I am writing this as I am on a personal retreat by myself in a little cabin I have rented in “the middle of nowhere”. It is a practice I recommend. In the past I have borrowed the homes or cottages of friends who are away, camped in my tent, and this year I just went on Airbnb and hunted for a quiet place with a kitchen. Even though I live only with my husband and can pretty much spend any day as I wish, I still find this deep yearning to be absolutely alone, quiet, undisturbed in any way. Even if I lived alone, I might still want to make a retreat where I am away from my usual distractions and where I can see the world with different eyes. Where I can see if I’m living the life I mean to be living – consider if I might need to reset the sails in any way.
When I arrive, I cover up the clocks and vow to eat when I am hungry, sleep when I am tired, and do what I am moved to do at any given moment. I bring books, my journal, art supplies, poetry – but I don’t promise to use any of them. I bring my hiking shoes and food I like to eat. Mostly I prepare to have long stretches of unscheduled time. I stare at the night sky, go for walks, etc. I do not let myself check email or Facebook etc.
My “intention” or vow for this particular retreat was “to pay attention to the mood in my heart and try to match it.” It takes a day or so to settle fully into the freedom of the silence, the lack of commitments, the lack of distractions. A few days on my own offers me a doorway to bring me back to myself. To listen to my own yearning, to write my deeper thoughts, to listen to the birds sing. But, I also know that even a few hours away from one's ordinary life can be restorative.
I hope you might find a way to have a “retreat” of a few hours or a few days at some point in the year. I try to do it twice a year when possible. It is richly rewarding, though a bit hard to describe.
This quote fell out of a notebook I had brought with me. Serendipitous things happen on these retreats!
“Within each of us there is a silence,
A silence as vast as the universe…
When we experience that silence, we remember
Who we are, creatures of the stars,
Created from time and space, created from silence…
Silence is our deepest nature, our home,
Our common ground, our peace…
Silence is where holiness dwells. We yearn to be there.
The experience of silence is now so rare,
That we must guard and treasure it.
(adapted from Gunilla Norris, Shared Silence)
I try to savor that kind of silence during my retreats. Here is a poem I wrote about this retreat;
for the love of being in the middle of nowhere…
Every crop began in an empty field.
A place that was fallow.
I look for that place in my life.
An unbusy plot, a place to breathe,
To let sun and rain fall unimpeded.
A place to soak in what comes,
Without needing to protect or hide,
Merely to let fall what falls.
To be idle, fertile, silent.
A place where questions can be asked
Of the wind.
You can’t live in an empty field,
But you can remember what it is like
To feel unhurried, whimsical, loose.
A place to inhale fully before
Exhaling every last bit
Of whatever you cling to.