As the world gets faster and the amount of connections and information we experience increases every day, so does the number of times we hear how important is to unplug. “You have to make time to take time,” might be a message you’ve received lately, or perhaps more “me time” is at the top of your resolutions for 2015. Find silence, find stillness, find serenity, these admirable goals are things that many of us yearn for amidst the hustle of the modern day. The question is, how do we achieve them?
Last year, I found my answer was retreat.
In fact, I’m serendipitously writing this as I’m delighting in the Rolls-Royce of retreat experiences: a 25 day artist’s residency at Ragdale in Lake Forest, Illinois. For the past 14 days, I have spent each morning focused on my novel, each afternoon doing yoga or walking on the prairie, and each evening at a communal dinner table where I and eleven other artists come together to eat a meal prepared by an incredible professional chef. The dedicated time and space at Ragdale has allowed me create and revise more in two weeks than I usually accomplish three months. If I’m stuck or feeling low, I don’t sweat it. Instead, I surrender myself to my surroundings by sitting in front of the fire, going on a walking meditation, exploring town, or heck just taking a nap. For me, the magic of this winter wonderland is that the time is always there and the creative flow is always open, so long as I take advantage of how this place allows me to breathe and be.
If you’re an artist like I am, there are a number of fantastic residency opportunities like Ragdale out there. Or, if you don’t consider yourself an artist, there are all kinds of other retreat experiences waiting for you to find them. If your circumstances won’t let you take a longer retreat this year, don’t give up! Chances are there are amazing places within a one hour radius from where you live that are ripe for a daylong retreat. When I didn’t have an experience like Ragdale on my calendar last year, I went on one full-day retreat a month, visiting a different location each time.
While it doesn’t seem like a lot, a day can go a long way. Spending an entire day in a new environment can help you slow your pace, clear your mind, shift your perspective, and rejuvenate your energy on your own terms. Not sure what to do on a one-day retreat? Here are some ideas:
– Journaling, intention-setting, or memory exploration;
– Yoga, prayer, or meditation;
– Or an exploration of an essential theme or question (such as love or prosperity).
You can also find a location that interests you first, then use the setting to inspire your activities for the day. Whether you chose your setting first or last, do keep in mind the pace of the location and how populated it is on a regular day to make sure it’s a good fit for your expectations.
Once you’ve settled on your location, take some time to plan ahead for your day. Here are some tips that can make any kind of one-day retreat successful:
Pack for comfort. Anticipate what you’ll need to take care of yourself throughout the day. From a pillow to bug spray, consider your setting and the length of your retreat to decide what you take and what you leave behind.
Stick to how you will/won’t plug in. If you’ve decided you’ll answer necessary texts but not phone calls (like I do), don’t cave in. Most importantly, be honest with yourself. If the idea of shutting off your phone fills you with dread in case there’s an emergency, then don’t. The goal is serenity, not anxiety.
Tell everyone with pride. The reason my “necessary texts only” plan works is because everyone in my circle knows when I’m retreating. If you’re unafraid to share with others why the act of retreat is important to you, anyone who will respects you will respect your retreat, too.
Commit from start to finish. If you’ve planned for your retreat to start at 9:00am and end at 6:00pm, honor that commitment and don’t let the outside world or internal second-guessing get in the way.
Balance between moving and being still. Even if you think you’ve found the perfect spot, keep exploring. Thoughts move when the body moves. If you’re doing a meditation retreat, there are fantastic walking meditations of all lengths and styles.
You don’t have to go alone. Finally, sharing a retreat with a trusted friend can be a wonderful experience as long as you set a clear agenda of solitary and shared time. Communal sharing in the middle and at the end of a retreat can be as rejuvenating and inspiring as time alone.
Retreats are a fun, adventurous, and enlightening experience that I cannot recommend enough. If you’d like to read more about my daylong writer’s retreats and some tips I’ve learned along the way, visit my post The Benefit of Retreat on my blog. If you know of an amazing place to retreat, or if you have any retreat tips, please share them in the comments so that we can all benefit from your experiences. Best wishes to you and your retreats to come!