As we arrive at the winter solstice here in the southern hemisphere, schedules are heating up and busy-ness abounds for many. It’s a good time, before another month whizzes by, to take the momentum by the hand and S L O W THINGS D O W N.
How do you do that?
As well as all the usual suspects like checking what you’re saying Yes to that could be a No next time, going to bed a bit earlier and so on, a great way to take hold of the reins again is to actually stop. Pause. Rest. Reset.
Perhaps even for a whole day.
Having recently been away on a 6-day meditation retreat, it reminded me that for many people it’s not easy to take off for a week or even a weekend to be on retreat, and yet I’ve had many a nourishing retreat at home. You can too.
It’s totally possible to create a space for yourself to truly pause and recharge. Here are some suggestions for logistics, tools and what not to do … to have your very own retreat at home.
Make a date
Plan ahead if you can and put the day in your diary. It might be a weekend day, or you may have Friday’s off or I know Mum’s who have taken a day off work when the kids are at school. Do what works for you. Bottom line: put it in your diary.
How do you like it?
Each of us has a preference for how we like things to be arranged – some like a method and steps to follow, and others like to know they have options. Consider what your preference is here, and shape your day with this in mind. That means if you like having a methodology to follow, then plan your day to some degree so you can relax and simply move from one thing to another. If you like options, then treat the following ideas as a ‘menu’ for you to select from throughout your retreat day.
Create a space
If you don’t already have a meditation space, it’s nice to set up a corner of a room or a whole room in which to meditate and rest. You may like to place a candle and a flower in a vase there, and make a comfortable place to sit. I have a small altar at one end of my large bedroom, with a small comfortable chair and a folded blanket I put my feet on that I use for meditation. You might prefer to sit on a cushion. Be comfortable. This is sacred space in which to S T O P and B E.
On retreat day (or the night before) put the washing pile in a room and close the door. Put newspapers away. Turn off appliances you’re not using. Create a peaceful, restful environment that will allow you to R E S T.
Thich Naht Hanh says “Our minds, our bodies, and the spaces we live in are all related. Our inner space and our peace of mind are affected by our outer space… It’s hard for the mind to be peaceful when the body is not in a physical space that’s peaceful. When we have a peaceful space, then we can come back to our self.” – Making Space.
Creating space is also about claiming this day and letting people around you know that you are essentially unavailable. If you were on an actual retreat, you’d be away from home with your phone off (and possibly even out of cellphone range!) so consider re-creating this for yourself. If you have children at school who you need to be available for, you might put your phone to silent (without vibrate – which is not silent!) and check it every two hours for messages. Take the home phone off the hook. Put your voice mail on. Put your out of office on. This all sounds pretty obvious, but I am continually amazed at how little people utilise their technology to protect their time.
Your Retreat Day
Here are some key ingredients for a nourishing, restorative retreat day…
Morning intentions – as you wake up, take a few moments to set your intentions for the day – what would you like the day to do for you, and how would you like to be being in your day? Ask for what you need – your higher self will be standing by to hear you.
Meditation – start and finish your day with a meditation. I usually meditate soon after I get up (brush teeth, loo stop, glass of water – then sit) and then around 5-6pm before dinner or 8-8.30pm. If you already have a meditation practice, you will be all set. If you’re not accustomed to meditating or using relaxation practices, that will not matter. Just sit for 10 minutes. If you’re enjoying the stillness, stay a bit longer.
The simplest thing you could do is to simply follow your breathing for 3-6 counts in and out. It’s helpful to start with about 3 counts, then work your way up to 6-second breathing. Breathe 6 counts in, breathe 6 counts out. This settles your autonomic nervous system and brings balance to your body. For help with this, you can download a free recording of 6-second bells here from the mBraining website (look for ‘Balanced Breathing pacer mp3’s’ near the bottom of the page). It’s a very handy recording to have.
Guided meditations are also a nice option if you’re not used to sitting quietly yet, or would like an easy way to move into relaxation. I have created two relaxation mediations for this purpose – download them for free here.
You could simply sit and listen to beautiful meditation music – Jeff Clarkson does this wonderfully. He has a lovely free download here.
A useful app to support your meditation practice is Insight Timer (available for iPhone and Android). This app allows you to time your meditation if that helps you, and includes various guided meditations also. (Look our for my guided meditations there also – they are currently being added!).
Note: you do not have to meditate on your retreat day. Just bear in mind, your retreat day is not like other days, it’s a day for nourishing your mind, body and spirit. Sitting quietly will give you these things (even if you have a chattering mind while you do it).
Lovely pauses – as you move from one thing to another, perhaps from breakfast to taking a walk, take a lovely pause, breathing slowly in and out a few times to centre yourself and help your body and mind get ready for the next thing. This is worth doing after each activity or task.
Being present – What often distinguishes retreat time from our normal every day is being more present to what we are doing and where we are. We tend to slow down, take time to savour our meal, hear the birds, feel the breeze. Remember to bring this awareness and presence into your retreat day. Be with the fruit you’re slicing. Be with your cup of tea.
Feed me, Nourish me – Eating well is part of a good retreat experience, and it’s good to keep it simple too. Eat lightly – lots of vegetables, some fruit, foods that are easy on your digestion so your body can concentrate on resting and your spirit can come to the fore. Snack on nuts, fruit or raw treats (see recipe links below!).
