By Dorian Martin, I Start Wondering Founder
Nine days spent alone in a cabin without internet and limited cell phone service. Many women would not select stillness, silence, and introspection as their ideal vacation. Yet this type of get-away can be one of the most nourishing to our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual selves.
That’s what I learned firsthand when I decided to take a self-styled spiritual/meditation retreat in September. Like many, I was feeling exhausted by the emotional weight of the pandemic—and was becoming stir-crazy because I hadn’t traveled since February 2020. Realizing that rejuvenation was necessary but also cautious because of rising COVID numbers, I decided to venture out alone and avoid crowded areas.
This retreat, for the most part, was a departure from my previous vacations. Most have been spent with a travel partner or around other people. The days were stuffed with going to new places, seeing new things, and trying new experiences—all external explorations. In comparison, a retreat is a very different way of experiencing the world.
Defining a Retreat
What is a spiritual retreat? Author and spiritual teacher Caroline Myss defines a retreat as the opportunity to leave behind the chaos of the world and intentionally spend time in reflection, prayer, and contemplation to support the inner emotional life. This experience can be somewhat daunting because while you honor your progress in life, you also may view your personal dust bunnies, cobwebs, and gremlins.
A retreat doesn’t need to be nine days spent in a different setting—or even time spent wholly alone. You can take an organized retreat for a specific period of time, such as a weekend. You can also take yourself on a retreat while maintaining your daily life by setting a specific time for contemplation and returning to mindfulness regularly throughout the day.
Deciding on a Place
Desiring a complete change of scenery, I really contemplated the location for my retreat. It didn’t feel right to be in a dense urban area or stay at a hotel with many people around. Eventually, I turned to Airbnb for options.
That brought me to two choices: a house in a small town with an art theme and the offer to enjoy the onsite watercolors. The second was a cabin located on a 16-acre property with trails and a variety of animals. While both had their charms, I finally settled on the rural location because of the desire for minimalism and the chance to get in rhythm with nature.
Editing My Options
I also was mindful of really editing what I took to the retreat. Knowing that I would have nine days to myself, it was enticing to pile on options to take up the time. Initially, I started a stack of what I wanted to bring but soon started deleting from it.
I ended up packing a blank journal, sticky notes, some colorful pens, and three spiritual books—my mother’s copy of The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, Eros by Don Miguel Ruiz and Barbara Emrys, and Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. I also took a needlepoint canvas, figuring that I could sit and contemplate while stitching. The mixture proved perfect, creating a few options to break up the solitude of each day.
Pushing Pause on the Outer World
I also intentionally put the outer world in “silence mode” during the retreat. I told family members, friends, and clients that I would be off the grid for that period. Neighbors and friends agreed to keep an eye on my home and care for my dog. These steps removed all outer distractions, allowing me to have a laser focus on the retreat experience without worries.
The retreat also offered the perfect time to unglue me from technology. For the most part, this was easy since cell service was inconsistent in this part of the Hill Country and the cabin’s internet was offline. This silence helped create an even deeper sense of peace that wasn’t ruffled, even when a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico developed and began approaching Texas.
Structuring the Retreat
While the days themselves were very flexible, some structure and guidance were needed to create a meaningful retreat experience. I opted to use Myss’s online nine-day spiritual retreat, which offers a daily theme that is supported by videos, contemplations, prayers, and homework assignments.
My daily rhythm soon matched the rhythm of nature. I woke up to the glow of the sunrise on most days and spent most of each day on the cabin’s porch. From that vantage point, I wrote, read, contemplated, meditated, and received visitors—the property’s cats, donkeys, rooster, and hen. In fact, one of the cats and I developed a special bond. He was a daily presence, running down to join me on the porch each morning, sitting with me as I did moving meditation, and returning to visit during the day. Being present, I enjoyed the shifts in light, breeze, and temperature – and noticed the dragonflies, birds, spiders, and deer.
As the retreat progressed, stress just melted away—and interesting synchronicities (or, as I call them, “God winks”) started emerging. One powerful moment was when I started reading Mom’s treasured book on Sept. 14. As I opened the cover, I found a handwritten inscription from Mom dated Sept. 15, 1948! The synchronicity of her writing that note almost exactly 73 years before I first saw it made me feel like Mom was joining me on this journey.
Takeaways from the Retreat
At the end of those nine days, I experienced a tremendous sense of peacefulness, a few a-ha discoveries, and some areas for continued exploration. For example, Myss asks participants to develop a list of potential power choices that they could implement in life that would have a ripple effect. Some power choices could be as simple as our choice of words, which can include using “please” and “thank you.” Other power choices could involve removing blame or a sense of entitlement from daily life.
I am slowly implementing a few of those changes from my list. For example, I’m dedicating time weekly to the practice of “holy listening,” which was part of the retreat curriculum. No music. No podcasts. No conversations. Just inner silence and deep listening will allow me to tap my inner wisdom. Another on my list involves passing on books that I have read and loved to others, with the request that once they finish the book, they also pass it on. This potentially could create a chain reaction of good literature.
Ultimately, the nine-day retreat proved to be exactly what I needed to replenish. While I look forward to returning to vacations offering new sights, sounds, and experiences, I treasured my time alone in that cabin in the hills. It’s an experience that continues to resonate—and one that I plan to do again.
Have you ever felt a desire to go on a retreat? How could you make a retreat part of your life?