Calming Down

Retreating, Courage, and More..

By August 5, 2011 9 Comments

I just returned from Jen Louden’s week long writing retreat in Taos, New Mexico. It was the first time I’ve taken that long of retreat for myself. I’ve gone on weekend workshops before, but nothing like this.
I went because I wanted to break through some stuckness around a writing project. I also went because I wanted to see how Jen, who I respect tremendously, leads a retreat. Last but not least, I went because when I looked at the daily schedule — full of writing, yoga, dance, something inside me squealed: “that sounds like so much fun!” From that moment on I was calling it “summer camp for grownups” because it felt that delightful to me.
It was delightful and fun, but more than that it was incredibly powerful. I’ve written before that I think there is a real reason that every spiritual path has a “retreat” element, whether it’s the Sabbath or a geographic pilgrimage or an intensive, multi-day meditation period. All spiritual traditions recognize that, while daily spiritual practice is extremely important, spiritual and personal development is uniquely enhanced, moved forward, during intensive periods on retreat.
For me, retreat is about leaving the day to day and leaving the noise of the world. Its benefits come as much from what we do at the retreat as they come from what we see about our usual lives, when we return with our retreat perspective. On my return, I see how overcrowded my life is, and how much I could benefit from simplifying it. I see how much I miss living in a beautiful natural environment. I see how living in community makes me such a happier camper and—paradoxically—makes me more comfortable taking time alone.
Retreat is also about, in Jen’s words, “the container.” Creating a simple, empty space and allowing things to happen. I saw so clearly on this retreat that we don’t have to do much for the soul to emerge. Thoreau said, “the soul grows by subtraction, not by addition.”
On our retreat, the container looked like this: living in a place with limited internet and phone reception. Simple spaces, in a beautiful natural environment. Time everyday devoted to connecting to the body, open time for writing, time for sharing in small groups and in the big group. There was lots of time and space to be present to oneself.
I want to encourage you to try some kind of retreat. A retreat is different from a vacation. It is more inner directed, and the noise of the world is purposely turned down. There is structure. There is container, consciously created.
You can go on a retreat with a group and a teacher. Some great places to find retreats are Spirit Rock Meditation Center, Esalen, Omega Institute. Or check out the teachers and writers you like and see if they are leading one. Or, you can create your own. Jen, who led my retreat, literally wrote the book on this, with her “Woman’s Retreat Book” which gives you ways to retreat for a week, a day, or even in a moment. It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, or even involve a lot of time away from family and work to retreat. But please, in some way, give yourself the huge gift of retreat.
For those of you that enjoy my poetry, I have a new poem published over at Kate Swoboda’s blog today. A poem about courage, that I wrote on my retreat! Click here to read it.

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