Retreats are a necessity these days because the pace and pressure of life strip our nervous and immune systems of their resilience. This means that we operate with cognitive and emotional deficiency most of the time! It’s not just you, and it’s only partly a lack of sleep! (Read more: Tips for a good night’s sleep)
Retreats give you the opportunity to reset your physical systems and gain a sense of perspective. Decisions made on retreat tend to be the life-changing decisions. Indeed, even when they are just small course corrections, those adjustments accumulating over time, lead to real shifts.
For me, a solid retreat practice means that I get to live with clarity about what I’m doing with my life! We only get this one precious life, “what are you going to do with it?” seems the most important question we can ask. Being able to answer brings peace of mind and provides direction – for any question you may have or change you want to make.
There is great benefit to getting away and going on a retreat away from your normal life. It will give you an enforced break from your routine, allow you to look at things afresh and also in the power of a group. Even in a reflective retreat, where you spend little to no time in discussion with each other, being away with a group of like-minded people intent on the same purpose magnifies the effect and creates natural accountability for those who wish it.
However, there is also great benefit in learning how to create a retreat at home
This way, you can return to yourself again and again. This will give that neural pathway the definition to serve you quickly and well when stress arises in the day today.
So today, I thought what I would do is share some trade secrets about what makes for a great retreat, so that you can build these ideas into your daily life.
In my experience over the last decade, I’ve found that there are five elements to a great retreat:
- Restorative practices
- Reflective practices
For simplicity, I will take each in turn.
I think this is the hardest for people sometimes – to feel that they can afford to take the time out. As a small business owner, I have so much sympathy for this. But the truth of the matter is if you don’t take time to periodically check the direction you’re heading, it is very easy to go wrong.
In her book describing her experiences looking after the terminally ill, Bronnie Ware identifies the top 5 regrets of the dying. I want to take the time to share these with you, because they have profoundly affected the way I live my life, and I hope it will affect you too.
- I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
“This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams. They had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realise until they no longer have it.”
- I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
“This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.”
- I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
“Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.”
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
“Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.”
- I wish that I had let myself be happier.
”This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.”
Taking time out – regularly – will help you to check-in with your dreams, know whether you are missing people, feel your happiness or lack thereof. It will give you time to decide what changes to make. Taking the time now makes the time that you have more worth it.
For me, time and space are two sides of a coin. So, all the arguments for taking time out of your busy life apply. Also, we add the dimension for space of removing yourself from your daily distractions. This is why getting away can be so effective. There, you won’t be in the midst of the demands of your work, your chores, or even your loved ones.
Space gives you YOU. It gives room to breathe and feel like yourself again. It is a perspective setter.
So, when taking time out at home, make sure you identify a space that gives you the most respite from life demands. Perhaps there is a nook in the garden, or in your bedroom, or an easy chair that looks out the window, or perhaps you can go to the park. Whatever you choose, just know that the space you choose to retreat to is important.
Beauty is in my belief a basic human need. I am not alone in this belief. Talk to any architect or designer, talk to a neuroscientist or an artist. Talk to a person on the street, in the shop, on the train. Above all, talk to and listen to yourself about what beauty means for you.
For me, beauty inspires me that life is worth living. Beauty helps me step out of my petty worries. It encourages me to lift my head up, to be the best I can be. Beauty helps me to love people better. To forgive and understand my sense of place and belonging. It helps me to be.
In sadness, beauty has sat with me and helped my heart to go on. In joy, I see only beauty – in you and me and everything.
Beauty is of almost unexplainable importance in the process of retreating because beauty connects you to you. And that is the entire purpose. So whatever beauty is to you, focus on that when you take time and space for yourself.
My morning retreat is as simple as a cup of tea sitting at my balcony, watching the seasons change in the trees outside my flat, watching the squirrels and the birds, and feeling the air on my skin and the warmth of my cat against me. Beauty inspires presence.
We need to become disciplined about giving back to ourselves as well as continuously giving to others. If you treated your wellbeing as a bank balance, you would soon run out of money if you continually gave to others without ever depositing more.
This is a direct analogy – your wellbeing functions exactly that way, arguably, until you learn how to draw on resources beyond your own, which is a subject for another article. You MUST put in in order to continually take out energy.
So if we discuss how to create a retreat at home, it is imperative that you build in practices that you know to be restorative for you.
Also, consider all the layers of your self in your restorative practice:
- your physical,
- and spiritual restoration.
One day it may be your spirits that need lifting, another day your body. The nuance of listening to your needs each day is itself a restorative practice.
We’ve done so much good, by giving ourselves time and space, by focusing on beauty and restoring ourselves – mind body and spirit. Now, it comes to reflection.
In my experience, there are times when sitting quietly without focus, allows what I need to reflect on to rise to the surface without prompting.
It’s a process that takes place over a couple of days sometimes – of sitting quietly and letting my thoughts form. And often, the biggest changes I’ve made have come to their culmination in just this quiet way. I get up and find the resolve has been made, and just like that, I have changed.
And at other times, we can benefit from having prompts for reflection. You can take prompts from anywhere, or you can be very structured about it. A prompt I might give myself if I wanted to look at how I am living is:
“What do I need to be at my best today?”
or “What part of myself do I most want to express this week?”
or “What is the message I want to give in my life?”
From time to time, I will review how I feel life is going in each area – like a wheel of life coaching exercise – and take direction from that. Also, more than once, I have used the practice of imagining being on my deathbed and asking
what would I want to be able to say and feel about how I have lived?
Will I be able to say that?
Surround yourself with the natural beauty and spend a weekend in the Grade II Listed Manor House, with stunning views stretching over the Vale of Evesham to the Brecon Beacons.
Here’s a recent Testimonial of one of our retreat participants:
“Jo has an innate gift when it comes to creating beautifully restorative and therapeutic retreats. My time at the retreat last November in the Cotswalds was at a very difficult point in my life and proved to be an important catalyst in my personal and spiritual development. The work we did together, as a wonderfully supportive group led expertly by Jo, has helped me navigate some very hard times since. Everyday I reflect on what I learned at the retreat and am so thankful I attended. I can’t wait for the next one, which I have no doubt will be as powerfully moving as last time. Thank you, Jo, the gift you have given me in helping me understand myself better has changed my life.”