Monday, September 19, 2011

Retreat means renewal – of spirit, body and mind

By definition, the word retreat suggests a withdrawing. In my case, it meant withdrawing from the mundane tasks of ordinary, everyday life: dishes, cooking, laundry, newspapers, phone calls, plants that need watering – you know how long the list can be.

It was a withdrawing with a purpose, as a way to make time to focus on writing. While it may seem extreme to get in the car and literally go away for such respite, it can be a hugely valuable experience.

Beyond selecting clean clothes for the day (from the limited wardrobe in my suitcase), there were pretty well no decisions to make.

And being freed up from making decisions is amazingly liberating. Even when the decisions are as small as ‘What should I get from the freezer for supper?’ they take up valuable mind space that could be used towards more productive ends. There wasn’t even the matter of deciding what to watch on tv, as there wasn't one.

It became easy to focus on what I wanted to accomplish. Aside from being lured toward the lake for contemplative walks, there were really no distractions. Besides, moving my feet often helps me move the wheels in my brain. Those walks were the source of many ideas and useful insights.

It probably helped that the site of this retreat was such a calming, peaceful place, nestled beside a lake, in amongst so many trees.

It probably also helped that the food there nourished not only my body, but also my sense of aesthetics, which in turn fed my imagination and creativity. The salad in the picture was only the first course in one of our many fabulous meals.

I also found it nourishing to be in the company of four like-minded companions. During the day we kept silence and worked intently.

After supper, we spent our evenings discussing what we’d written, offering workshop comments to each other.

But those evening also saw us engaged in spectacular conversations, the likes of which I probably haven't had since university days. God, the meaning of life, our views of an afterlife, secrets...These discussions were like the best slumber party I ever attended, and we didn’t even have to stay up all night to get to the good parts.

Getting in touch with ourselves seems a sensible thing to do now and then. Whether we have a specific goal in mind (such as writing) or simply want to relax and un-stress, quiet ‘away’ time can provide a remedy to the demands of everyday life.

Besides being a word that suggests a withdrawal or stepping back, it’s also worth considering the ‘treat’ part of the word retreat. I look forward to the next time I can ‘re-treat’ myself this way.


Heinz said...

Heidi, when you write "Retreat means renewal--of spirit, body and mind" I think of Thoreau's "Walden, or Life in the Woods" where he spent 26 months by a pond on his retreat.

A short quote from his book: "However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names. It is not so bad as you are. It looks poorest when you are richest. The faultfinder will find faults even in paradise. Love your life, poor as it is. You may perhaps have some pleasant, thrilling glorious hours, even in a poor-house."

I think of Thoreau and wonder what he would have written at the Bethlehem Retreat Centre. He was educated at Harvard which he said "taught all the branches and none of the roots".

I hope that during your contemplative walks you discovered some of these roots that will encourage your writing to grow, to flourish, and to blossom in ways you cannot yet imagine.


hg said...

Thank you for your thought-rich comment, Heinz. I may come back to it on days when I'm in need of a mini-retreat.