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I remember this commercial from the late 70s that advertised bubbly bath soap.
A woman sits in a tub, suds galore, looking totally relaxed after a harrowing day of challenges and chaos, when she wistfully sighs out the slogan: “Calgon, take me away…”
More than 30 years later, my massage therapist asks me what kind of massage I would like. I don’t have anything specific for her to work on, like a crick in my neck or a sore hamstring, so I say, “Let’s just go with a Calgon-take-me-away today.” She instantly understands what I want: a retreat into silence and stillness as she gradually works my body to a warm putty.
I want to retreat from my to-do list, my responsibilities, my routines—even from my own voice—if only for those 60 minutes on the massage table. Yet, sometimes, these precious moments aren’t quite enough. I leave the table, immediately jump back into go-mode, and feel the weight of everything that still needs doing.
This is when I know it’s time to plan a more extended—capital R—Retreat!
A retreat is an invaluable tool I use to take a break from the mundane world of seemingly endless expectations and dogged responsibilities to focus inward and recharge my spiritual batteries.
Many types of retreats meet a wide variety of interests—writers’ retreats, artists’ retreats, spiritual retreats, walking retreats, silent retreats, and more. The common element among all of these is this concept of “retreating” or stepping back from our day-to-day routines.
Ideally, we’re able to leave home and go somewhere that is farther away and not associated with our regular daily lives. It is, after all, a retreat from the everyday and ordinary.
And when we take this step back and give ourselves some space, magic can happen.
Here are five ways retreats help us reconnect with our deeper selves and recharge our life energies:
1. We disconnect from our devices.
I personally think the best retreat locations have terrible Wi-Fi connections. This way we have no choice. We must put away our smart phones and tablets, turn on the email autoresponder, and let go. No checking in at a fabulous new restaurant or showing our 897 friends the amazing view from our room.
When we go on retreat, it’s an opportunity to practice letting the outside world go on without us for a while. Giving ourselves this time to disconnect from our devices, we lessen the relentlessly streaming barrage of information.
It may feel impossible at first, but within a day or two, it gets easier, as that dull ache behind our eyes naturally begins to dissipate.
2. We reconnect to nature.
Mountains, beaches, wooded parks, even vast desert land.
Many (if not most) retreat locations are surrounded by nature in some way. And it’s long been known that being outdoors in nature has numerous physical benefits, from lowering our blood pressure to increasing our overall well-being.
When we step outside of our day-to-day existence and into our natural surroundings, time seems to open. Unexpectedly and out of nowhere, as if by some strange invisible alchemy, going for a walk, taking a hike, sitting in a hammock—getting outside in some way—feels like exactly the perfect amount of “doing.”
The bubble bath used to escape for a few moments is now replaced by the nature bath that can lead to real change.
3. We create space for contemplation and reflection.
With devices set aside and nature surrounding us, space begins to open, the space to contemplate and look inwardly for a sustained period. Not just the few minutes we normally allow ourselves, but for more time than we usually have or are willing to give ourselves.
And not the small contemplations of what to have for dinner or what comes next on our endless to-do lists, but the contemplation that leads us to explore and reflect upon what we want out of life—our plans, our hopes, and our dreams.
When the noise of our regular daily life quiets, the listening begins. And wondrously, our heartfelt wants and desires slowly become a bit clearer.
4. We learn about ourselves.
Time opens, space opens, and an internal quietness arises. It’s like a pause between breaths that we’ve been too busy to notice.
Suddenly, we’re able to hear—and really listen. It’s now that we start to learn. It could be that we’re even surprised by what we learn. We begin to recognize things that might be holding us back: internal obstacles that we’ve been ignoring, habits and beliefs that our daily grind or regular routines can easily hide.
Having the time, space, and quietness to prioritize oneself, to contemplate, and to reflect, opens the door to learning.
5. We reconnect with ourselves.
Sometimes, it takes a day. More often, it takes much longer, and usually, it’s still only a start.
Yet, once we open ourselves to listening and learning, the ultimate magic of reconnecting begins. We all have parts of us that get put aside in the busyness of life. It could be a passion or a hobby or an aspect of our personality that feels as though it’s been muted.
Each time we do this, each time we put a part of ourselves aside, the distance between ourselves and that part grows wider. It’s this that we are reconnecting to.
Maybe you find that you reconnect to the part of you that once wrote poetry in the evenings, or strummed songs on a guitar near a campfire, or designed and built a coffee table for a loved one, or perhaps, simply gazed at the night sky with wonder and awe.
Retreat takes us further away than a single 60-minute massage, or 20-minute bubble bath, provides the pause that so many of us need to be healthy in body, mind, and spirit.
Retreat offers us the time and space to disconnect and then reconnect.
We could even call this process of reconnecting a kind of remembrance. We remember what we are curious about; we remember the things that excite us, the things that make us happy, that refresh and renew our energy.
We remember who we are, and we reconnect to that essence of being—revitalized and rejuvenated, no longer needing anything to take us away, but instead, ready to joyfully walk forward on our path.