When I was in full-time employment, I didn’t think much about a self-care routine and I was too stingy to go on a retreat. It wasn’t the cost – there are as many retreats as there are budgets – it was the lack of vacation that held me back.
There was too much I wanted to pack into those short 20 days of annual leave. I didn’t want to waste them sitting in stillness, watching my breath. That sounded like a waste of time. And kinda boring.
What finally prompted me to do a retreat – a grueling 10-day Vipassana silent meditation retreat – was an emotional crisis. My life was in free fall and I needed space and time for quiet contemplation to come back to myself.
I arrived at the simple meditation centre in the hills behind Kandy – the spiritual heartland of Sri Lanka – with a heavy heart and a head full of misconceptions.
I’d expected to join a group of western Enlightenment seekers in flowing robes.
I was surprised that we were a small minority. Instead, for 10 days I watched Sri Lankan women practise self-care. They were housewives, teachers, farmers, one was a merchant banker, another a university professor.
They endured the long sessions of seated meditation with radiant smiles. Every morning they carefully made their beds and after lunch, they washed their clothes by hand. It was part of the ritual.
They’d come to give themselves the space and time for deep reflection, prayer and meditation. They were doing inner work. For many, it was an annual practice.
A spiritual retreat, I was told, is considered essential in Buddhism.
It made me think that maybe I’d figured it all wrong. What if those 20 days of annual leave were my chance to shift from busy doing mode to being mode? Slow down and simply be? Me?! Connecting with who I truly am, I learned, starts with breathing. Maybe it wasn’t that boring after all?
Since that first time, I’ve gone on many retreats in temples and meditation centres all over Asia, and I’ve come to treasure a retreat as an essential act of self-care.
Here are seven reasons why you should make a retreat part of your annual self-care routine:
1. Go on an inner journey of discovery
The word retreat comes from the Latin verb ‘to pull back, to withdraw.’ Going on a retreat is like hitting the pause button. It means stepping away from everything – your life, your routine, your family – for a weekend, a week, a month even. Whatever it takes, to connect with who we really are.
At a retreat centre, everything is taken care of for you. You don’t have to waste time and energy researching bus timetables, finding that hidden restaurant or even deciding how to spend the day. It is a more restful way to vacation and it frees you up to go on a deeper, inner journey.
2. A retreat is an important act of self-care
In our busy lives, we make time for the little acts of self-care. We get our hair done. We treat ourselves to a monthly Mani/Pedi, a massage even. But how often do we make time to nourish our true core, to add something transformational to our self-care routine?
A retreat is like taking your soul to the spa. Yoga retreats are so popular because they remind us to breathe. Daily life is so frenetic and fragmented, that we often forget to breathe.
On retreat, we slow down to the natural rhythm of life. Whether we’re wandering the rice fields of Bali notebook in hand, doing yoga on a beach of Nicaragua, or sitting cross-legged in a temple in Burma, the result is the same. We tune into nature and into ourselves.
3. Befriend your true self
I like to think of it as going on a date with yourself, a honeymoon even. By going on retreat you make time to befriend your true, unedited self.
The frantic pace of daily life can make us lose track of who we really are. A retreat doesn’t have to be a week of silence, but it should include some digital detox. By tuning out of our iPads and smartphones, by muting the constant chatter of social media, we give ourselves a chance to tune into ourselves. Stillness is a chance for deep listening inside ourselves.
4. A retreat can be deeply transformative
By going on retreat you step away from everything that is familiar and towards the unknown. For some of us, the idea of sitting still, unplugged and cut off from the daily information flow can be challenging. For others, the thought of spending time away from a busy city can be scary.
The fact that a retreat is outside your usual routine is the very reason it should be a part of your annual self-care routine!
Stepping out of our comfort zones is always challenging, but it is also a chance for deep transformation if we allow it.
5. Connect with your passion
You don’t have to go on a silent meditation retreat to challenge yourself to strip back the layers until you are face to face with your core. A writer’s retreat can be a profound experience in unlocking the creative potential inside you.
Whether it’s writing, photography, painting or yoga, a retreat has the power to awaken the fire within. To connect with what really tickles you.
Spending a week doing what you love, or have always wanted to do, is a way to connect with your creative flow and to discover your true potential.
6. Hang out with your tribe
At a retreat, you bond as a group. Spending time with a group of like-minded people creates an incredible synergy.
You make friends, you share your fears and you challenge each other to step out of your comfort zone.
I find that writing alongside others for an extended period of time, reading each others work, receiving feedback on my writing, saturates me with inspiration and creative energy until it’s time for another retreat.
7. A retreat is a long-term investment in your wellbeing
But isn’t it a bit self-indulgent to spend a week or longer on your own, away from your family or partner, you might ask? Not to mention the cost. Absolutely not!
Think of it as a long term investment in yourself. A form of life insurance. Its dividends will be paid in your emotional and physical wellbeing if you make it an essential part of your self-care routine. And that of those around you, because a happier you means happiness all around.
How do you feel about using your precious annual leave to go on a retreat? Join me in the comments below!
Ready to join me on a writing retreat?
If you’ve been thinking about going on retreat this year, check out our upcoming Blissful Bali Writing Retreat.