Recently, a five-day silent retreat I had booked months before was cancelled. It made total sense given what’s happening in the world, but I was disappointed nonetheless. While I have a regular morning contemplative practice, I was looking forward to fully retreating and experiencing what it would be like to reflect on my life for several uninterrupted hours.
So, I pivoted and decided to recreate the retreat at home, individualized to my environment and what was realistic given that I share my life with my husband, Marc, and our two daughters, ages 9 and 11. I designed a two-day retreat, planned out a schedule (Saturday and Sunday from 6:30am – 8:30pm) and started to gather my tools and resources. I shared my plans with a few close friends and advised people in my life that I would have my phone off all weekend, not returning any calls, texts or emails until Monday morning.
I reemerged from my retreat feeling rested, recalibrated and newly excavated. The experience was surprisingly easy to execute, was met with little to no resistance on the part my family, and since I’m already quarantined at home, it didn’t require me to break plans or reorganize my life.
Not only can’t I wait to do it again (in a few months), but I am excited to share some insights and resources with you, in case an extended at-home retreat appeals to you. Here’s how to make it happen:
MAKE A PLAN/SET A DATE
I had my retreat weekend planned in the calendar about two weeks ahead of time and I made sure it was in Marc’s schedule, too. This gave me lots of time to share my plans and intentions with my family as well as to start organizing what I wanted my retreat to look like.
GET BUY-IN & AGREEMENT
I made requests and made agreements with Marc and the kids, including my desire to be left alone except for when I came in the house for meals. Since I held my retreat in Marc’s backyard office, I also had to clear it with him to ensure he was okay with me using his space (which he was). I shared my reasons for wanting to retreat (the need for solitude, the desire for extended times of reflection and journaling, etc.) and what I hoped to accomplish (more peace, more clarity, more calm). I made sure everyone was on board.
GATHER YOUR RESOURCES
In the days leading up to the retreat weekend, I started to set aside things I wanted to bring out to the office with me, such as books, my journal, candles, etc. Knowing that I wanted to watch a few lectures from some of my favorite spiritual teachers, I researched those and created a list.
CREATE A (LOOSE) SCHEDULE
I created and printed a Google Sheets schedule for how I wanted to spend my days. The mix of meditation, sunrise walks, yoga, reading and lectures was printed twice so I could tape one copy to a kitchen cupboard and have one with me in the office. Everyone new roughly what time I would be coming inside for meals and to finish my day.
I didn’t always do what my schedule told me to do, but I never had a moment of feeling untethered with a “what the heck should I do now and why am I doing this?” moment. I had a plan, even though I didn’t always follow it.
DESIGN YOUR SPACE
The day before, Aly and I turned Marc’s office into my sanctuary, complete with loads of houseplants, a diffuser, Buddha statue, favorite blanket, my meditation cushion, snacks, and my yoga mat. When I arrived on Saturday morning to begin my retreat, it was all ready for me and it felt completely mine.
SET SOME GROUND RULES
I made a commitment to be 100% digital free except for using my laptop for a few video lectures (with Tara Brach, Joseph Goldstein and Rick Hanson), Spotify meditation music and yoga classes. I was phone-free the entire time, which was blissful. I did speak with my peeps when I came inside but when I was in my retreat space, I was quiet. I was less interested in a two-day vow of silence than I was simply giving myself time to myself. It was nice to break the quiet when I came inside for meals or to make a cup of tea.
WHERE THERE’S A WILL, THERE’S A WAY
For moms out there who are thinking “no way would my family leave me alone for two days,” I say this:
- Start with just two hours and work your way up. Slowly teach your family that retreating is an important part of your life. They will reap the benefits of your calm and spacious presence and will eventually hop on board.
- Have your family consider the alternative: you leaving completely for two days. A two-day at-home retreat (or even a half-day) is much easier to swallow.
- Get total buy-in from your parenting partner and consider returning the favor so he/she can also create a retreat another weekend. Your parenting partner must be 100% supportive and on your team if you are to get the uninterrupted space you crave.
I also know that retreating just isn’t in the cards sometimes. If you’re a single mom or your parenting partner just can’t step in for any length of time, plans may need to be adjusted. But rather than see a retreat as impossible, look to see what IS possible.
One final thought: having Marc’s office in our backyard as my retreat space was awesome. I know that’s an unusual luxury. However, I have a guest room that would have served me equally as well. I would just have needed to be a little more careful about diffusing the household sounds with background music, headphones or one of those white noise machines. The point is, where there’s a will there’s a way.
A retreat of any length isn’t going to be appealing to everyone. I know I’m an odd duck. But I don’t think I’m as exceptional as you might think. I have a hunch that many of us, especially right now as we try to grapple with so much anxiety and confusion, would be served by an extended retreat of solitude and reflection.
If you’re ready to plan your retreat, reach out to me. I’m happy to provide you with resources, ideas and a copy of my retreat schedule. You can email me here.
French philosopher Blaise Pascal famously wrote: “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Maybe if we each took time on a regular basis to reflect earnestly on the living of our lives, the world would be a calmer, more compassionate place. I guess there’s only one way to find out.
- Lecture series: Loving, Knowing & Growing (FREE) Four-Day Program: www.rickhanson.net/loving-knowing-and-growing-free-online-program
- Creating a Home Retreat: Finding Freedom Wherever You Are [FREE Half Day Retreat Included]: www.tarabrach.com/create-home-retreat
- Peloton Yoga: www.onepeloton.com/instructors/yoga