By Allison Joy Philips
Community Meditation Teacher
“When I run after what I think I want, my days are a furnace of stress and anxiety; if I sit in my own place of patience, what I need flows to me, and without pain. From this I understand that what I want also wants me, is looking for me and attracting me. There is a great secret here for anyone who can grasp it.”
Retreat is time set aside to reflect, reset, and emerge renewed. It is a time to be fully-conscious and aware of how you conduct yourself in the world and to course correct where necessary. It is a time for simplicity. Retreat is all about doing less, speaking less, consuming less, and thinking less. We slow down and stay in one place. That’s why this unique time of sheltering in place and social distancing gives us the perfect opportunity to learn how to retreat without leaving our home.
I am well-acquainted with travel and at-home retreats. Over the past few years I have had the good fortune to retreat to exotic places like India, Nicaragua, and Mexico. I have also gone on retreat within driving distance of my home. However, I have not been able to travel for several months since becoming pregnant and the arrival of my son. Now, with our worldwide pandemic, traveling is not an option for anyone for the foreseeable future. As retreat has become such an important part of my practice and life, it worried me that I would no longer be able to leave home for extended periods. This is why I figured out how to create retreat experiences in my home.
With today’s trend of retreat vacations, sometimes the point of retreat can get muddled. Often, when we return from a vacation packed with activities we come home feeling more exhausted than before we left. The ordeal of travel – getting to and from the airport, navigating security, lugging heavy bags – is enough to leave you feeling stressed out and anxiety-ridden, the opposite effect you had been hoping for! Not to mention, travel is expensive and these types of trips are often inaccessible to many. This is why learning to create retreat at home is such a helpful skill.
There are many different kinds of retreat, yet all retreats are similar in a few ways. First, preparation is very detailed. Since the COVID-19 scare necessitates that we spend limited time at stores, now is a good time to gather supplies for several days and avoid leaving the sanctuary of your home. Second, retreatants stick to a predetermined schedule. This helps to keep time completely occupied to stave off boredom and unhealthy conditioning. During this time of high stress and uncertainty we could all use the reassurance of time well-spent. Sometimes retreat is completely solitary in isolation and sometimes there is a small group present. Some retreats are fully silent and most include device-free periods. Some are focused on activities, learning a skill, or openly sharing with others. My retreats are a time to dedicate to several hours of meditation and yoga practice. I also like to study primary source texts of the yoga and meditation traditions and take a break from technology. The basi idea of all this is to set yourself up well so that you can be fully focused on your goal, rather than the myriad distractions of everyday life.
The following ideas can be used to make this time special and productive. Time is our most valuable commodity and retreat teaches us how to use our time wisely. These tips to create at-home retreat experiences can work for you in the case that you live alone and are completely isolated during this time. You can also adapt to include your entire household if you are cooped up with your family or roommates. Use these ideas to transform your quarantine time so that you feel safe and relaxed during this unprecedented period of unknowing.
To begin, it is essential to make space for retreat. Space has many contexts. Of course, you have the entire space of your home. Declutter and clean your home as thoroughly as you can. When your space is clean and clear you will be able to relax and focus more easily. You may also identify specific places, like closets or under the bed, that can use more of a ‘fine tooth comb’-type of reorganization. You might be able to finally create the streamlined wardrobe of your dreams! This is the perfect time to clear out and donate what you no longer need.
Next, you’ll need to make space in your day. Start by writing down all of the things you need to accomplish. Use a written schedule or a calendar app to schedule everything very specifically to keep yourself on task. Set aside time for work, meals, and household responsibilities. Be realistic about the time you have and include periods for your retreat activities. Make a pact with yourself to treat these activities as equally important as your normal daily routine.
Finally, make a practice space for yourself. The type of space you need will depend on the goals of your retreat. If you will be meditating and doing some form of physical practice, find a corner or a room to dedicate to this special time for self-care and reflection. If you will use the time to write or make art, set up your workspace with everything you’ll need and keep it tidy so you can easily return each day. Often a practice space will include reminders that motivate and inspire you so place items that have special meaning to you there. You want to create a place to which you are excited to come back and in which you truly enjoy spending time. This will help you to keep your pact with yourself and will make the retreat even more pleasant.
