Creating a Personal Retreat

As I’ve written before, I’ve been trying to take one day a month and do a personal retreat for myself. It’s been really helpful to give me a time to center, slow down, and really look at what I’m doing. I’ve had a few people ask me about how I do it and what I do while I’m there. I’m happy to supply what I’ve managed to figure out for myself. There is no one “right way” to do this, so feel free to take this information and massage and adjust it for your own purposes.

Ames Free Library, Easton, Massachusetts

I’ve found in many cases when I’m describing something, that I can use the framework of the “W” questions words (who, what, when, where, why and how) to make sure that I cover all the bases. With that said, here’s how I do it.

Who: Mostly, it’s just me. I have done it with others, and I have a group personal retreat set up for the day after Thanksgiving. See my Alternative Black Friday event on the Calendar page.

What: I do a lot of different activities on my retreat, and they usually need to have some equipment. The standards for me are:

  • A packed lunch
  • My journal
  • My iPod/phone so that I can listen to relaxing music or meditations
  • Art supplies, usually pencils and paper, but you could use anything as long as it isn’t too messy
  • A book
  • Any materials on a project that your working on that you need focused time

When: I like to give myself a few hours to do a retreat. I’ve tended to go about 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. That seems to be enough time. Any day of the week would work, but I’ve usually picked out a Saturday where I can sleep a little late and also have time afterwards.

Where: You could do it just about anyplace, but I would suggest doing it somewhere outside of your own home, so that you don’t have all the distractions around you. While I’ve done them at retreat centers, I’ve found for myself that a library is a great resource! There are lot of beautiful libraries what have spaces to sit, think, read and work. I started choosing many of the towns and cities to visit on the Meditate Mass 351 Challenge by finding ones that have good libraries open on Saturdays! It’s free and you get to be in some beautiful spots with some interesting artwork.

Why: To get centered and grounded, and to work on a particular project where I need to get away from distractions and do some deep thinking.

How: Okay, this is the nuts and bolts of it. There’s the general outline of my activities. You can do them in any order. I normally also repeat some of them during the course of the retreat.

  • Journaling: I usually start with some journaling time, just to do a brain dump and get my head clear. I try to do a version of Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages, so that would be about three pages of just writing out stuff. Sometimes is gibberish, sometimes it’s plans for what I’m going to do, sometimes it’s a deep personal insight. Whatever it is, just let it be. This is just to get to into the space.
  • Meditating: I try to meditate for anywhere from 6-15 minutes, just to get me to notice my breathing, notice what chatter my mind is going through my mind. This is something that I try to do daily anyway, so it’s reinforcing that practice.
  • Reading: I usually bring a book and try to just get some reading done. There are usually about 10 books that I’m either working on or want to read, so it’s usually easy to find something.
  • Creating Art: I usually try to find something interesting to draw, but it might be a continuation of a piece I’ve been working on. It could even be doodling. Whatever it is, the point is not to make a masterpiece. The objective is to get yourself into that more right-brained, non-linear thinking process.
  • Walking: I always take time to go for a walk. There’s usually something to see, but I also want to get my body moving and breathing fresh air. I usually do somewhere in the nature of 15-30 minutes.
  • Working on a Project: If I’ve got something that I’ve been wanting to develop, but haven’t had the brain space to really think about, this is when I do it. I try to have a nice table to lay everything out, and I usually have a different, and more relaxed, perspective on it after I’ve done a number of the other activities mentioned above.

This is what has worked for me, and it’s likely to change in the future. It’s got enough structure to it to help me along, with enough flexibility. If you wanted to do interpretive dance, poetry reading, or something else, go ahead! Make it yours as I’ve made it mine.

So, when do you take time for yourself?

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