With the summer upon us now, I am carried away with thoughts of sailing off into the sunset ~ shaking up my regular routine for something that feels different ~ not necessarily more exciting or less busy ~ just different.
Retreat to me can mean many things. I can retreat during times when I feel unsafe or unprotected. I can retreat when I am feeling weak or vulnerable. Retreat is sometimes an attempt to keep myself safe and out of harm’s way whether it is real or perceived. Not much happens in this space.
On the other hand, retreat can also mean stepping back to deliberately take a different perspective on the same situation. Retreat is not always about slowing down. Summer is not always about slowing either even though it is common to connect the season with vacation. Whether you are slowing down, speeding up or simply shifting gears, you can take on the energy of retreat any time. It is true that we can create spaces of safety and security even in the midst of chaos. It is also true that we can take time for solitude and seclusion even when in the midst of a crowd.
Retreat as Contrast
At the very least, a time of retreat can provide us with the contrast we need to see the familiarity of our lives with fresh eyes. Have you ever gone through a particularly busy time in life ~ you know, the kind that just feels like a whirlwind? At some point, you come up for air realizing that six months has just flown by and you can’t help but wonder where you have been and what has just happened in your life? You look the same ~ perhaps, you feel the same ~ and yet you stand there like a deer in the headlights with a sense that something has shifted or is about to shift. You just don’t know what that is yet. Sounds like a perfect time for retreat.
A time of retreat can create just enough space to take that deep breath that has eluded you. It is a chance to relax your shoulders ~ to sit and stare out the window ~ to lie in bed for just a few minutes longer. Retreat can be just what we need to settle back into our bodies and give our logical minds a rest. And if we are lucky, somewhere in those moments of reconnection, we will sense our integration ~ the absorption of the quiet, yet profound moments of our lives that may have otherwise slipped by without notice.
During retreat, we might have the wherewithal to see more clearly the aspects of our regular life and routine that we’ve been putting up with that no longer feel good or healthy. We see the contrast between how we feel in retreat and how we were feeling in the rat race, and we can make choices about how to re-enter. We have time to really connect to the parts of our lives that bring us joy and that feel aligned. And we can ponder the many ways that we can maximize this while remaining open to how we might reduce or eliminate parts of our lives that just don’t fit anymore.
Think of it through the eyes of an artist. If you are painter with your nose pressed against the canvas, it’s going to be pretty tough to make creative decisions and to see clearly the outcome you are creating. You have to step back to know where color is needed, how to work with empty space, how to add balance. You need to step back to see the whole picture and then you can come back to the details. Life is just like that. We need space to see where we are at and where we are headed. Retreat provides that space.
Creating Your Personal Retreat
Here are a few tips to help you plan for your personal retreat:
Decide on your time frame. Consider what responsibilities you may need to delegate to others during that time and which ones you will maintain yourself. Make those arrangements.
Tell the people who will be affected so they are aware of your availability of lack thereof. Devise a plan for how you can be contacted in the case of emergency if you are going in a blackout zone.
Plan ahead for potential distractions whether external or internal.
Set an intention for your retreat. What do you hope to gain through this process? How do you expect to feel during and after? How will you be sure to capture the wisdom that arises? How will you integrate what you learn into your life following the retreat?
Gather your supplies. This could be anything from books, to food, to art supplies. Link this to your own personal practices for self-connection.
Create a loose agenda for your retreat time. How do you want to start your days? Are you including exercise, rest, pampering? Are there specific decisions you are hoping to reach?
Pay close attention to the activities you might be missing while on retreat ~ this tells you a great deal about what your heart loves. On the other hand, also note those activities that you are dreading upon your return. There’s equally valuable information there.
As you emerge from your retreat, resist the urge to bemoan the transition back to the “real world.” Consider that the energy and wisdom you have been immersed in is the “real” stuff and make the commitment to carry those gifts with you as you re-engage.
If you are feeling uncomfortable with the idea of taking a retreat, ask yourself what that’s about. Sometimes, when we step out of our daily routine, or slow down our pace, we can become afraid that we will lose ground. We might worry that we are going to fall behind. It might feel very strange when we change the rhythm of our day. And that alone might feel terrifying. On some level, we know that stepping out of the daily grind will connect us to that inner voice that we may have been ignoring. You can trust that you are safe in retreat. Know that the world will keep spinning and will welcome you back into the swirl when you return. Let life teach you what it wants you to learn.
How can you integrate the spirit of retreat into your life this summer?