Treating Yourself to a Retreat

Today I head back to my regular life.  For the past five days I’ve been on my own little retreat, hidden away in a cabin in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina.  All by myself.

On top of Siler Bald on the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina
On top of Siler Bald on the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina

When I first started talking about this plan I received a lot of responses like, “wow, you are so brave!,” “gosh, I wish I could do that,” “good for you for being selfish!”  I could write a whole post about how and why self care became “brave” but this note is to a different purpose.  This post is about “selfishness,” specifically how this brand of selfishness is the only way I plan to function from here on out, and a suggestion that you might want to try it too.

I planned this trip not long after my mom passed away last fall.  I felt overwhelmed and my caretaker gene was completely burnt out.  I knew I needed a break.  A break from everyone and everything…anything that “needed” me whether in reality or only in my perception.  Fast-forward four months and I was in a different emotional place when I actually took the trip than when I booked it.  The blessing of this is that I realized that I (you) shouldn’t wait until I (you) break or come close to it before I (you) do what I (you) need to rejuvenate myself (yourself).

This being the first time I’ve taken this kind of trip, there were a number of parameters that I set up for what I wanted.  Although I made these parameters up as I went along, most of them turned out to be pieces I want to keep for future retreats:

  1. Just me
  2. A location unconnected to my regular life
  3. A kitchen so I could be self-sufficient 
  4. At least five days
  5. Access to outdoor physical activities

The length of time turned out to be quite important.  I had originally thought I should only go away for three days…there’s always another deadline at work…I don’t want to force single parenthood on my husband for too long.  However, once I found the place and realized it would take me six hours to get there, I decided I could take more time.  Six days to be exact, including travel days.

Now, this may change as I retreat more often than once every 41 years, but it took me three days just to get past all the distractions that vied for my attention.  Granted, the first 36 hours were more or less given up to the stomach bug my darling daughter shared with me as I left, but even so, it took me longer than I anticipated to truly relax into a place where I could breathe deeper and focus on the things I wanted to dig into during my time away.  I turned off all notifications on my phone as soon as I got to the cabin, but it took another day to not continuously feel the pull of “should I check my email?”  Even after I got closer to conquering the digital distractions, there was so much “busy work” that I kept feeling like I needed to do rather than sit down and read or write or crochet.  The need to do has powerful momentum but it is awfully hard to find clarity while doing all the time.

It took a six mile hike on Friday to Siler Bald (location of the photo) and a four mile hike up Scaly Mountain on Saturday to help me settle.  This turned out to be important too…being physically active, but in a different way than usual, broke me out of routine and released a lot of the antsy energy that I’d been holding onto for…ummmm…the last fifteen years?  OK, maybe I didn’t release that much, but it was a really good start.  So much so that when I woke up on Sunday all I wanted to do was finish the book I was reading (Rhythm by Patrick Thean…hat tip to Jill Robinson at TRG Arts) and organize my thoughts for our next four Department Head Meetings (sorry, team…actually, I’m not sorry, I CAN’T WAIT to get back!).

Yes, I said Sunday.  My last day away.  It wasn’t until then that I was ready to really dig into the stuff that I had planned to do throughout the trip.  Even if I do get better at letting go of the distractions faster and easier (and I certainly hope I do!) I will continue to take this type of break every year for at least five days.  My body, my brain, and my spirit needed refreshing and this is one thing I can’t rush or make more efficient.  There is a different rhythm in the woods and I desperately needed it…not to go all Thoreau on you, but it is true.

This is all to say that maybe once a year you deserve to just be you, on your own, answering to no one, breathing deeper, and taking hikes.  I am going back rejuvenated and refreshed and excited to join life again.  I can’t recommend it more highly


5 thoughts on “Treating Yourself to a Retreat

  1. Thanks for the inspiration and thoughtful reflection. I love your clarity and peace of mind.

  2. You may “go all Thoreau” on us all you like! To follow that up, from Walden: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach…” and from the conclusion “…I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there.”

  3. Oh Amy…it goes to show how long it’s been since we’ve really spoken. I didn’t know about the loss you’ve endured, and I’m afraid I know it only too well. What a wonderful thing you did for yourself. Nothing & no one will replace her, and you have found a way to live alongside that pain and turn it into worth. Well done!

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