Incorporate Daily Practice
Your daily practice brings together body, mind, and spirit. Do something each day that moves you emotionally, moves your body, and stimulates your mind. Meditation and yoga are natural choices, and you can join Community Meditation on Mind Oasis every day from the comfort of your home. You may also find that reading, writing, or listening to music works well for you. Find joy by singing songs, dancing, or laughing. Build up gratitude with a simple recitation starting with “today I am thankful for…” and fill in as many sweet, simple things as you can think of. Use your time consciously and wisely to do something you have meant to do for a while – maybe learn a new language.
Be consistent and return each day to your practice. Do what you enjoy so that you will keep doing it. Make it accessible and easy so you look forward to your practice as a special time for yourself. Ideally, you will continue this daily practice even after your retreat has concluded. Now is the best time to start a good habit.
Not all retreats are fully-silent, but most include quiet time for reflection and contemplation. It is a good idea to practice stillness and silence as part of your retreat. It is probably not feasible to be mute for your entire quarantine, but this is a great time to reflect on the impact of the spoken word, face-to-face communication, and high-fidelity connection.
Choose a period of each day, an entire day, or several days to practice silence. When you make time to be quiet, you become much more aware of your speech. This can help you to choose your words carefully and thoughtfully so you say what you mean and mean what you say. You will also more easily observe harmful speech that emerges from lower vibrational thoughts. In this way, you can begin to make connections between what you think, say, do, and create in your life. This is very powerful.
Typically, all of your meals would be cooked and served to you if you were on retreat away from home. While you might not have a private chef right now, it is a great time to renew your relationship with food. Start by cleaning up your kitchen and creating a relaxing environment for meals. Then, plan out your food choices for a few days ahead of time. This will help to clear mind-space usually used to decide what to eat each day. It may be helpful to add your meal choices to your daily schedule. You may choose to cook a bunch of food in advance and freeze it so you only have to reheat when you are ready to eat. Another good idea is making a big pot of soup that you can eat from for several meals. Perhaps using a delivery service that plans your meals for you could be a good option. Simplify however possible and, most importantly, make mealtimes sacred, savoring everything you consume.
This is also the perfect time to explore your curiosity around trying out new recipes, foods or a completely new diet, like incorporating more vegetarian and plant-based options, or experimenting with fasting. Whatever you choose to eat (or avoid eating), be fully present with each bite. Try not to let your mind wander aimlessly when you sit for a meal. Consider the connection between what you are eating and all the people and beings it took to bring it to your plate. If ordering out, practice treating restaurant staff with reverence and respect. Consider the impact you have on the people you encounter and on your environment. Reduce, reuse, recycle to move toward waste reduction in whatever way possible.
Take Care of Yourself
Retreat is a time to allow your body to heal and rejuvenate so you feel your best when finished. Your health and immunity are more important than ever right now so really dedicate yourself to good self-care practices. Rest as often as you can and make your bedroom a sanctuary space that is conducive to deep, healing sleep. Fuel your body with high quality foods and stay hydrated. Of course, follow all the basic measures that have been repeated ad nauseam by now: wash your hands, avoid touching your face, and maintain a safe social distance when in the presence of others.
Taking pleasure in the simplicities of life is a sweet gift of retreat and help you to learn how to treat yourself with care ongoing. Revel in taking a hot shower with your favorite products. Make it extra sweet and give yourself an at-home facial, manicure, or pedicure including a foot massage with warm oil. Think of someone you love and reach out with an email, text, or call. Stay connected and approach your device with a fresh perspective. Apps like Zoom, Google Hangouts, Facetime, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok now play an even more vital part in our lives. If you have a contentious relationship with social media, transform how you use these services and learn to view them as a blessing. Take care of yourself well so that you can help take care of others at this time when the support of each other is essential.
As you incorporate these elements of retreat into your daily life you may start to feel thankful for this extended time at home. Instead of feeling bored you may feel the luxury of having extra time on your hands. Time truly is the most valuable commodity. Reflect on the leisure and fortune presented to you. Use this unique time to make concentrated effort so when we all emerge from this pandemic the world is a kinder, happier, more sane place to live. May our thoughts, words, and actions be of benefit to all beings everywhere.