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The Perfect Room, the Perfect Book

You could call it coincidence or synchronicity depending on your view of life. 

Here's what happened: 

A couple of years ago, a retired minister, Mahan Siler, came to a week-long writing retreat I led at Doe Branch Ink in the NC mountains. Such a thinker and writer is he that I was very flattered he chose to come.  He brought along a book he thought I'd be interested in:  The Wisdom Way of Knowing by Cynthia Bourgeault. An Episcopal priest, she writes in this book about Hindu/Buddhist spiritual matters (kundalini awakening) crucial in my novel Cobalt Blue.

I loved the Bourgeault book.  Mahan sent me a copy of my own when I got back home.  It influenced my meditation heavily for a more than a year.

Then last weekend, the writing group I've been in for 30.5 years, led by Laurel Goldman, went on a retreat together for the first time.  We arrived on Friday to spend three nights at Cedar Cross Retreat Center in deep woods about an hour or so north of Raleigh.   Another writer, Angela Davis-Gardner, and I were the first to arrive and pick out our rooms.  I knew which one I had to have the instant I saw it. 



It was a slight variation on an imagined room that I've often pictured myself in for almost 40 years.  The difference: the pillow was supposed to be at the other end of the bed.  Plus, the imagined room had only one window.  The real room was much better.

I dumped my stuff there, staking claim, and then noticed the one book in the room.  It was by Cynthia Bourgeault, Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening. I was thrilled to see it there.


I finished it about 3 a.m. on the last night of our wonderful three days there. By the end of the first day, it had already again altered my meditation.  I felt as if I had found something new and huge.

lodge home page


John and Margaret Hilpert who run Cedar Cross and live there say that the three things most often mentioned as spiritually affecting there are: the labyrinth, the stations of the cross experience (a woodland site which I never did get to) and the exceptionally loveable house dog, Isaac. (You don't have to be Christian or religious to stay there.)

isaac 350

Isaac was as sweet as any living creature could be.  And the rest of the weekend was wonderful. And the uncanny finding of that book and what I found in it changed me.

How? With the shock of its arrival and the way the meditation/prayer described in its pages opened an interior space different than I'd known before.

This afternoon, four days after my return, a client/friend came by my office.  She mentioned a book she'd been reading.  Who wrote it?  That same "hermit priest."

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12 Responses to “The Perfect Room, the Perfect Book”

  1. kenju Says:

    When the student is ready, the teacher appears. 
    I love labyrinths. 

  2. Debbie Says:

    There are no accidents, my friend.  I love this!

  3. Bob Braxton Says:

    Our East Harlem (1966-1967) seminarians "occasional" multi-day retreat was at Bend of Ivy this year (Marshall, NC, nearby). My experience was seeing on the refrigerator (magnet) a painting / picture used by someone (writer) whose blog I follow. Until then I believe it to be a picture of her; however, it must be some famous painting instead. That, too, was a shocking connecting since I surmised she herself may have been there or has some connection to the place. Since the retreat place has WiFi, I checked that out by contacting her and learned the truth. Thanks for the author / books reference and for both retreat centers. In December my spouse (retired minister, PC(USA) ) turns a special seven-Oh. You have given me a hint of what might be special for the two of us (also 46th anniversary this recent September).

  4. Mary Says:

    Loved reading this! I know all the characters and even the setting, but don't know the book.  Will definitely look it up.  Seeing this post felt like a bit of synchronicity to me, just as I'm planning my writing life for the next few months. Thank you, Peggy, and glad you had a good retreat!

  5. Peggy Payne Says:

    I’m happy for your synchronicity, Mary, sorry about your mom-in-law.

  6. Peggy Payne Says:

    Oh, wonderful, Bob! It would be a great place to celebrate.

  7. Peggy Payne Says:

    That’s how I’m voting, Debbie.

  8. Peggy Payne Says:

    And sometimes the student does get impatient, yes? I walk any labyrinth I cross paths with, but haven’t — well, I’m about to say, haven’t gotten any great reward out of it. But that’s obviously the wrong spirit to do it in. I just don’t shake that very easily. Bourgeault calls that “spiritual possessiveness.” Damned hard to shake.

  9. John Hilpert Says:

    It was great to hear about your synchonicity – an excellent writer for sure.  Great photo of Isaac, our welcoming committee and trail companion.  The Way of Jesus was inspired by an outdoor stations of the cross.  And while the last day of Jesus' life is a big deal to me, it is in the context of his whole life and ministry.  So our stations represent what our church decided (by consensus over 6 months) were the major themes of his life.  Great to have you here.

  10. Peggy Payne Says:

    Thanks, John. I’ll visit the stations of the cross walk next time. I hope it turns/turned out that you like Cobalt Blue — it’s very different from Revelation, but if you hang on through the dark part, it winds up in the same (ecstatic) place.

  11. Bob Braxton Says:

    Peggy, I have never been to Chartres (cathedral) – have you? However, I have walked (available monthly) the canvas labyrinth that has its pattern – going in – to the Center – then back out the same path, opposite direction. It is quite a long pilgrimage (both time and distance), especially since at each bend I pause a bit, face the cross (up high in front of the wall), then resume – also remain for a time at the Center. 

  12. Peggy Payne Says:

    I haven’t been to Chartres either, Bob. But it sounds as if you’re doing just fine with the labyrinth at hand.


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