“Solitude is rather like a folded-up forest I carry with me everywhere and unfurl around myself when I have need.”
Clarissa Pinkola Estes
I’m sure I don’t need to explain why retreats are so wonderful to ‘get away from it all’ and ‘fill yourself up’. What I am excited to share is something that I’ve only just realized, and that’s really boosted my ‘me time’.
Maybe you’re like I was, and the word ‘retreat’ brings to mind a ‘spa day’ or a ‘women’s getaway’. Now I know that you can also retreat right in the middle of your everyday life and the results will do wonders for your heart, mind, body and soul.
I started reading Jennifer Louden’s classic work “The Woman’s Retreat Book” because I was planning a ski getaway with my husband. Little did I know that my favourite takeaway would be her basic outline of a retreat that has since allowed me to have mini-retreats anywhere at any time.
Here’s my interpretation of her outline, along with 4 retreat ideas, that will have you retreating in the heart of the hustle in as few as two minutes. You’re welcome!
4 Steps to Retreat
What I didn’t know then that I know now: the success of a retreat is not about the location you’re in, the time you have nor the people you’re with – it’s about what you do and how you do it.
1) Prepare to Retreat –
Think about your basic plan, such as where and when you’ll go and if you’ll need any supplies. Remember it’s not about the amount of time away or the physical proximity to your regular life, but instead about how well you can create a temporary boundary from them.
You’ll also want to set an intention for your retreat reflecting what you need right now in this moment. This will give form to your retreat while also allowing the unknowable that will unfold. This starts the process of slowing down and turning inward. For best results, pose your retreat intention as a question that feels open ended, expansive and encouraging. “On this retreat, I intend to ask myself this question . . .?”
2) Withdraw from Ordinary Life –
Begin your retreat in a safe space where you feel sustained and comforted physically and emotionally. This could be your bedroom, your bathtub, the garden, on a walk or a sacred place in your imagination.
Perform an opening ceremony or symbolic action that signals to your psyche that you’re entering a sacred time (even if you’re not physically going anywhere special). Try one or more of tehse many options: restate your intention, read an opening poem or psalm, cross a threshold, put on special clothing or an accessory, light a candle, dance to a song or apply essential oils.
3) Listen to Yourself –
This is the body of the retreat where the ‘work’ is done. Choose activities that will help you answer your stated intention and listen to your inner knowing. There are endless options here: rest, move, sing, read, journal, reflect, paint, cook, daydream, build, breathe, play or sleep. Anything goes, as long as the result is that you’re coming back to your centre and working toward a truer and more authentic relationship with yourself.
4) Return to Ordinary Life –
Wrap up your retreat by reflecting on your experience, including what you’ve done, how you’ve been, what answers you’ve discovered and how you might bring any of this into your everyday life.
End with a closing ceremony or symbolic action, like the reverse of your opening ceremony, to consciously step back into life. You could try to: offer thanks, move energetically, journal on your experience, read a poem or psalm, pack up your space, take home a momento or mental snapshot. It could be as simple as stating “I am returning from my retreat. My intention was . . . and I discovered . . . I appreciate myself for taking this time to listen and learn.”
4 Quick Retreats to Try
Here are just a few ideas about how you could easily create a retreat in your day, in under 30 minutes. For the greatest results, please adapt these ideas to specifically address your own intentions and interests.
1) The ‘Step Away Retreat’ in 2 minutes
- Ask yourself “How can I allow myself to relax and be?”
- Close the door or close your eyes and imagine yourself in a favourite place.
- Ideas: deep breathing, do nothing, apply body lotion or essential oils, try legs-up-the-wall pose, stretch, do a body scan or notice your 5 senses.
- Say “All is well in this present moment. Thank you for taking this time for yourself.”
2) The ‘Take a Break Retreat’ in 10 minutes
- Ask yourself “What do I love and how can I celebrate that?”
- Light a candle, put on a favourite accessory or read a favourite poem.
- Ideas: Mindfully drink a cup of tea, shower or bathe, journal, rest on your bed, practice an instrument, meditate or have a dance break.
- Reverse your opening practice and write down how you love and celebrate, so you can remember to do more of that in the future.
3) The ‘Nature Retreat’ in 20 minutes
- Ask yourself “How am I feeling about . . . (a demanding situation)?”
- Get dressed and step out the door.
- Ideas: Walk, sit in the sun, forest bathe, work in the garden or play in the park.
- Before stepping back inside, notice if any new insights or feelings have arisen.
4) The ‘Lunch Break’ Retreat in 30 minutes
- Ask yourself “What do I need to do to refuel myself now?”
- Leave your workplace, or wherever you were previously spending your time, and go somewhere safe and soothing. Make a ritual of some small special gesture on your way, like listening to music or making a special beverage.
- Ideas: Mindfully eat lunch, go outside, read, socialize (if this is refueling to you), stretch, move, breathe or create (draw, knit, write – whatever thrills you).
- Before returning, notice how you are and say “I’m ready for the rest of my day!”
However you choose to retreat, I hope these ideas bring you one step closer to feeling the best that you can and hearing the wisdom and wonder of your own self.
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