Posted by: Mark Nielsen | July 8, 2009

“Benesere”: Rest, Food, Meditation & the Art of Being Well

Mon. July 6, 2009

Otium Et Serenitas” – sign above spa/wellness center at La Casella, the time share resort and equestrian center we’re staying at in Umbria.

I don’t know precisely what the above Latin phrase means (“peace and serenity” is a so-so translation), but Monday was certainly a day of wellness, serenity and good old-fashioned recovery.

After the horrific Sunday we had trying to get out of Milan, and then making GoogleMaps-led wrong turns down rumbly hillside dirt roads –trying in the dark to find this pretty little hole-in-the-wall sanctuary in Umbria, dodging porcupines and grasping vines– we NEEDED a rest, a day to do almost nothing. To do laundry. To read. To swim.

And to meditate, a practice I’m getting a bit better at, being inspired by the work of Christian monastics, and also the “Pray” section of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love (though she’s doing it in an Indian ashram in the section I’m reading now).

I even meditated while swimming! It’s not so full-up here at the resort, so there was just one British family next to the pool, including a girl of about eight who made me miss Graham when I spoke to her briefly. But they were only sunbathing, so I had the pool to myself.

I find it makes it easier to meditate when I am immersed in water. (Even in a bath: “Calgon, take me AWAY. . .”) If prayer is about talking to God, then meditation is supposed to be about listening to God, and to one’s own spirit as it rests in God, and attending to one’s mind and body, as the ego tries either wrestling with God or distracting one from peace and gratitude and communion with God. So floating somewhat in water, or immersing my ears, allows me to find a kind of potentially holy silence, so that I can hear and feel some of the interior activity: the grunts of the wrestling ego or the loving (and often extremely funny and creative) voice of God.

Not that words are the only way God speaks. Being in the Swiss Alps last week, and in verdant Italy this week, reminds me of deep grace in its multitude of forms. The wind itself can be like the breath of God, and as one Islamic text puts it, He is also “as near as the vein in my neck”.

The nearness of God … which brings me quite naturally to Francesco di Assisi, whose basilica, hometown and tomb we visited on Tuesday. Now, Little Frankie was a mystic I can truly understand. Sue and I were both wowed by Assisi, Francis and his partner-in-praise St. Clare/Chiara. But that’s going to have to be an entry for later today, or next week. Because right now I’m on my way to the eastern coast of Tuscany for a swim and some gelato.

I don’t know much, but I do know that being well is all about balance: the spiritual and the physical.

[  Tues supper: Cinghiale – “wild porc (sic), cooking with vin,brandy,sage,laurel”

(the above is a direct quote, from the menu at the little restaurant we discovered in nearby Ficulle’s town center. The wild boar is a regional specialty of Umbria.)  ]

E tutto bene! Come bendigo sera. (My Italian’s still male, but Suze sez it’s improving.)



  1. I love first class timeshares!

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