The antidote to living a sped-up life
Last month’s article about our sped-up culture generated some interesting responses (Why I can’t Drive 55) on the blog. Many people feel overwhelmed and don’t know how to get off the no-so-merry-go-ground.
In recent years, I’ve become a huge advocate of an effective antidote to stressed-out living: retreats. Putting life on hold for a specific number of days, essentially pressing ‘pause’, is incredibly effective at helping people slow down and re-establish a healthy pace.
“Oh, no. I couldn’t possibly.”
If your first response to the idea of a retreat is resistance, you probably need it more than you think.
Your spirit gets depleted whenever your work needs you — or your kids, or parents, or whomever — to the point where you can’t ever leave. If this sounds like you, my heart goes out to you.
Most of the self-employed people I know are just a step from running on fumes. They try to solve this by adding things to their lives — new things like social events, possessions, foods, et cetera. But all this newness and novelty wears off pretty quickly, leaving us with more commitments and possessions to maintain.
Retreating is about allowing yourself to be nourished by simplicity.
Reasons not to…
As enticing at it may sound, we resist retreating for lots of reasons. Commitments — the kids, the business, the logistics, and the expense — are part if it. Look a little deeper and you’ll find other reasons:
- I’m afraid of upsetting or disappointing my family and friends.
- Whatever would I do with all that time?
- What if I discover something I want to change about my life?
When it comes down to it, one of the biggest reasons we resist retreating is fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of upsetting the status quo. These are absolutely valid feelings. If you feel this way, make some space for them to come up. Sit with them and see if you want to retreat despite the presence of fears.
Feel the fear and do it anyway.
Fear isn’t always red light; sometimes it’s a yield sign. Look both ways, and proceed.
13 years ago, when I took my fist solo retreat with guidance from Jen Louden’s The Woman’s Retreat Book, I was excited and also nervous. I took the leap and discovered things about myself I had never known. I felt renewed. Alive. It was worth the risk.
View a retreat as a tune-up for your heart. You can’t change the oil and spark plugs while you’re speeding down the road. The vehicle must leave the road temporarily in order to receive this restorative maintenance. Going on retreat takes you away from everyday life so that your spirit gets the maintenance it needs.
If you’re ready to pack your bags, or are at least open to the idea, you’ll want to prepare yourself and those around you for your departure. Here are 10 ways you can get the most from your retreat experience.
How to retreat
1. Schedule the time
Only you know what’s right for you, but I generally prefer that taking more than you think you need. Stretch. I used to retreat annually for a whole week. Now, I go every other month for 3 days.
If that much time sounds insane to you, ask yourself: “How much time do I need to feel truly nourished?” And listen — trust what comes up for you.
Then set it aside, marking the dates in your calendar.
2. Establish your boundaries
Any time you do something to nourish yourself, creating a safe container allows you to really immerse yourself in the experience.
Before you go on retreat, consider some of the following questions:
- Do I want to go alone?
- Do I want to be reachable? By whom? Under what circumstances? How often?
- Do I want internet access? A cell phone?
- How far away do I want to go?
- What kind of environment would support me? What would distract me?
- What other boundaries do I need to feel supported and present?
3. Inform your close circle
Once you’ve established your boundaries, communicate them to the loved ones who will be affected. Ask them for their support and tell them why you are taking this step. I call this “frontloading” (full article about this), which can be very useful.
For example, Inspired Spouse and I have an agreement that when I’m on retreat, I’m likely to call once each day after dinner for about 15 minutes. However, if I’m not in the mood, I won’t. Since we made this agreement in advance, it works out fine. In fact, those evening conversations have been among the sweetest in our 5 years together.
Although it may not happen, anticipate some resistance from your loves ones — especially if you’re new to setting boundaries with them. If they are accustomed to having you as their go-to person, they may not be entirely comfortable with you being unavailable to them.
Ask if your loved ones need anything from you while you’re retreating. Be clear about your needs and negotiate an agreement that will work for all. It can be a challenging dance if this is new for you, but honoring your own boundaries while respecting others’ is worth the effort.
4. Set an intention
Once boundary details have been worked out, spend some time talking or journaling about what you’d like to get out of your retreat. I don’t suggest writing a to-do list (since you probably have plenty of to-dos in your normal life). Instead, think about what you’d like the retreat to feel like. What kind of experience do you want to have, in general?
For example, your intention might be to relax and find some peace. You might want to practice being present and giving self-compassion. Perhaps you’d like to express yourself creatively through writing, or song, or drawing. You could spend days just asking yourself, “What would nourish my spirit?” and really listening to the information you receive.
Spend time thinking about what you’d like out of the time. Doing this increases your chances of getting what you need.
5. Choose your destination
Once you’ve set your intention, find a setting that will support it. How important is solitude? Prepared meals? Walking trails? Nature? Community? Over time, I’ve discovered that I like having a room to myself (with a bathroom) and the option of solitude. Being near water is one of my favorite things, so I find places that offer this.
