Going on Retreat


It’s been a long time since I last went on a retreat.  For about two years I’ve known it was something I needed to do – I’ve had an on going inner nudge elbowing me gently to take some time out and dive into my heart of hearts. 

Why does it take us so long to do the things, deep down, we know we need to do?  I think there are at least three big reasons:  

1.     Real logistical stuff.

Creating the space to get away, organizing the kids, money, finding a teacher I liked and trusted, finding a place that was reasonably easy to get to etc. etc.

2.     Fear of the UNKNOWN.

It can feel scary to do something different.  I’m really comfortable in my daily routine.  I like my daily routine. Why do something totally different when everything’s okay?  Well… Oh My Goodness, where to start!  We all need to get perspective on our lives from time to time.  We all need to be completely taken care of from time to time (this was especially true for me).  There’s so much more in the big wide world to be appreciated.  Our lives are constantly unfolding and it’s easy to get stuck in a rut.   But fear of the unknown can make us stick with what we’re used to even when we’ve outgrown it.

3.     Fear of CHANGE!

Ha… here I am feeling like such a superstar for doing all sorts of big purposeful things like selling my business, writing a cookbook, being in the thick of writing a novel… but good lord I drag my heals…  Here’s my pattern: I know it’s time to do something but I wait and wait until something almost knocks me over the head as I refuse like a stubborn donkey to change until I’m kicked and booted into the thing that’s fed up of waiting patiently.  For example: 1) it took me far longer than it should have to cut out sugar and gluten when I was auto-immune sick and achey and feeling awful after baby #2 (I knew they were problems for me ages before I did anything about it). 2) I’ve wanted to write the same novel for over 20 years… I’m finally writing it.

Getting some good writing done 

Getting some good writing done 

Last autumn an email arrived.  It was from a writing teacher I’d been following on line.  I loved everything she had to say.  I felt like I could trust her.  I’d initially found her when the retreat thought first came.  I’d looked up writing retreats online and found hers.  Hers were full up so I joined her mailing list and kept an eye open for something in the future.   The future arrived in that email announcing a new retreat, in Mexico, in February.  I applied.  I signed up.  I paid up. 

Back when I was in my twenties I went to India for a month.  And there, with some friends from London I found an apartment, I did yoga every morning and evening with local Indian teachers at their ashrams, and in between I had leisurely meals with friends, found places to swim, had beautiful clothes tailor made, went to sacred sites and made new friends.  It was the first time I’d taken a month to myself and been immersed in something that felt deep.   It was the first time I’d been anywhere as colourful and vibrant as India and I LOVED it when actually I’d thought that all those things people say about India I’d have hated.  It was an incredible experience.   It brought me joy.  Deep, deep joy. 

After that I began leading yoga retreats.  I took small groups to Sinai, France, Gozo, Turkey and Costa Rica.  It was always amazing although not without a few wild adventures. 

Here are two of my wild retreat adventures:

On one retreat in Sinai the village we were in was bombed.  Twenty or thirty people were killed.  My group was okay.  Out of the sadness and devastation came an eerie beauty.  Villagers lit the beach path with candles for days and sang the Koran from dawn until dusk.  For a few years afterwards I jumped in fear when I heard fireworks but I learnt through that experience I’m a good leader in extreme circumstances.  I didn't freak out.  I looked after my group.  I stayed calm.    

On another retreat I went into the desert on horse back for a two day adventure.  The sand whirled around us as we galloped for 3 hours the first day across the desert.  Overnight I got a fever from sinusitis.  By the morning I was so sick I could barely move.  I had diarrhea and there were no toilets.  Our only option was to keep going because we didn’t have supplies or water to last us and the horses were thirsty.  Every twenty minutes I had to dismount and squat in the middle of the desert.  My only privacy was my guides and friends turning around.  Finally we reached a road.  They flagged down a car and sent me to a nearby Bedouin village.  There I was given tea to drink out of a rusty tin can.  I’m pretty sure there was heroin in the tea.  I was too sick to care.   Later that day another car came and took me back to the hotel.  Eventually all was well.

On each retreat I led I was amazed by what it took for each person to join me.  Amazed by what they’d had to overcome to show up and take the time they desperately needed for themselves. Many people had incredible fears, grief, and exhaustion they hoped to overcome.  In every instance the act of coming on retreat showed them that change was possible – far more possible than they had believed.  The time in a supportive group, away from home, having a deeply purposeful and spiritual daily routine was and is profound. As the woman leading the group I was enriched by every person in every retreat I had the privilege to lead.   

