Kristen Puckett lives in Northern Virginia. She is the mother of three children. She currently volunteers with local hospice and meals on wheels programs.
Attending a two-week therapeutic retreat with Drs. Molly and Quentin McMullen, in Ann Arbor, Michigan this past summer, I found true therapy and true retreat.
Two months later, I find the essence of my experience in two simple words: Rhythm and Devotion. But these words come in a context; so let me set the scene.
The Anna Botsford Bach Home in Ann Arbor is home to the Rudolf Steiner Health Center. Built in 1916, it is three stories high, with graceful proportions, pleasant grounds and gardens. It is in a quiet residential neighborhood. Nearby parks and woods make for enjoyable walks, while, should one suddenly need an espresso or a book store, a twenty minute walk takes one to central Ann Arbor. Twice a day the music of bells floats along from a church across the street.
Fourteen patients attended the summer retreat, one third from Michigan, the rest from various parts-the furthest being Israel. Ages ranged from under 20 to over 80, and reasons for attending were as varied as the individuals. For several, this was a first exposure to anthroposophic medicine-so much so the tongue tripped on the words. Add the staff of medical doctors, nurses, therapists, housekeepers and cooks who also arrived from near and far-it was a lively and interesting community that settled into shared meals and evening gatherings.
Of course, we were there for a therapeutic retreat. Each patient met frequently with his/her doctor and was tended by his/her nurse. Each had an utterly individualized schedule – medicines, nursing treatments, (more on these later), and therapeutic activities -speech formation, art therapies, eurythmy, rhythmical massage, biographical work, therapeutic baths. As in life, no one can have everything-each patient was prescribed two or three therapies specific to his or her situation. I, for example, was prescribed eurythmy and speech-but not the massage or watercolor I had secretly dreamed of! Group speech and eurythmy were available to all in the afternoons.
Beyond “formal” therapies, individualized suggestions were introduced over the 2 weeks. These added hints ranged from being outdoors-walks or garden work, for example-to keeping a journal, taking long rests, drinking that special tea, or taking extra nourishment.
Anthroposophical nursing care was, for me, one of the most unusual aspects of the retreat, and worthy of special mention. The idea of a warm compress has always elicited images straight out of Little Women; a “foot embrocation” turned out to be a form of light massage, not the footbath I had envisioned. It was a revelation to receive them daily.
Now, a compress or embrocation is healing in itself, but most remarkable is the way in which the therapy is administered. Silence reigns. Gestures are calm and slow-almost ritualistic. This must stem from the intention, described in our “nurse’s evening”, of striving to work completely in the moment. The result for a patient- this one at least- is feeling entirely cared for.
Now, as wonderful as all of these activities are, is being embedded in a living rhythmic form that made them most fruitful. There was a schedule and it was followed fairly faithfully. But do not be misled-a ” scheduled” has a bit of a dead quality, while what we lived was a rhythm. Soft singing in the halls wakened us; we ate (excellent meals) at regular times and all together. Morning singing and a house blessing set a tone for the day; outings were arranged and rearranged; people took walks or conversed or went on errands; of course, everyone had a therapeutic schedule. And we rested. And rested. Rest after meals. Rest after therapy. Rest after compress. Rest after embrocation. “Rest, rest, rest.” I wrote home. I could never have imagined my own capacity for rest and more rest. Nor my capacity for complete quiet-no radio, no news, no telephone, no computer. Instead human voices, bird song, my own inner rhythms. My brain became quiet. Such a rhythm restores healthy breathing, physical and non-physical.
Lastly-because all this sounds rather solemn-intermingled with all the earnest devotion and loving activity was humor. We laughed.