Does summer include retreat time for you? Retreating is one of my must-have summer activities, so let me take you on my personal journey with retreats as they’ve changed over the years.
I’ve attended many facilitated group retreats and appreciated the structure and support given by the facilitators. They held us all in a disciplined ‘container’ allowing each of us to drop down and be. From them I learned how to create that space for myself, and after a while I found group retreats too busy, too many people and too many distractions.
Following a traumatic loss in my life, I instituted a week-long silent solo retreat done each season in my home just for me. I turned off the phone, put a sign on the door and dived in. I loved it and found it deeply healing. After a few years, I returned to the retreats whenever I felt the need.
I always had rules: start every day with a commitment ceremony; bookend the day, morning and evening, with a half-hour sitting meditation; and eat lightly with a juice fast for a few days in the middle. There were other rules as well, which all together made my retreat time rigorous, structured and effective. It never failed to put me back on track.
Then I moved to another phase of my life when I needed something different. I felt the call to retreat but knew I didn’t want or need such rigor. Instead, I wanted to tune in, rest, replenish and have pleasure. This is when I designed the Follow your Nose Retreat.
I had a country home and commuted to my work in the city three days a week. I had a huge garden and my bees. Grandkids had arrived in my life, and my rural community was full of interesting people and things to do. I had a hand-crafted life – by this I mean a life made by conscious choice to be full of my passions on a daily basis. So that meant engaging in beauty, nature and natural things, community life, healthy living, sensuality, creativity and diversity. But you can imagine the busyness of all that!
I felt called to retreat every few months and always at the change of the spring and fall seasons. I pondered the goodness of my life, its rich abundance of pleasures, and I also saw how in my busyness to live it all, I wasn’t really taking it in deeply. I needed to pare down the activities even more to be able to dwell in what truly feeds me.
When I thought of retreating, the first guiding word to arise was slow. The second one was less. I wanted to only do what I wanted to do, moment to moment. This was ironic because I had built a hand-crafted life in which there was very little in it that I didn’t want. So I came to understand that there can also be “too much of a good thing.” I longed for days where I could go so slow, and shift my focus to listening even deeper into what felt right.
The Follow your Nose Retreat begins with – and constantly returns to – sitting quietly on the couch (or outdoors in a lawn chair) and not moving, not doing anything until a strong irresistible urge arises for something. And if nothing comes, just sit there some more.
What this practice does is discipline you to listen inside and notice the impulses that arise. In retreat I only want to do things that nourish me. I’m not a big TV/Internet watcher, so I’m curious when the urge to watch comes up. And I am really curious when the urge to eat arises soon after I’ve eaten a beautiful, nourishing breakfast. So I’d sit a bit longer and listen some more.
It’s so powerful and reassuring to listen inside until you feel the real call. Take a walk, a swim, a nap, a formal meditation, do some art, read something inspirational. I keep some mainstay rules like no Internet, no phone or listening to the radio, no reading the newspaper or other junky things. This kind of retreat is built on a commitment to discover and nourish my deepest longings, my authentic rhythms, and to re-establish a deeper connection with my heart’s call.
Sit still, breathe, quiet the inside, make myself empty and listen to what arises. Sometimes it’s easy and so delicious, this quiet still waiting. Other times it’s hard as busy thoughts and jumpy energy yell for getting up and doing something just to get away from the discomfort of listening. I don’t always get it right and jump to action too soon, but I come back to the couch and start over. I think you get the drift.
A hand-crafted life calls for hand-crafted retreats. I hope this summer you create one that works for you. Keep me posted.
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“As I step into the classroom with Madeline, I am aware of a spaciousness that few other facilitators offer, giving adequate time for self-reflection and digestion of the material. The spaciousness is well-supported by experiential learning and practical teachings. Madeline’s work—both within her own life and in facilitating others—speaks clearly through the profound space she holds for learning, and healing, to happen.”