Time passes quickly.  When you have kids the days get book ended with love and crazy-ness and routine.  Helping kids get dressed, getting ready for school, brushing teeth, bedtime stories, reading homework and all the other stuff… it’s a lot.  The decade of the thirties rushes by with a heap of care taking for many of us.  The days are short and I’ve just forgotten how delicious it is to have those morning and evening hours to myself, not just the productive work hours of the day and a weekend without making three other people happy excluding myself.  And then there’s the deeper stuff – I’ve struggled with exhaustion; My world has turned around this year after selling my business; I’m touched by grief; I’m trying to write a book.  I can see now that waiting two years to go on a retreat was a little long.

Finally the retreat departure date arrived.  I packed my suitcase with more than I needed.  I said goodbye to my husband and kids.  I got on that flight.  No drama showed up.

When I arrived at the retreat centre I walked through wrought iron heart gates and was shown my casita which came complete with an out door shower, a balcony, and a swinging double bed.  I knew immediately the next few days would be heaven. 

That evening we walked out one gate, and in another announcing that we were now on retreat.  We were given a few rules to follow to ensure this really was retreat time.  For example, no social media in the morning and no advice giving and no praise for the work we were producing on retreat.  I wondered how I’d survive not giving advice.  Wasn’t that what I was good at?   It turned out to be a great rule.  I didn't have to come up with ideas to save other people.  I could focus on me.   And I wondered how it would feel not getting praise.  I love praise.  But the reasoning was perfect.  We need to learn to believe in ourselves, to trust our inner voice, to bolster ourselves from within.   It was enough to be listened to, to share my voice in the presence of other creative, compassionate women.

Every night our chef, Sofia, placed a hand on her heart and said, “This is my special dish for you.  I hope you will love it.”  Her recipes were handed down from her grandmother, to her mother, to her.  Her oils were infused with spices for months to gather flavor.   Her lemons preserved to produce a fusion of Mexican and North African flavors.

Me with Jennifer Louden (my writing teacher/retreat leader) and her brilliant husband Bob

Me with Jennifer Louden (my writing teacher/retreat leader) and her brilliant husband Bob

The days gave me something I didn't realize how much I needed.  Time to myself.  Time completely for me to take care of only me … it was as though every day I drank from a nectar that made me feel stronger, happier, and less tangled. 

I am the same as the women who came on my retreats to the various places I’ve led them.  It took me a lot to show up.  I put aside the money.  I put aside the time.  I worked out logistics for my kiddo’s and I lent on the help of others – husband included.  And I gave myself a precious gift.

And all the fear of change and fear of the unknown that had prevented me from going on retreat sooner… Ha!  Back home, post retreat, I realized I needed to drop one of my dance classes that didn’t bring me joy and gobbled up precious time.  I realized I needed to get rid of my chickens (will send them back to the farm from whence they came as they are good layers and don’t need their heads chopped off yet) because they have become one more thing to take care of and my attempts at sustainability won’t fail just because I don't have chickens.  I realized I needed to spend more time doing my own movement self-practice (not just taking other people’s classes).  And I realized I needed more community and that part’s a little tricky coz soul friends don’t grow on trees.

And on the writing front magic happened.  I had a couple of breakthroughs in my novel.    The end of the first draft is in site.  It has a new twist that gives the story line depth and suspense.

So… all in all here’s what I believe:  

·      We must claim space for ourselves otherwise our light grows dim under the piles of laundry, the to-do lists, the errands, the to-and fro-ing of children here and there. 

·      We must claim space for ourselves otherwise we never shine as brightly as we might. 

·      We must claim space for ourselves because each of us that shines is a beacon for another to shine brightly, a reminder to another dear friend to take good care, a reminder to our daughters and sons to always take good care of themselves.   

Here are a few mini retreat ideas for you if it’s time to dive deeper into your interior world and let yourself shine brighter:

·      Ask yourself what you’re resisting.  Make a list, brain storm, brain dump, keep your hand flowing as you write down all the things – see if there’s anything juicy in there you’re open and ready to change.

·      Find someone you trust to go on a retreat with!  I’ll have upcoming retreats listed on my website.

·      Buy a book and create your own retreat.  Here’s the book my retreat leader/writing teacher wrote: Women's Retreat Book. 

·      Plan a ‘desert day’ a month.  A wise nun said to my sister that in her community they take an hour a week, a day a month and a week a year for personal retreats.  They call them their monthly ‘desert days’ and are respectful of that time.