The Power of Retreat

Tomorrow is New Year’s Day, and I plan to Retreat.

I come from a long line of Retreaters, so a few excellent strategies were passed down in my genes. I’ve picked up a few more along the way. I tend to Retreat on a regular basis, whenever I have a sense that my life is running away without me or I need to re-charge my batteries.

To me, Retreating is about creating the right environment for deep nurturance, reflection, and vision. It is a liminal space set apart from the daily-ness of life in which to step back and get a different perspective on life. It’s not a coincidence that the word “Retreat” is used – it usually involves stepping BACK from something, from the “to do” list, from your family members, from your usual routine.

I find it particularly useful to Retreat at times of transition: a birthday, the dawn of the school year, after completing a big work project  – or indeed, at the New Year. It doesn’t have to be on New Year’s Day, it can be just as fulfilling two days later, or the following weekend, or whenever you may have time. It doesn’t require a great deal of time either, but it does take some– and the more time you can wrangle, the juicier.

If you would like to join me tomorrow or in the days ahead, here are some jumping off points:

1) Decide on your chunk of time and set it aside – an hour, the afternoon, a whole weekend, even thirty minutes can do in a pinch. The key is that you set it ASIDE and get support from any necessary folks in the vicinity so you don’t get interrupted. “No interruptions” is absolutely vital. Turn off the cell phone.

2) Prepare your Retreat nest. Decide on your location and clear the clutter – you don’t have to clean out the closet, but do remove the piles on the surface. An empty and peaceful visual field invites in clarity and new thoughts.

3) Gather your Retreat equipment. Here are my requirements:

  • A canvas of some kind – a journal, a sketchbook, collage materials, something to capture thoughts and allow creative musings to flow. Find some colored pencils, finger paints, a favorite pen.
  • Soothing sustenance – warm chai, rich hot chocolate, herbal tea… or my choice for tomorrow: tulsi tea, a remarkable tonic herb known to support the body during cold and flu season (Organic India makes a fabulous selection often found at grocery stores or natural markets).
  • A cocoon – a cuddly blanket, warm slippers, the perfect sunny spot by the window (our dog always knows the best spots in the house).
  • A piece of nature – either to walk in, or in colder climes at least a vista to gaze at. Nature is the best source of restoration, a powerful reminder of our natural rhythms and the most efficient, effective guide to find balance if it’s been misplaced.

These are my bare minimum needs to Retreat, but feel free to add your own. I prefer silence for contemplation but maybe you need some music. Get creative in building your walls to hold the distractions out and the sweet stuff in.

4) Decide what to do. For me, the three critical components of Retreating are nurturance, reflection, and vision. The most compelling ideas for creating those components will come from within you. What seems absolutely nourishing and indulgent, but also special, a step away from “normal” life? What do you want to focus on? Is there something specific you are aiming for? Here’s my plan for tomorrow:

– Review the past year. How have I changed? What can I celebrate from this past year? What did I learn? What am I giving up going forward?

– Choose a one-word theme for the coming year. I’ve always loved the soul-searching and optimistic sense of frontier I find in developing New Year’s resolutions (although my resolutions have changed form over the years). Early on, I tended to fall into the trap of listing ways to “improve” myself, missing the truth that we are always exactly where we are supposed to be in our evolution. This year, I’ve decided to focus my vision by choosing one word that calls forward my fullest self, a word rich enough to be provocative for a full year. If that sounds intriguing, here are some ideas to get you going: Serenity, Power, Integrity, Clarity, Confidence, Celebration, Depth, Truth, Non-violence, Contentment, Discipline…. My process for choosing one word will lie in writing and seeing what rises to the top. As in all travels, the journey is as important as finding the destination.

– Take a walk in nature. Let the mind wander as the feet do. Inevitably, the pace of my steps slows as my thoughts do. I am reminded that I’m home already.

The Art of Being
By Ann Coray

The fern in the rain breathes the silver message.
Stay, lie low. Play your dark reeds
and relearn the beauty of absorption.
There is nothing beyond the rotten log
covered with leaves and needles.
Forget the light emerging with its golden wick.
Raise your face to the water-laden frond.
A thousand blossoms will fall into your arms.

