How would a re-treat bring you back to yourself?

Concert CurtainsI’m just back from leading a retreat.
Just women. In nature. Over the summer solstice.
Reconnecting to our selves and our senses — and the pleasures they invite.
Becoming intimate with real life again.

I don’t know a woman who couldn’t use a break to come back to herself.
Unfortunately our daily preoccupation with thinking, fixing, and planning deadens our pleasure.
It takes us out of the present moment.

As we dwell in the past’s what-ifs and strategize outcomes for the future,
we lose touch with what is real and alive, in the here and now.
Of course we have to make life work, but our senses – and pleasure — atrophy in the perpetual imbalance.
We miss the connection to ourselves.

That’s why we retreat…
we re-treat ourselves to the joys of living connected to a wider, wilder slice of life than our over-active minds continuously provide.
And after retreating we can advance into life – re-inspired, with enthusiasm and creativity —
rewired and reconnected to your original instructions.
We come back changed and more ourselves.
The women returning from my recent retreat report their friends’ wows on how obviously radiant and changed they looked.

So why don’t we make this happen?
Why does taking the space for a retreat for ourselves end up at the bottom of our list?

This is all I’ve wanted to write about since returning from the solstice retreat last week.
Why do we avoid what we need so much? 
Is it that we’d rather take the abuse of incessant over-work than risk being perceived as self-indulgent?
Is it just easier to do the next thing on the list than to really listen to what’s necessary?
And why can’t the rewards we give ourselves to compensate begin to balance the scales?
Are these your questions, too? I really want to know…
There’s a place to let me know down below.

What does self-care really look like beyond pampering the body after constant neglect?

I have some ideas…
Find out why we too often choose pleasures that deny real feeling
instead of those that cultivate our capacity for a deeper connection, those real joys that move our souls.

So, why don’t we choose to stop? Why do we find it so hard to break away?
Why is planning ahead for personal time just about impossible?
Is it because everything else seems so much more important?
We feel the pressure of looming deadlines, pending obligations, stretched finances.
It’s just easier to make due… Do without… Play the martyr… Get by… Get drunk!

Our inner life is easy to dis-regard.
And frankly, so is pleasure, the real self-care.
Maybe it’s because we live in a culture that’s more comfortable abusing ourselves through over-working than risking being perceived as lazy or self-indulgent.
Is it just me… or do we all live with that dull, unconscious shame.
Worse than the old grip of religion’s fear of sin
is the modern continual plague of thinking we should somehow always be working just a bit harder,
always trying to prove our worth.

Our overwork then demands a reciprocal reward — our own go-to indulgence.
Often we disregard the eventual cost, so deep is our need for relief.
Are we somehow trying to make it up to ourselves?
We over-do the denied pleasures with the same vengeance we over-worked.
We indulge in over-the-top vacations to exotic locales, then need to recover once we’re home.

And as women, we call this self-care… pampering the body after perpetual neglect.
Mani-pedis, massages, or a few too many drinks after a hard day.
Chasing the pleasure we somehow feel intrinsically should be the baseline of life,
but feeling empty and dissatisfied when the paltry reward can’t begin to balance the scales.

Ask yourself then, “What would be your true pleasure?”
What is it that you really need, deep inside?
In all the cacophony of your stressed-out, over-scheduled daily life,
it’s no surprise if you have absolutely no idea.

Perhaps you just need to stop, to give yourself a retreat,
to re-discover who you are and what it is that you really need.

A month away would be amazing, I know, but you can start with a few minutes.
Here are some tips to get you started.

  1. First, you’ll need to plan ahead or it will never happen, I promise. Even a few minutes or hours is a good start. A full day will surprise you. A weekend could feel like heaven. And longer, well, it just might change your life. It has mine.
  2. You’ll need to treat your re-treat like an important appointment in your calendar. Guard it for the pleasure it will provide, like you would of a vacation to Paris.
  3. Then find someplace that’s quiet and without your usual distractions. Turn off your phone and lock the bedroom door. You may need to leave the house. Nature provides amazing possibilites.
  4. Decide on a focus to quiet your mind. I’ve used classical meditation practices like mantras or mudras, but sometimes I choose to make my focus my senses while sitting outside or on a simple walk in the natural world. Similar to when I’m sitting on my meditation cushion, my intention is to keep centered on what I’m seeing and hearing – the bird call off the to right of the path or the green moss on the shady side of the hemlock — and not what happened last night.

My senses have become a fabulous tool for bringing my thoughts back to the present moment. 
It’s so simple.
There’s no interpretation.
What I hear, I hear, now.

Sometimes I close my eyes and just take in sound.
First I hear the loudest ones, the truck passing or the crow or jay squawking,
but soon the less obvious ones enter my awareness.
Droplets falling from branches after a rain.
Breezes ruffling the leaves.
A mosquito buzzing near my ear!

I often notice that after a brief few minutes of stillness my adorable mind wants to jump in,
trying to solve all the world’s problems.
It wants to understand and fix everything.
That’s it’s job.
It’s just not used to the rest.

So, when I finally realize her antics, I give her a little pat on the back, tuck her in for a nap,
and come back to right now.
It’s the coming back that counts, not how many times she calls out for my attention.

You might use mealtimes for a mini-retreat to take you deeper into your pleasure.
There’s a level of nourishment your body needs that’s maximized when you fill more than just your tummy. When you receive the joy of color, taste, scent as you consciously eat,
then even 15-minutes can revive body and soul.

If you go on a silent retreat with yourself in the woods for even an hour,
you inevitably connect more deeply with this new surrounding
as well as how that connection feels in your body.

As you are more present to the stillness or lack of it
– the sounds of the moment —
your senses cannot help but open.
You feel more, palpably.

And feeling more feels GOOD.
You won’t want the magic of this moment broken
​… so need I remind you to leave your phone turned off or, if you dare, in the car?

So plan a retreat. Invest in real self-care.


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