Space to think, uninterrupted, has drawn for me since at least my early teen years, when my favorite place was a large rock in the middle of the creek in the woods behind our house, where I would sit, write, and listen to the moving water. I was entranced by the idea of Thoreau’s Walden life, and years later, by the seaside cottage of Gift From the Sea. Most people don’t have the option of taking a year off to build a cabin, explore nature, and write, and even a week of calm solitude can be unrealistic – I know it is for me. But thinking about the internal and external space that this would offer has me contemplating how I could create some similar space in my upcoming weeks.
I have memories of retreat-like days. Once while traveling, I was snowbound for an afternoon in a hotel. It was lovely. I read and wrote and thought, uninterrupted, for hours. A retreat need not be solitary or academic. When I was a grad student, burned out from exams, thesis research, and winter, I spent a weekend helping my parents paint a barn. The gentle labor in the spring sunshine left me refreshed and ready to return to books and lab. More recently, Thom, Mari, and I had a weekend retreat at a friend’s cabin. We like to go there in the off season, when the lake is quiet, even if the weather is unpleasant, because that increases the coziness and pushes each of us to the activities for which we rarely find time when at home.
What gets in the way of doing this at home? Even on a weekend, there are all the activities. Driving someone here or there, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, getting ready for the workweek, fixing whatever has recently broken in the house, car upkeep, etc, etc, etc. So a retreat at home requires planning, first of all – to choose a day in advance and prepare for it to be as quiet as possible.
Preparing for a retreat at home
- Give permission: time for deep work and contemplation is as important as the time spent on all those other activities. The reason we don’t do it more often is that it has no deadline associated with it. Give yourself permission to take a day off from everything.
- Choose the day to minimize disruptions: a day that everyone can linger around the house in pajamas is ideal.
- Share the plan: it’s nice If everyone in the house would like to participate, and makes interruptions less likely.
- Plan meals in advance for easy reheating and cleanup: cook double a couple of nights during the week and put the extra meal in the freezer, in a container that is reheating-ready. In addition to saving time cooking, cleanup is greatly reduced on nights these meals are served.
- Do essential cleaning and chores during the few evenings prior to the planned retreat. Tidy surroundings are more peaceful, and it’s nice to know that everything is done.
- Be flexible. I was preparing for Sunday to be a retreat day, but some urgencies disrupted the weekend. It is what it is. There will be another weekend that will work.