Happy New Year to you, my friend. May it be full of joy, love, compassion, vibrant health, unshakable trust – and whatever vision you call into being.


8 thoughts on “The Power of Retreat

  1. psi says:

    thank you for your response….i love what you say about opening to more gain. i think what i mean by being is very much like the poem. not anticipating but just experiencing that very present place and space. jake always says of me that i am a great chess player and by that he means i am always anticipating every aspect and angle of a situation either while i am in it or in advance of it ( often weeks months and days in advance) and while that is a great way to ‘be’ if one is planning a meal for twenty or anticipating houseguests or what to plant in the garden or what i need to do for an upcoming meeting for the giving alliance, it is not such a great way to ‘be’ if one is taking a walk in the garden or through the neighborhood or reading or any other daily experience or if one is anticipating things that might go wrong or second-guessing decisions before they have played out in reality. what i am hoping to ‘be’ is more present in every moment. so that when we are taking a walk i truly see the sky, smell and feel the air around me, and am less in me than part of what i am experiencing. hope that makes some sense. i very much appreciate this post- and all of your contributions here. much love, psi

  2. Flo says:

    “I have noticed an inner tendency to HESITATE and BE SKEPTICAL whenever I am presented with a new possibility (usually out of fear)……I’d like to give up that edge of negativity as a FIRST response…”

    Wait! Before you dismantle what may well be one of your greatest strengths, credit your hesitancy/skepticism as a uniquely-yours trait. Borne of cognition AND emotion, that trait might just need development more than banishment.

    Obviously, the family of man needs to have someone on the committee, someone exactly like you, who will say, “Wait a minute, wait, let’s take a breath and consider _______ from a few more angles, it may be my fear talking but let’s permit fear to stand forward and have its say.”

    I will nudge the “simply be” [in line ahead of me] one step further, and declare my resolution to “simply be MORE myself.” My years have given me a newly [“nowly” being more accurate] evolved outlook on “be yourself” to include the outrageous possibility that my most gruesome horrendous traits might just be personal strengths waiting for me to claim and develop them.

    Happy New/Now Year!

    love you SO

    • Ivy Ingram says:

      Flo, this is so beautifully said. I love the idea that you are claiming and developing previously-considered-“gruesome” traits as strengths – and shining that light for the rest of us! Amazing what a change of perspective can allow. I’ve always loved the wisdom in the quotation “what we resist persists.” I feel like you are presenting a version of this idea – befriend that part of ourself that we feel is deserving of banishment. Perhaps in that befriending arises the evolution or “development” of that very same characteristic into something we would more readily recognize as “strength.” I will ponder this more. Much love to you!

  3. psi says:

    Ivy, i have finally retreated into your words and am much inspired….my goal for this year is to simply “be” and that is more complex than it might appear on the surface… of all the things you said in your invitation to ‘retreat’ …the query “What am I giving up going forward?” stopped me up short. after you return from your own retreat i am wondering whif you can elaborate a bit on what you mean by this? i wonder if we need to give up to gain? does that make any sense? thank you for all you inspire. much love, psi

    • Ivy Ingram says:

      Indeed, to “be” without commentary, resistence, or other qualification of what exists in the present moment is far more difficult than it seems – although you may mean “complex” in yet another way! I’d love to hear more about what to simply “be” will mean for you in the coming year.

      As for my comment “what am I giving up going forward,” no, I don’t think one HAS to give up something to move forward – it was rather meant just as one of many questions we could ask ourselves while reflecting on the past… just to provoke deeper thinking about our own experience. For example, I have noticed an inner tendency to HESITATE and BE SKEPTICAL whenever I am presented with a new possibility (usually out of fear). I’d like to give that up! Which is not to say I must dive in head first to everything, but I’d like to give up that edge of negativity as a FIRST response – perhaps I can anticipate that skepticism and then move through it more quickly into a deeper exploration.

      So no, I don’t think we must give up to gain! Perhaps we can simply keep opening our arms to more and more gain. May it be so!
      Much love,

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