Retreat!! Retreat!!

I know my call despite my faults

And despite my growing fears.

~”The Cave,” Mumford & Sons

From Jeffrey Davis–writer, creative consultant, Tracker of Wonder and instigator par excellence–comes this food for thought. If you’re a writer or creative of any kind–even if you’re a person who simply wants to live a life with more wonder and less frustration–these are questions worth mulling over.

……we as a people are working ourselves to death, but where are we going? A real retreat is not a time to pamper yourself at a spa. That’s something else called self-care. A real retreat is an artful, intentional action of stepping out of your daily life’s river and into a space to contemplate, create, and envision.

 #LiveTheQuest – 11:
How will you retreat regularly this year to advance your project? #retreat
 Consider your commitment to retreat and to put the “artistry” in your business artistry this year. How regularly will you retreat? For how long each time? Can you commit to a monthly rhythm and a quarterly rhythm? What kinds of simple arrangements can you prepare to assure it happens? What’s your secret fear of actually doing this, and how can you shift that fear into more curiosity?

In the private Facebook forum for #Quest2015, Jeffrey opened the discussion by making it clear that “retreat” doesn’t necessarily mean what we think it does at first glance.

At first glance, I read the word “retreat” and thought, “Retreat! Fall back! Pull back the troops!”

I’m a bit overwhelmed by life lately. The first impression he was talking about is retreat as escape to some exotic locale. But a retreat, Jeffrey explained, is not necessarily that. It doesn’t have to be big and flashy, something that’s easily encapsulated in a drool-worthy Facebook post or self-satisfied tweet.

A retreat is soul-work, and it can happen right where you are.

So, there was this girl. She was kind of a mess, but she was not afraid of flying and she was in love with everything. The world was a source of wonder and adventure was constantly possible.

She left for Costa Rica on a frozen day in early February. As the 747 hurtled down the runway, she gloried in the hard fast tug of defying gravity. After another flight and a breakfast of sun-warmed pineapple, she boarded an Indiana Jones-style plane that the pilot flew one-handed because he needed his other hand to hold the broken window shut. Looking down through the clouds, she watched San Jose disappear and learned what it is to slip the bounds of human habitation and disappear into the wilderness.

In rainforest and cloud forest, dry forest and city, she had a thousand adventures. There were illegal gold miners and snobby grad students, howler monkeys and a fer-de-lance, a three-flippered sea turtle laying eggs by the light of a full moon and sunsets that broke her heart. She swam a flooded beach at midnight and got lost in the jungle with an injured friend. She learned that a jaguar will kill an entire group of animals by silently picking off the ones at the back. She learned that packs of men yelling “Eh, gringa!” on twilight streets are more frightening than jaguars or venomous snakes, but not quite as frightening as a Great White Hunter wannabe who pokes said snake with a stick “so you can get a better picture of him!”

She made it home changed utterly, and then she did it again. This time, she went to London to study theater. There, she had tea in a crypt and managed not to get caught in the crossfire when the IRA broke the ceasefire and bombed the city. She wore pigeons on her head, and was mistaken for a boy by a lovely and (hopefully) short-sighted old man at the Tower of London. She stood on the bones of history and listened to children’s voices pierce the inscrutable air of Westminster, their notes sifting down over the tombs of poets and kings.

She traveled, this girl. She saw thunderstorms in the Grand Tetons and ate lobster in a roadside shack in Maine. She nearly froze her feet off in February in Montreal, where she learned that heels are not the walking shoe of choice. She saw petrified forests and watched the sun rise over Cadillac Mountain.

Growing up, getting married, having children–these are adventures, too. But when these things happen, you change. You make different choices. And sometimes fear sets in, when you suddenly have something to lose. The little hobgoblins move into your head and set up their soft chattering–so low at first that you cannot really hear them. They are a sound just beyond the range of hearing, an ultraviolet light on the spectrum of a day’s motions. Over time, so gradually you cannot name a point at which it all began, they cast their binding spells on you

I miss that girl. But I think she’s still in here somewhere, asleep and waiting–not for a prince’s kiss, but for her future self to wake her up.

I’m going looking for her.

That is what retreat means for me right now–not a surrender to the vicissitudes of time and chance, but a conscious withdrawing from the chatter of the world and a diving inward. I need to do some soul-work, and I need to start now. Since I’m a writer, and only very partially employed, the only one who can grant me a sabbatical is me. I’m going to lie down where all the ladders start, in the rag and bone shop of my own heart, no matter how cluttered and dark and dingy it is in here, no matter how many teetering patchwork monoliths of the past threaten to come crashing down on me.

