Yesterday was the Cultivating Your Inner Garden Retreat, at my home. Eight women joined me to create a wonderful space of inner focus and exploration.
A retreat is a funny thing. On the outside it doesn't look like much is happening. But for the mind, it can be like a pressure cooker; asked to reflect on a question in silence, it can seek to run like quicksilver or mercury - when you press on it it scatters in a hundred different directions. Or it can settle and center in the breathing body, thoughts mesmerized by the soothing rhythm or the soughing of wind in the leaves. Nature can soothe, like lapping water on the dock, or soft music: combine the two with a journal, some yoga and walking, an inspiring quote, and voila - a sacred space is created. Ritual also does this, by repeating a song or phrase, lighting a candle flame, walking in a labyrinth towards the center, ancient routines to entrain the wild horses, corral the mind into a focussed pattern.
What do we gain? a heat or pressure is created, and something shifts. Sometimes it's seismic, sometimes subtle, but we gain clarity or understand a problem in a new way. We may feel like nothing has happened on the surface, but clarity, like a strong focussed beam of light has just lit up a dark corner, illuminated an area of shadow.
If we are gentle with ourselves and trusting of the process, a retreat can be restful, rejuvenating, relaxing, even while we are focussed inwards. It does take effort to stay inside the container provided by a retreat. The container is created by the structure of the day, by the respect of the retreatants for the focus and concentration required - by the ritual activity or by the relaxed interior gaze of the questions posed in our journalling.
Time spent on retreat stretches, loses its shape, becomes eternal for a moment - then elastic, returns.
How to follow up on a retreat and put into practice the learnings made? Take baby steps, give yourself reminders to stop and breathe; regular practise is built over time by paying daily attention to our need. For instance, I need peace and quiet to reflect, so I build a time in my scheudle for meditation and writing, even if only fifteen minutes a day. I post reminders to myself on my mirror, and I write affirmations to help strengthen my resolve to be kind to myself. I practise paying attention, slowing down when I feel the rushing happening. I don't expect to transform myself overnight, but I listen to the impulse, the desire for peace, the desire for soul food. I pay attention to my hunger, and I feed it.
I am worthy of taking care of my inner needs, as well as my physical ones.
I deserve to experience this peace of mind.
I allow myself to take all the time I need.
Jenn, retreat leader