Consider what will support your body and spirit to rest and relax – that means avoiding caffeine (tea and coffee), chocolate, alcohol, garlic and onions, loud noise. Don’t watch the news, read the paper or listen to the radio. There is a reason these things are not around at a retreat centre. You are letting go of the outside world, letting your senses rest, and allowing yourself to withdraw and go inward.
Talking with a client recently who had never had a ‘rest’ or ‘retreat’ day, I realised that it’s possible to feel quite stumped as to what to do on a retreat day. Firstly, you don’t need to do anything. And if you are someone who likes to be busy, gets bored easily and doesn’t rest easily, you’ll probably want to know you have some ‘things to do’ – but don’t be surprised if on the actual day you sink into the luxuriousness of not doing much at all! There are various ‘activities’ that can support your rest and bring nourishment throughout your retreat day. Here are some of the things that might include:
Walking meditation is a classic mindfulness practice that helps us practice being present whilst we are doing something – in this case, walking. Walking meditation is a much talked of practice by revered Zen Buddhist Monk, Thich Naht Hanh, who has written whole books about it. Simply walk around your living room or garden slowly, breathing with each step and feeling the sole of your foot arriving onto the ground each time.
Walking in nature is another way to enjoy your retreat day. That might be around your garden or in a nearby park. I love to have car-free days when I’m on retreat, so I try to walk straight from home rather than driving somewhere. Walk mindfully, aware of the trees, the breeze, sounds, smells. Everything around you. Some people when they have a day to themselves want to go running or biking to fit in their exercise. Bear in mind this will activate your sympathetic nervous system and your busy-chemicals, as opposed to your relaxation chemicals, so choose wisely if this will be best for you.
Reading is of course a lovely way to spend part of a retreat day. Mindfulness authors to look out for are Thich Naht Hanh, Pema Chodron, Tara Brach and Jon Kabat Zinn. Choose books that are mindful or spiritual in nature and that won’t cause you angst in some way. Read things that for you feel light, relaxing, positive, nourishing. A novel can be tempting, but it’s not always entirely restful. Remember, this is your retreat day – a special day.
Listening to a podcast or recording can be nice to do also. Loads to Google and check out (BEFORE your retreat day – be ready to go). Some suggestions are the teachings of Thich Naht Hanh, Tara Brach or the new podcast from the Wake Up project (some of their podcast episodes are particularly geared towards men and I also enjoyed them).
Yoga Nidra is a wonderful way to relax and can be deeply refreshing. A traditional relaxation practice, Yoga Nidra is usually marked by a ‘rotation of consciousness’ that has you travel around the body with your awareness to each finger, toe and limb, as well as a central message or learning. Plenty of these to Google (and some available on the Insight Timer app mentioned). This is one of my favourite tracks, from Swami Neel Kamal Saraswati of Mandala Yoga Ashram in Wales, UK. It’s quite a traditional Nidra and I enjoy the second track Yoga Nidra II, but listen to a few and see what resonates for you. Yoga Nidra download.
Sleep could also feature in your retreat day. Taking a nap is a great use of retreat time! At any time of the day, if you feel sleepy, S L E E P. It’s your parasympathetic nervous system slowing down and making the most of having this time to R E S T, so go with it. You will find the more you rest and recharge your system, the less you will need to sleep, but if you need it, do it.
Don’t let this become a to-do list. Even if you have a sense of what you’d like to include in your retreat day, be sure to tune in to your instincts on the day as to what you really need then.
Retreat with a friend
It can be very nice to collude with a friend or your partner for a home-based retreat day. You can spend the day together and perhaps agree a simple structure the day will take. I’ve also done this with a friend at the other end of the country. We agreed to sit and meditate at the same time in the morning and evening. We then spoke once during the day at an agreed time to share how we were doing. It was nice to know someone was sharing the practice with me.
A word on Resting
Many of us have a very sketchy relationship with rest. It’s often considered lazy, and we still hear people say, ‘Ahh, there’ll be plenty of time to rest when I’m dead’ (I think the word is sleep, but you get my drift). It’s just that for most of us, hopefully, dead is a long way off and in the meantime, rest is what can help determine the quality of the time between now and then. Rest is not lazy. It’s wise. And it takes effort; prioritising oneself – especially if you’re not in the habit of allowing yourself to rest.
We are human beings and resting allows us to BE. To gather ourselves. To take stock. To refresh. Writer, Poet, and rest-activist (my words), David Whyte says “To rest is to give up on the already exhausted will as the prime motivator of endeavour, with its endless outward need to reward itself through established goals. To rest is to give up on worrying and fretting and the sense that there is something wrong with the world unless we are there to put it right.”
Get what you need
Your retreat day at home may end up with you blobbed on the couch in front of two movies back to back (hopefully light, breezy feel-good ones), or a four-hour hike, or you may end up sleeping most of the day. There’s no right way to be on retreat. I can honestly say that I’ve spent whole days in bed while I’ve been on an actual retreat! And I needed it at the time. It was perfect. The trick is to take the time. For what, you will discover on the day.
Treat yourself. And do let me know what it’s like for you, to inspire others, and to share any tips you have for others to enjoy. And post below any further questions you might have.