I’ve been mulling this over for almost a week now, and I’ve decided that what I need in this moment is a little withdrawal, a little self-care. Not indulgent self-care–I’m talking about a “come-to-Jesus” meeting. Just me and that girl. We need to hash some stuff out. I need to know where she’s been all this time, and she needs to teach me a few things.

So I’m taking a social media sabbatical, eliminating the distractions I turn to for easy validation, for a way to kill time, for an excuse not to do the work I’m called to do. My plan is to abstain from all the social media I use–Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and the blogosphere–for the month of April.

I’m sure it won’t be easy, but this intention feels incredibly healthy. And while I’m keeping company with my own self (shudder), I’m going to do some more work on figuring out how to make meaningful retreat a regular and viable part of my world.

I’m excited.

I hope there will be snakes.

Recommended reading for the creative soul: Jeffrey’s excellent article on in-house retreats, published by Psychology Today.

17 thoughts on “Retreat!! Retreat!!

  1. What a beautiful post. It made me cry, especially having just written during this morning’s first weekly retreat how much I need to dial back the input, especially from social media, but also from regular media. Starting this week I will be significantly limiting my computer time (as much as I can and still get the work that pays the bills done). We share a space despite inhabiting different spaces.

    1. Oh, darlin’, big huge hugs to you! And best wishes in your endeavor. You can do it! You are mighty. And you do good work that needs the chance to get out there in the world. Darn those bills…..Anyway, I’m honored to share space with you.

  2. I think this is wonderful, Brenna. May you find what you need in your retreat! I’ll be thinking about you and wishing you well. 🙂

    1. Thanks so much, Sue! Maybe once I get back I’ll be able to figure out why WordPress doesn’t want to let me comment on your blog. O.o I’ve written several comments over the past couple of weeks, none of which have gone through for some reason. Time for a technology break!

      1. That’s really weird! I haven’t seen you showing up in my spam folder, so I guess it just ate your comments. 😦 Thanks for letting me know – I wonder if something’s up at my end! Strange…and hopefully cleared up for when you get back. Enjoy your April!

        1. Thanks, Sue! I just wanted you to know that I’m reading and loving your posts, as always, despite the fact that as I have always suspected, technology has it in for me!

  3. Another dazzling post, Brenna – so glad our paths have crossed via Jeffrey Davis – you’re an inspiration.

    1. Thanks so, so much. Connecting with other people’s hearts and minds is what this writing thing is all about, and it makes all the discouragements and frustrations more than worth it.

  4. So, while there with the snakes and wonder, you come up with a piece of writing you’d like to get out in to the world, send it to me. I will post your work on LLD. I would LOVE to have a guest blog post from you. That way, your work circulates while you mull, ponder, reflect and watch the reflections in spring puddles. I am thrilled you are taking a break. 100% with you. xooxoxS

    1. Wow, Suzi, thanks so much! I would be honored to write something for LLD. If you’ll let me know what sort of thing/length works best for you, I will get crackin’ on it. 🙂

  5. Brenna: Your description of Costa Rica was eerily similar to my experience there when I spent 8 weeks on a very big RETREAT! RETREAT! following my husband’s bout with testicular cancer (he’d been diagnosed after 6 months of marriage – yikes!) When he was well enough to go back to work, I quit my horrible job with the intent to learn Español while unemployed. That trip had very little to do with learning Spanish, although I did attend classes daily and came home knowing a helluvalot more than I did when I left. That trip was about me finding myself again, and my husband learning how to stand on his own two feet again, and the two of us redefining what our relationship would be moving forward. A lot for one little trip to the jungles of Costa Rica. I’m happy to say that it worked. I applaud your choice to take a retreat from social media for the month of April, and I might be inspired to do the same soon. My life has been nutso the past month or so, and I’ve gotten precious little time – or should I more correctly say – I’ve GIVEN precious little time to doing the work that matters. I made a commitment to myself that 2015 would produce the first crap draft copy of my book, and if I don’t do something NOW!, I will not be able to honor that commitment. And now, I’ve said it aloud to you. Crap. Okay – I’m with you – dropping social media for the month of April. I’ll check in with you on the other side and we can compare notes. Go find that girl – she’s in there still, I can tell!

    1. Go, Barb, go!!! Wow, what a crazy ride you and your husband have had. I hope the howler monkeys were kind. Great point about the distinction between getting and giving time to your work. I’ve been not-so-stellar at this lately, too. Here’s to a focused and magical April. We will make that T. S. guy eat his words!

  6. I think all forms of retreat are worth considering ( however, we define it) as long as they move us forward and not back. Retreating often brings about awareness and connection which is never a bad thing….Good luck Brenna. Nicky 🙂

  7. Oh dear! This is precious and perfect. You make everything hit and resonate just so. Good luck on your sabbatical, and good luck with the hobgoblins!

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