I was hiking to the top of the ridge at Whitewater State Park in Southern Minnesota, the air heavy with humidity, the sun finding its way to the back of my neck through the heavily wooded canopy. I had not hiked that path for over 5 years and now I was back… ready to work out my thoughts. As my thoughts came to be, I heard my daughter’s voice in my head, “Have fun on your Wonder-Woman retreat to save the world!” My seven-year-old had yelled this to me as I backed out of the drive way, headed for a four-day, solo, self-devised retreat in Southern Minnesota. I remember feeling elated, excited, nervous and guilty all at the same time. I had a moment, about 10 minutes into the trip where I stared at the car screen, thinking to myself, “I can literally play ANY kind of music I want… or I can sit here in silence… or I can open the windows and listen to the cars… there are no kids in the car, no passengers to worry about, no one to get home to tonight… I am my own woman for FOUR DAYS!” I was overwhelmed by possibility and freedom – in a very good way.
Step 1, I needed to work through this overwhelming sensation and get myself into “solo-retreat mode.” The faster I did this, the quicker I was going to be able to embrace what I went on this retreat to do. This is how I got to the peak trails at Whitewater State Park. I was physically working the nervousness out of my body. After two hours of sweating, climbing and adventuring, I felt exhaustion set in and I could no longer hang onto that overwhelmed feeling. Adrenaline and endorphins took over and my body’s chemistry started healing my mind. It was then that I started to breath a bit deeper, to move a bit lighter and to actually look around me at this amazing natural beauty that I was immersed in. I sat on a rock and had a long drink of water, watching a monarch look for the perfect flower. I gave myself permission to just sit there, to do nothing but witness this beauty. It was in this state that I came up with my “Daily 5 Practice” for my solo-retreat:
- No judgement – don’t judge others, don’t judge yourself, don’t judge your thoughts, what you eat, why you are doing what you are doing… no judgement (period!).
- Movement every morning – for me, movement means intense exercise… because it feels amazing. So, I went to the “Y” every morning for two hours of cardio, weights, stretching and of course… sauna!
- Journal every morning and evening – this was key for me. I used to keep a daily journal for years and I lost touch with my writing when my second baby girl was born. I began to justify with excuses and it simply fell away from my daily practice. My brain works well when I write on paper vs. ruminate in my head. My stream of thought seams to flow when I have a pen in my hand and so I did just that… pen in hand, I journaled.
- Read a physical book every day – another practice that had fallen to the wayside. I carried Louse Penny’s latest murder mystery novel with me wherever I went, reading on the trails, taking five minutes on a park bench or working through the who-done-it over a pint at the pub. I love reading and I wanted to remind myself why.
- Breathe and meditate – meditation is hard for me. I have two speeds, zero and haul-a**. So, sitting, breathing and meditating are difficult for me and not so enjoyable… and that is why I knew I needed to do them – daily. With breath, comes awareness, with awareness comes knowledge and with that knowledge comes peace. I wanted peace.
Other than those rules, I basically game myself permission to feel what I needed to feel, to eat good food, to experience beautiful and new places, and to simply be.
So why did I decide on a solo-retreat in the first place? Ever since I was a young girl, I have had a burning desire to change the world for good. My parents’ messaging echoing in my mind, “You are brave, you are amazing, you can change this world!” Lately, I have not felt that I was living up to that commitment. I tried re-centering myself in little ways like going on early morning walks to try and find some peace… an hour later, I was back at my desk, undoing that peace. I needed a long weekend to immerse myself in mindfulness, to let the thoughts and feelings that had piled up over the years, sort themselves out and become what they needed to become. I needed space without children, without dogs, without husbands, without work… I just needed space. And so, my husband and I talked about it and worked together to make it happen. We sat down with our calendars and plotted the best days and length of time. I love him for knowing how much this meant to me. I also realized that I’m 99.9% extroverted, so an isolated cabin in the middle of nowhere was not really going to do it for me. I also knew that I lived in the city, so some time in a place where things moved a bit slower was appealing. My budget was slim and so I looked for quant cities just outside of the metro-area, enough of a getaway to feel detached from the day-to-day, yet not so much that I’d be using up all my time traveling. I found a place where I had access to my morning almond-milk lattes, wineries, local pubs, yummy salads and brilliant pastries. I then put my Five Rule Daily Practice to work.
So, will I do this again? YES… if that wasn’t clear enough… DEFINITELY! As I drove home, I knew what I wanted – I wanted the windows down, listening to the breeze and the cars. I knew that I needed to keep my “rules” as a daily practice moving forward. I knew that in-order-to change the world, I must first make that change within myself (Mahatma Gandhi). I found peace in not judging and the permission to be my authentic self.
Most of all, my solo-retreat taught me that it isn’t the big, massive, over-the-moon events that always make the greatest change. Sometimes it is in the every day things we do… kissing our children, walking our dog, having compassion for ourselves, forgiveness, appreciating nature’s beauty and showing up as our authentic selves to all situations. Maybe it’s as simple as that…