As another week draws to a close, I find myself reflecting on what it truly means to retreat.
I’ve just wrapped up a group program launch, and have also finished two other consulting jobs. The space that remains is welcome, but uncomfortable as well. As if I’m adjusting to a new rhythm, setting new expectations and exploring feelings coming and going.
It’s also the depths of winter – and the weather of late has been glum. Drizzly, cloudy, grey and damp.
At the end of any cycle of pushing – particularly one like this where I have put myself out there almost continuously for two weeks – I find myself called to retreat. To go inward. To withdraw. To process. To integrate.
The acceptance of my need to retreat always takes a little time. As if I need to change down gears and listen to the feedback before I fully surrender to the need for restoration and reconnection.
Once I’m there, though, I go deep.
One of my favourite authors, Rebecca Campbell, says that when the going gets tough – double the devotion to yourself. And I try and adopt that spirit as much as I can.
When I find myself in fear, or pushing too hard, or getting overly attached to my to-do list, I don’t do ‘more’. I double down on my meditation practice. I purposefully shift down gears. I reconnect – knowing that by doing so, I will have the clarity to move forward without the stress.
My relationship with the concept of retreating represents a broader cultural paradox around the word. To retreat is associated with a military (and masculine term) representing failure, defeat. And yet we simultaneously celebrate wellness retreats where we can spend some much needed time on ourself.
To retreat literally means ‘the act of moving back or withdrawing’.
Our relationship with the notion of retreating speaks to the very clash of ideals that play out in our day to day lives. On the one hand, the drive to attain, move forward, succeed, be better, build bigger, create more. An ambition fuelled by the idea that happiness and wellbeing can and will be attained through external means.
And on the other hand, the very instinctual, intuitive drive to go inward. To make sense of the data. To create a narrative. To process. To withdraw. To heal. To connect. A path intrinsically more scary and fraught, and yet one that creates a path to fulfilment that is not paved with externalities.
We cannot live our lives according to one other the other – both energies – the masculine and feminine, the yin and the yang, the moon and the sun – are necessary to help our organisms hovering around equilibrium.
But my experience is that there is too little retreating and too much advancing. There is too little time to pause and reflect and recalibrate and too much blindly blundering on – the metaphorical leaking of energy to projects, causes and relationships that drain us of our life force, rather than build us up.
And so it is my humble opinion that to retreat is a very necessary part of moving forward. That it is the essential ingredient from which to build a life that is meaningful and, for the most part, characterised by a feeling of wellbeing.
For women in particular – getting comfortable with the notion of retreating – as well as more broadly understanding the seasons and cycles of our bodies, our environment and the planets – can help us to create more of what we want, with less effort. It’s about understanding out inherent gifts and working with them, rather than against them. It’s about seeing life as a dance between the polar energies – first an action, and then a reaction. Then a recalibration, and then another action.
I’m so passionate about this concept that I am bringing together a group of women who are learning to embody this wisdom in September at Soulcation: a women’s yoga retreat. We’ll be sharing great company, outstanding food, and long, slow bushwalks among acres of bushland in my home town. We’ll be moving our bodies compassionately and gently – exploring different forms of yoga for all body types. A more feminine type of yoga that acknowledges our body’s individuality and expression. We’ll be learning mindfulness tools to deal with stress and anxiety – but most of all, we’ll be creating space for withdrawal. Much needed space where the body can relax, the soul can speak it’s truth and our mind is quiet enough to process it all.
There will absolutely be no restriction, no punishment, no guilt. There is no place for any of that when we are slowing down and retreating. To really learn to value this wisdom, any attempts at retreating must be celebrated and welcomed – in the true spirit of ‘treat yo’self’.
And yet I also understand that not everyone can – for whatever reason – venture away for a weekend or a week of facilitated transformation.
But the very act of creating space – wherever you are – for a DIY mini retreat can be transformative. A little nod to yourself that you are, in every way, worth the effort and intention. That your body is worth honouring. That your mind is worth looking after and clearing. That your soul’s whispers are been listened to.
And so here is the exact steps (download the worksheet here) you need to take to create your own DIY mini retreat – in the comfort of your very own home. Because perhaps retreating is the very best thing you can do to move forward in this moment.
