In this article I’m going to be exploring the idea of ‘retreat.’ By going on my own personal retreat journey and developing a DIY retreat I hope to share some insights into the real reasons we retreat. Are retreats essentially self-indulgent mini-breaks? Or do they offer us a space to reconnect with ourselves, the present moment and with what matters most? Join me as I journey within… without going anywhere!
It seems rather strange to retreat from life when it’s going so great. However, that’s precisely what I decided to do. Last week, I stepped out of my new life in Charlotte for 3 days so that I could step back into it with an attitude of presence and possibility. My aim was to create more space in my life by packing out each and every day with as much present awareness as possible!
Stepping off the Treadmill
Whilst I am loving the change, spontaneity and excitement that our move to the USA has brought about, I’m also noticing that I’m back on the treadmill. A treadmill fuelled by ‘doing’ rather than ‘being.’ And the faster the treadmill turns the more I miss the colours and micro-moments that distinguish one day from the next. I accuse time of “flying” away when really, it’s my lack of attention that’s creating this time-compressing affect. So for a few days I decided to harness the power of present awareness in order to expand my experience of time: whilst present awareness can’t slow down the literal ticking of the clock, it can slow down my awareness of it. And perhaps that’s just as good.
Personality vs. Personal Reality
The past 3 months has been a wonderful whirlwind of meeting new people and trying out lots of different things. And I must say my social schedule hasn’t been quite this exciting since university! Most nights of the weeks there’s somewhere to go or someone to meet, which is the beauty of being an expat in a relatively new city. Yet, in spite of its non-stop excitement, I’ve found myself stressing about my schedule. There never seems to be quite enough time to finish work projects, go to every social event, exercise and spend quality time with Dan. Of course, this is a symptom of our cultural obsession with never enough: not smart enough, not muscly enough, not rich enough…and never enough time! And if I am to stay in this mindset of lacking then I will- quite simply- never have enough. In order to change our personal reality, we must first address our personality. Take for example, someone who wishes they had more money. They will never feel truly rich until they change their attitude. All the money in the world won’t make them feel rich. They must first let go of their poverty mindset and a feeling of 'not enough.'
So how can we bring more of this sense of enough into our lives? Well, we can start by looking within…
Internal over external
With all of life’s noise and daily distractions, it’s not surprising that we sometimes struggle to stop and check-in with how we are really feeling. And this is made all the more difficult by digital developments. Technology has seamlessly integrated itself into every aspect of our daily lives and has weaved its way into our unconscious programming. Which is why you might find yourself automatically checking your phone every 10-minutes, or mindlessly scrolling your Instagram feed! Now I’m not trying undermine the incredible technological developments we’ve seen over the past two decades. I’m simply highlighting some of the many different ways we get taken away from the moment we’re in.
And this is why I decided to consciously remove myself from the outside world for a few days, in order to sit with myself and see what’s really going on!
Are you paying attention?
My aim isn’t to be present in every moment because we only have so much attention that we can give. Say for example, I am walking home and enjoying a sunset. I cannot simultaneously be fully present with my walking and watch the sunset. So, we have to choose where we place our attention, or else we will have our attention taken away for us. An advertisement scrolling on the side of your screen, a message from a friend on WhatsApp and the aching in your back are all ways your attention can be ‘taken’. And some of these might be for good reason: the advert might be selling your dream dress; your friend might be sending you an inspirational quote that cheers you up; and your back ache might encourage you to book a physio appointment (and start yoga!) This isn’t about good or bad, it’s about conscious choice.
So…where was my retreat? At home! I created a DIY retreat for myself- tailored to meet my needs and my timetable. I’ve made so many excuses in the past for not going on retreat: it costs too much, it’s too far away, it’s too long, it’s not the right curriculum, it looks a bit pretentious! However, I realised that it’s not about ‘going’ anywhere. The important ‘journey’ on a retreat happens within and this is something we can do anywhere and at any time!
The title of this article was inspired by a podcast from psychologist and Buddhist teacher- Tara Brach. In the episode she recalls meeting a busy, stressed executive with a young son. This woman was often trying to keep to a very tight schedule and would impatiently push her son to hurry up: “Eat your breakfast! We have to get you to child care!” Or: “We’ve got to shop really quickly and get home!” One day the woman discovered she had stage 4 breast cancer and she learned that she had only one year to live. After her diagnosis her attitude shifted and her mantra became this:
There’s no time to rush...