The waves echo behind me. Patience-Faith-Openness, is what the sea has to teach. Simplicity-Solitude-Intermittency… But there are other beaches to explore. There are more shells to find. This is only a beginning.Anne Morrow Lindbergh
Retreats are essential. You’ve got to take time out. And like anything, the more time you put in, the more you get out. It’s like stopping for gas. You can put $10 and it’ll get you by for a bit, $60 you’ll be good to go for much longer, but take no time to fill up and you are going to run out of steam. Occasionally pulling back from the daily busy-ness of our worlds and minds is crucial.
I think of the war calls of a bygone era. “Retreat!” was a desperate measure, a judgment call made by a commander. Identifying that danger was beginning to overwhelm, he would order troops to remove themselves from the line of fire, pull back, and regroup.
This happened to me last year. Stress had been building; I found myself inundated by it. A friend kept suggesting I take some off, perhaps try a retreat. “I couldn’t possibly, too much going on here, kids’ sports schedules, no way.”
I was already fried when a crisis call came in. It knocked me over with an anxiety attack I hadn’t felt in decades. I knew I needed to move my body physically, so I headed out for neglected exercise. On the way to the gym, an old teacher called. She knew I’d originally said it would be impossible. She knew it was a long shot, but I was on her mind, and she encouraged me to consider taking the final spot on her retreat to Costa Rica. We’d leave in a week. As we talked, my “retreat-suggesting friend” pulled up at the intersection, facing me. “I’ll come,” I told her. It’s amazing the opportunities that get sent your way when you really need them, and are willing (or desperate enough) to reach out and grab hold of them.
That time away was a saving grace that carried me through rocky months ahead and led me to doors that continue to open. I can’t imagine surviving the last six months had I not gone.
I’ve been fortunate to have attended some incredible retreats, from India to Indiana, with women, other professionals, and one with my daughter. It’s easy to justify not going. God knows I was nervous for many of them. Modern society leans toward making us martyrs: of our jobs, our families, our ability to “be productive.” Just one “must be nice” from a coworker or another parent is enough to stop us. A retreat doesn’t have to be long or extravagant. Mini retreats work too. The key is to commit, carving the time out and trusting that there might be something to the old “put your own oxygen mask on first” adage.
All the great sages, saints, and spiritual leaders took time to be quieted, away from their ruminations. When Desmond Tutu was asked how with his busy schedule he found time to meditate several hours each morning he replied, “I am too busy not to.”
No time or ability to get away? Only you can answer that question. Chances are, you probably could carve out some time, if not for days, then for a moment each day. Then find a way to bring that back into regular life. That takes practice. Ever heard a yoga teacher talk about taking that which you practice on the mat off the mat? Same idea. Take a few hours away – in nature, exercising, reading – to center yourself, and then carry those feelings back into your “life off the mat.” You, and those you left behind, will feel the effects.
Henry David Thoreau and Anne Morrow Lindbergh (aviator, writer, wife of Charles) offer timeless wisdom on retreat. Read their thoughts and then think about your willingness and availability to retreat. Think about saying yes to opportunities to retreat that come your way.
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
— Henry David Thoreau (1854)
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For life today in America is based on the premise of ever-widening circles of contact and communication. It involves not only family demands, but community demands, national demands, international demands on the good citizen, through social and cultural pressures, through newspapers, magazines, radio programs, political trials, charitable appeals and so on. My mind reels with it. What a circus act we women perform every day of our lives. It puts the trapeze artist to shame. Look at us, we run a tight rope daily, balancing a pile of books on the head. Baby-carriage, parasol, kitchen chair, still under control. Steady now!
This is not the life of simplicity but the life of multiplicity that the wise men warn us of. It leads not to unification but to fragmentation. It does not bring grace, but destroys the soul. And this is not only true of my life, I am forced to conclude, it is the life of millions of women in America…The problem of multiplicity of life confronts not only the American woman, but also the American man….
When we start at the center of ourselves, we discover something worthwhile extending toward the periphery of the circle. We find again some of the joy in the now, some of the peace in the here, some of the love in me and thee which go to make up the kingdom of heaven on earth.
–Anne Morrow Lindbergh (1954)
Feel free to share your thoughts/ideas for retreat below!