Prepare Yourself & Withdraw From Ordinary Life

Here is an outline of what makes a retreat a retreat, the steps you will repeat each time, even on very brief retreat. It is a shorthand way of bringing the archetype to life. Refer to it when planning a retreat, or if you are ready to get going right now and want to skip reading details.
by Jennifer Louden

Set an intention. Intention is what distinguishes your time off, makes it more than a vacation. Donna did the exercise in INTENTION not even knowing that she wanted to retreat and was astonished to learn she hoped to find a new direction for her life. Setting an intention requires setting aside time to prepare (often only a few minutes). This preparation sends a signal that you are serious about your time apart, that it is going to be uncommon, mindful, loving and intentionally focused on you.

Preparation also starts the slowing down and turning inward process that is crucial to retreating. Even daily mini-retreats and retreats in-the-world benefit from a moment of preparation at the beginning of your time apart. To set your intention, complete the question "On this retreat, I intend to ask myself..." Keep it simple, open, and loving.

Withdraw from ordinary life
Withdrawal from ordinary life happens through symbolic action and by creating a safe space, either physically or emotionally, to withdraw into. These are the signals to your psyche that you are entering altered time.

Cynthia Gale speaks about her retreats this way. "What I try to do is make sure everything I do matters. So when I sit and have a cup of tea, I don't just have a cup of tea, I think about what tea I'm going to have, where I'm going to sit, what direction I'm going to sit in, how that ten minutes is going to be different." This effort at disengaging is especially important because you are not always able to leave, to go someplace, for a retreat, especially when working or when raising young children. You may only have a few minutes or hours to yourself. It isn't about the amount of time away or even your physical proximity to others. It is how much they occupy you when you don't wish them to.

One of the great benefits of evoking the archetype is the ability to withdraw into your own interior, sacred space. Choose or create such a space, your container. It could be your bed, your garden, a visualization of a place you love in nature, the crook of a tree, taking the phone off the hook and closing your office door, or a prayer of protective light and love surrounding you.

Next perform a symbolic ceremony to separate. This ceremony can be as involved as a sweat lodge, as simple as a purifying soak in the bath, slipping on a special shawl and staring at a candle, reading a poem you love and then stepping over the threshold of your front door to go for a walk.

Listen in sacred space
Being in sacred, liminal space is perhaps the hardest part of the retreat to maintain in our modern world, especially when you are retreating in the world or for a short period of time. Yet it is the heart of retreat, the place where the work of transformation takes place. You remain outside your daily life. You don't do the dishes, answer the phone, take care of others, work, watch TV, listen to the news, read magazines, or do other everyday things. You arrange your time differently, doing what enlarges your intention and enables you to listen to your inner knowing.

This can be done in a myriad of ways (asking yourself thought provoking questions, writing in your journal about how you are feeling or why you are retreating, moving to music, meditating on metaphorical words like poetry or the Psalms, visualizing your Divinity blessing you, painting, walking on the beach, knitting, lying on your couch listening to music) but the end result is always to place you in your center, working toward a truer and more authentic relationship with yourself. Silence and solitude have their place here. You can't contact your wisdom and come to accept your self without spending time alone in silence.

Another way you maintain sacred space is to push yourself out of your habitual comfort zone because by doing so, you shift how you view yourself and your life.

Shifting out of your comfort zone often creates anxiety and fear. For example, leaving your comfort zone might entail hiking alone on a local trail or being alone at your home with no TV and no phone. Encountering your fear, not running from it, brings great richness to the retreat practice. That doesn't mean put yourself in danger, but it does mean leave deadening comforts behind and be willing to take risks.

Reemerge into ordinary space and time
Reemergence into the world at a new place is the final act of retreating. It may seem the most straightforward and easy but it is fraught with the difficulty of leaving sacred space and returning to ordinary space. You must acknowledge what you have done and where you have been, that you have been changed, even when your retreat has lasted for only a few moments. You can simply say, "I am returning from my retreat. I have done this and this is why ________ (fill in your reasons for going or what you learned.)"

Give some thought to your reentry so that you don't lose the gifts of your retreat too quickly in the daily array of demands. Bring back a talisman from your retreat - anything from a small rock to a vivid memory. Give thought to how you will communicate your experience to those you love, how you will physically reenter your work or home life, what would make it easier.

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