Guidelines for designing your own intentional retreat.
Going on retreat is a wonderful experience. I recently went on one 20 minutes from home, which was kind of wonderful—except for the amount of stuff I felt compelled to bring since I was driving there. It was wonderful, 5 days away from the daily workings of my home—sort of. I was doing a story about the retreat, so my “work brain” was still turned on. Plus, I was close enough that one day I ended up going to pick up one of my kids and taking them home. This was completely jarring to my tentative state of relaxation, and I realized I had to set a boundary and actually go on retreat.
So much of our ability to be on retreat involves being intentional about it. Jon Kabat-Zinn reminds us “wherever you go, there you are,” and it’s especially true when going on retreat. In their new book Long Weekend: Guidance and Inspiration for Creating your Own Retreat authors Richelle Donigan and Rachel Neumann offer an invitation to being, “taking our time is a radical and necessary act that gives us the opportunity to nurture the qualities inside that we also wish to cultivate in the world.” Neumann and Donigan and both retreat leaders themselves, so they realize what it takes to create a meaningful retreat—and the power in it. They insist, “We can take space for ourselves and for each other. To stop and feel and breathe and enjoy requires awareness, and awareness requires our intention.” There are many variables you can choose from when creating a retreat, but there are some basic guidelines that they suggest starting with:
- Preparation. This is where you look at your calendar and you set aside a long weekend for yourself. Write it in ink, and commit yourself to taking that time off. Then, take a few minutes to check in with yourself, be with your breath and ask yourself what you are craving. Maybe you want to be with friends, or you need alone time, near the ocean, or in your own home. Set the intention to honor what you most want for this time you have set aside. Invite friends if that is what you want, just make sure they are ready for the same kind of retreat you are.
- Remembering who you are inside. Make the time to transition to your retreat. If you are traveling somewhere, let the retreat begin when you leave your house. Resist the urge to do last-minute phone calls or emails en route. If you are staying home, let your journey start as you create the space for your retreat. Turn off phones and computers, gather what you want to create your retreat space. Donigan and Neumann suggest thinking of your intention for the retreat and “some of the words and feelings of your intention and imagine playfully dropping them on the floor. See the words written on the glass window pane: rest, fun, ease, play. See them written across the ceiling, floating in the sky above.” From there, practice grounding and centering, cleanse yourself with ritual baths, and bring full presence and gratitude into your meals.
- Choosing. The next step is remembering to choose from a place of being rather than from a place of doing. Starting the day by noticing how you feel, without judgment and being aware of what your dreams were about, and finally by being grateful for your body and your breath is a way to start your day with full awareness. In addition to practicing gratitude with mealtime and moving your body—hiking, dancing, stretching—with mindfulness, they offer a practice called Writing your go-to story. These are “the stories we have running in our mind about ourselves.” The key here is to notice what you saying about yourself. Notice the tone of what you say about yourself and consider whether you would talk that way to someone you love. Then sit down with paper and pen and write your story about yourself with the tone you would use with someone you deeply love. Next, do body scrubs or facials, offering yourself heartfelt self-care.
- Returning. As a way to seal your retreat, Donigan and Neumann suggest grounding and practicing opening your heart with breath and movement practices. As you return to your life from the retreat, let yourself stay aware of the voice that is truly you. Bring some of the practices from your long weekend into your daily life. Practice gratitude, move your body joyfully every day, create a daily mindfulness practice, seated, standing, or moving.
Creating space for a weekend retreat is to create space for getting to know yourself again. It takes making a choice and being intentional about what and who you include in your retreat. Pablo Neruda offers this insight, “If we were not so single-minded about keeping our lives moving, and for once could do nothing, perhaps a huge silence might interrupt this sadness of never understanding ourselves.”