Self, I didn’t realize how much I’ve missed you! We have a lot of catching up to do.
I pulled it off. Hunted online and found a charming lodge overlooking a rugged coastline, sprawling deck, hammock. Booked a weekend, packed my painting gear, and here I am.
Please pause with me for a moment and recognize the significance of this feeling.
Outside demands silenced.
Getting away is a desire often harbored, but too often unheeded.
I write about retreats, and am hosting the introvert retreat of my dreams in January. I’m a believer. So why did it seem like such a feat to pull off this simple two-night getaway less than an hour’s drive (but a world away) from where I live? And how did every source of resistance prove to be the very reason I needed that retreat?
In answer, a familiar insight on the creative life comes to mind:
“If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.”
So maybe that’s an upside, because, for introverts, “everyone’s doing it” is enough of a reason to turn and run the other way. Let’s look at five possible sources of resistance that also serve as reasons to retreat.
Why You Should Book That Retreat
1. Retreats take — and give — time.
Time is a wonderful paradox: The more we try to save it, through our endless shortcuts and quick solutions, the less of it we seem to have. Our time-saving measures — think of our electronic devices, for example — allow us to fit more in, while the promise of leisure escapes us. When I think of time, I recall the wise writings of Brother David Steindl-Rast. He points out the violent ways in which we refer to time: We “take” and “steal” time, even “kill” it.
So you envision a luxurious retreat, and you automatically imagine doing some kind of violence to time: “A retreat takes time! I don’t have enough time to spare. I’ll have to steal some time away.” This resistance is a good sign that a retreat is exactly what you need.
So what happens, when instead of taking, you imagine, as Steindl-Rast puts it, “giving time to what takes time”? Suddenly you are the one holding time. You have time to give.
This is the shift that occurs with a retreat. You part the curtain of time as you know it and open up a space. When you give time to a retreat, you begin to experience time differently. In that “time away from time,” you see a bigger life and imagine new possibilities.
From the vantage point of my retreat, I also had a better view of the road I’ve been traveling. Instead of my endless focus on what’s ahead, I was able to appreciate how far I’d come.
2. Retreats pull us away.
For introverts, getting away from the stimulating world is a challenge. We think we’re escaping to the internet, and find it has become more and more crowded and, ironically, “loud.”
And when we pull away from activity, we get a lot of push back: “What’s wrong? Why are you so quiet? Come and have FUN!” And the worst: “Get out of your comfort zone!” That statement, I’ve noticed, often comes from an extrovert who is standing smack dab in his or her comfort zone.
For introverts, a retreat is a radical act of self-affirmation. It means leaving behind the voices of doubt and courageously claiming what we know to be true. I find that when I do this, the voices of discontent, both within and without — the voices I have internalized from a culture suspicious of solitude, test my resolve: “You think you can pull this off?”
When I do “pull it off” and get away, I first encounter a kind of “thought detox.” The voices of dissent — the worries, the interference of what others think and want and expect — linger for a bit. But they soften and diminish, and in its place, I begin to hear the beautiful…nothing.
3. Retreats put us in touch.
In addition to silence and the sounds of nature and the present, I also begin to hear my own voice. This can be another reason we resist retreating. Even though solitude is the introvert’s home base, if we are too long away from home, the place gets a bit musty. We may forget what’s there, and even fear it.
On my lovely seaside retreat, I had an intense nightmare. This nightmare wanted my attention, because even after I woke up, wrote about it in my journal and went back to sleep, my dreams returned me to the same story. As nightmares often do, this one alerted me to something I had been neglecting in my life. I regarded it as a sacred gift.
In the space opened up by a retreat, we often encounter what we’ve neglected. Stephan Rechtschaffen, author of Time Shifting, notes that at the beginning of a vacation or retreat, it is common to first experience a wave of grief as we finally make room for unfelt feelings and untended needs. He advises to let the wave wash over rather than fighting it.
I think of this grief as a tearful reunion: “Self, I didn’t realize how much I’ve missed you! We have a lot of catching up to do.”
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4. Retreats captivate us.
Another reason we avoid retreating is out of concern, oddly, that we will love it too much. We envision never returning, becoming vagabonds, or that returning will just be too hard. A retreat can be hard to leave, especially if we do not see it as a renewable resource. This is why it is important to see a retreat not as a one-time event, but as an ongoing source of sustenance.
If you are concerned that you will return kicking and screaming, then you need more retreats! And remember, retreats come in many shapes and sizes. A solo weekend away — or longer — is one form, and other forms such as regular meditative walks, the occasional afternoon off, and practices such as Julia Cameron’s “artist dates” can help sustain you in between. Think of retreating as an ongoing conversation rather than a chance encounter.
Once you indulge, a retreat does indeed captivate. You notice the world around you in a new way — the sights, smells, tastes. You engage differently. On my first solo retreat, I felt an intimacy with strangers that was new to me. I stayed in a bed-and-breakfast in the woods of Wisconsin, and after my first day, ventured into the charming small town nearby.
I had written a poem spontaneously in the midst of a walk the day before — a tribute to my mother, who had died two years earlier. I found a handmade journal in a shop, and began talking with the artist who had made the journal. I had the poem folded up in my purse, and knew that the journal would be the home for that poem. I shared this with the artist, and then spontaneously, and tearfully, read that poem to her. I will never forget that moment of connection.
Later that evening, I sat under the stars by a fire with a young woman who worked at the bed and breakfast. As we looked up at the stars, we shared musings on life and love. Recall — I am an introvert, and these were introverted moments for me. Moments when I felt safe enough to open up the richness I held within.
Every retreat I have taken offers moments that feel magical. These moments come between the times when I internally whine about the imperfection of the setting or miss my TV or feel overwhelmed with the choices that freedom offers.
But if you ask me about any one of my retreats, I will paint a picture of that moment for you: Me meditating on a smooth rock in a rushing stream in West Virginia. Me in that shop or by that fire in Wisconsin. And me, bringing a dear one to life in a painting by the sea in Barbados. These treasures stay with me and add richness to my life.
5. Retreats change us.
The practice of retreating, we may worry, will make us lazy, less social, or less productive. The question I would ask is, “Is that a bad thing?” I do think that the practice of retreating changes us, and we may indeed become slower and more deliberate in our approach to life. We may become more selective about how we spend our time. Our priorities may shift. We may question things that we had formerly accepted. Or we might just be more present, conscious, and mindful as we re-enter life as usual.
Tonight, I am exploring the dream series from my retreat with a trusted and wise guide. I don’t know where this will take me, but I do know this: My retreat still has more to give.
Join Dr. Helgoe’s Upcoming Introvert Retreat
Dr. Laurie Helgoe is hosting an introvert’s dream retreat this January. Introvert Power allows participants to explore the rich landscape of the inner life in the quiet and nourishing setting of Kripalu Center in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, USA. Participants are invited to boldly luxuriate in their comfort zones as they creatively explore what needs attention in their lives and how to bring a more introverted culture back home with them. Book now to guarantee your spot. See details here.
Dr. Helgoe is the author of INTROVERT POWER: Why Your Inner Life is Your Hidden Strength, and an Associate Professor of Behavioral Science at the Ross University School of Medicine. You can take a peek at her paintings here.
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