Because I write about retreats a lot, people often ask me, “Where do you go?”. I confess I have some favorites (none of the following are affiliate links). Among them are Breitenbush Hot Springs, Mt. Angel Abbey, St. Benedict’s Lodge, Silver Falls Conference Center and any number of vacation rentals. I’ve also always wanted to go to Menucha and Hidden Lake, too.
Just Google “retreat center” and your state or country — you’re bound to come up with some options. Maybe you have a friend with a beach or mountain getaway you could rent. Some people like to check in to a B&B or hotel.
What’s right for you? Only you can decide.
6. Travel lightly
When faced with gobs of free time, it’s common to over-plan how you’ll use it. You might feel tempted to load up a suitcase with projects, activities, even neglected work to fill your time.
Consider bringing less than you think you’ll need. A lot less. Physically carrying less with you is a conscious act of simplicity and a reminder that you already have all you need: head, heart, body and spirit. Seize the opportunity to discover what you would do if there was nothing to do.
If you can, make the traveling to your destination part of the retreat. Take your time driving through your own town like a tourist, noticing the people and smells and architecture. Enjoy the scenery. Stop at a roadside stand. On the way to one of my favorite retreat centers, I love to stop at a restaurant to order mouthwatering apple strudel. Savoring this dessert is a retreat all by itself!
7. Tolerate silence
Lots of people ask me, “What do you DO on retreat?”. You can read, meditate, journal, create, walk, pray, and do anything that helps you slow down and feel nourished. Honestly, sometimes I do nothing but stare at the sky.
One of the things I have been working on is tolerating silence. When I’m silent, I can hear the voices I often ignore — the shoulds, ought tos, and shouldn’ts. The silence I give myself allows me to question these voices instead of letting them run my life. It’s a very powerful practice to slow down enough to notice and work through these thoughts.
If you’re not a quiet type, there’s no requirement to be completely silent. The idea is to try something different. Give it some thought.
8. Make space for feelings
Taking time out puts you in touch with your feelings. At least it can. I sometimes feel moved just looking at the trees in fall, or a humming bird feeding, or a sumptuous retreat meal. In her book, An Altar in the World (excerpted here), Barbara Brown Taylor says, “…If you slow down for a day, then all kinds of alarming things can happen. You can start crying without having the slightest idea why.”
We spend so much energy putting off feelings in our daily lives that they can catch us by surprise. A wise friend once told me, “Any feeling, fully felt, dissipates.” On retreat, you have the opportunity to feel deeply without interruption, allowing old pain to dissolve and more space to open in your heart.
I used to think that feeling emotional meant I was doing my retreat wrong — that I should just feel blissed out all the time. If you find yourself feeling moved, don’t let it frighten you. Welcome the feelings. Allow yourself to be present with them and discover what they have to tell you.
9. Listen to the small, still voice
Whether you’re gone for a day or a week, a moment may arrive when you’re not sure what to do next. In our normal lives, we’re used to rushing on to the next thing. On retreat, this moment of uncertainty gives you the opportunity to ask yourself a simple and life-changing question: “What do I want right now?”
When you ask this, pause. Stop and listen for a small, clear response. Some people hear a voice, others sense a feeling in their body. You might get an image, or a sound, or nothing at all. It might take some practice, this listening. When we rush, our spirit closes down — retreats open it back up again.
Listen for what this small, still voice has to share – and then find a way to act on it. I’ve spent entire retreats focusing on this one question, asking it of myself dozens of times in one day. “What do I need right now?” Then listening deeply. Then acting on what I perceive. Not only does this practice help my office organizing techniques, it’s a first class ticket to a more fulfilling life.
What do you need right now?
10. Integrate retreat insights into your life
When you return to your life, it might be hard to remember what you discovered about yourself. Take notes – leave breadcrumbs so you can find your way back to this simpler life. On the night before you leave your retreat, take some time to reflect on (and even record) some of the insights you gained during your retreat.
What would you like to take back with you? Maybe you ate home-made meals on retreat and you’d like to continue that practice at home. Maybe you slept for a full 8 hours each night. On one retreat, I discovered a simpler way to keep track of my work projects that I jotted down and implemented as soon as I got home. If you reflect, you can almost always find a seed of truth that you want to take home with you.
Take your time settling back in, even giving yourself a few days home with no commitments to ease back in. This allows even further integration of the pace of retreats and helps you slow your real life down to a healthier pace.
Is it time?
I know this is a long article. If you made it this far, perhaps a retreat is calling to you? What would it take for you to take the leap?
This post is one of a 4-part series on retreats. To read the rest, visit the links below:
Part 1: Laughs, Tears, and Rodents with Fancy Tails
Part 2: Get More Done by Not Doing Anything
Part 3: How the Retreat Really Went
Part 4: Is Your Spirit Tank on Empty? 10 steps to your retreat