1) Pick a date
Take out your diary (yes, now) and circle a date that you are going to dedicate to your very own festival of self care. I encourage marking out 24 hours – to include a long, refreshing sleep as part of it – but you may only have half a day to work with. Whatever you have, mark it out and put firm boundaries around it. You are worth it. You need this. And everyone/everything else can wait (you are not a slave to your to-do list).
2) Pick a place
Now you’ve got your time worked out, find a space where you will not be disturbed for the duration of your staycation. Either a room in your house that you work with to create a positive, healing space, a friends’ house who might be away or a hotel room if that works for you too. If it’s warm, you may want to bring in the healing power of nature and choose a location where you can spend a day lying in the sun, connecting with the natural world and grounding yourself. Mark your location into your calendar – and honour this day enough to not let other things encroach into the space.
3) Set your intention and write down your desired feelings
The key to emerging from a retreat re-energized, reconnected and with clarity is setting a nourishing intention. Think about what feelings you’d love to feel more of in your day to day life. And then, use these to create a simple intention that will guide your day, for example ‘I will rest my body, mind and soul so that I can reconnect with my creativity’. Make sure that you really get clear on WHY this is so important for you right now.
4) Choose your activities
Now you get to come up with a list of things that feel really nourishing FOR YOU to incorporate into your retreat schedule, based on your desired feelings and intention. Try not to get caught up in what other people’s retreat might look like. Take a big breath and close your eyes and ask yourself ‘what do I really need right now?’ and then start writing. Ideally, you want your retreat to have a bit of a rhythm to it. The way I structure my retreats and all my client work is to start with an activity to wind down and relax (get out of fight or flight), followed by some work to reconnect with your desires and wishes, and finally an activity to create some clarity and intentions to move forward with. You may want to start the day with a slow flow yoga class – or a bush walk, before settling in for a day of reading, journalling, eating nourishing food, resting, reconnecting with your sensuality or meditating. You may want to do none of that wellness stuff and for you what is nourishing is listening to loud music, dancing naked and watching cooking shows. Whatever it is, honour your desires. You may also want to create rituals to mark the start and end of the day – honouring your need to let go of old hurts and bring in fresh energies that will support you.
5) Create your schedule
Use the activities and intention to create a nourishing schedule for the day – one that is flexible with lots of space to respond spontaneously to how you are feeling. Don’t over-schedule – more is not better. Where possible, try and keep with the energy of withdrawal – keeping to one place and using your energy to nourish YOURSELF and not others.
6) Gather your supports
Finally, as your day approaches you’ll want to prepare your space and bring in the support you need to fully retreat. Put in your auto-responders on your phone and email. Ask your friends/partner to dogsit/housesit/babysit. Have some food prepared or delivered for the day and make any purchases (though not wholly necessary) that align with the intention of your day. Start to prepare to go inward and reconnect with yourself on a whole new level.
Because everyone loves a pretty printable worksheet (download the worksheet here) that you can use in preparing for and running your retreat, based on the steps above.
A forewarning – as you prepare to do this, there will be loads of inner criticism that comes up. Statements like ‘this is selfish’, ‘this is stupid’, ‘I’ve got too much to do’ will crowd your conscious mind in the lead up to and during the day. Yep, the partriarchal conditioning runs deep – and woman guilt is a way that this is perpetuated. You will want to throw in the towel and go and seek some external validation at some point of the day. And this discomfort is all part of the experience. Only when we get quiet enough do we come face to face with the beliefs and criticism that are running the show in our busy day to day lives.
The bonus? The more you make space for these feelings, and come face to face with them – and the more you choose to honour yourself anyway – the less power external people and situations will have over you. The more you choose you – the more you choose to pause and face the gremlins – the less they get to run the show. And the more you put in, the more you’ll have to expend on the people, places and projects that truly deserve your love and intention. And that, my loves, is true freedom.
Happy retreating xxx
Ps. Just three spots left at the Soulcation weekend retreat in Victoria, Australia – September 1-3. Book in the next week and receive a free massage on me! Come and learn the art of true wellbeing – no guilt, no judgement, no yoga experience necessary. Click here to pay your deposit or get in touch to chat about payment plans and special needs.