they want to know who would be joining them for two weeks. Finally submitted, Sister Teresa requested a Zoom call. I mildly panicked. We had talked often over meals—what was her hesitation? Now here arrives my confession, in the spirit of a Benedictine.

I think we all have a version of Imposter Syndrome, where we feel fraudulent or a not belonging. Mine is that I’m surprised when people like, accept, or trust me. Often when someone wants to talk, I wonder what I’ve done, as in a mistake or wrong. I know it’s an under-the-line belief, and I monitor its little saboteur head when it pops up.

Sister Teresa and I started the call with some small talk. Then she sorta called me out. “I want to know why you applied to volunteer. You clearly need an artist’s residency.”

I actually caught my breath and felt my heart swell and get warm. I felt the truth of what she said, and I had to step in and up through my resistance.

“I don’t see myself as an artist.”

“You’re writing a book. That’s an artist.”

The Irish poet David Whyte writes, “Just beyond yourself. It’s where you need to be.” It’s a solution for feeling inadequate. It’s the response to generosity. It’s also a responsibility to living this life. Step by breath by day, a little more willing and able to show up beyond today’s version of myself.

I now have three weeks in March as an artist in residence…to settle into the fullness of the library, stone walls, hiking trails, and generous hospitality of the sisters and staff.   Which means a book is coming, and so much more.

by David Whyte

Just Beyond Yourself

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