This is a guest post by Sarah Stevenson. As someone who has always puts too much on her plate (yes, I’m still learning that lesson!), I love hearing her tips in starting your own retreat practice – and the fact that it’s self-contained!
Photo Credit: Sarah Stevenson
About eleven years ago, I was sitting in a massage chair getting a pedicure and reached over to pick up a book to read while I was enjoying some quiet time. The book: “Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy” by Sarah Ban Breathnach was intriguing as it described what, I think for women, can sometimes be a difficult task in their own lives: finding joy, happiness, comfort and developing ritual. I was immediately drawn into the pages and after the pedicure went out and purchased the book for myself.
What was so intriguing about it was that it was set up with something simple to do each day of the year in order to help you form and develop a more authentic self. For the first year, I took notes, developed practices and tried out many of the projects that were set forth in the book. In addition, I started a journal that was specifically related to what I read, what I was feeling and how I wished to move into a more authentic life with myself. After the year was over, I put away the book and did not look at it again until recently. What was so interesting to me was that the discussions in the book are still things eleven years later that I was seeking in my own life, yet again.
My main interest was to develop some kind of personal retreat or ritual surrounding time for myself. The stack of books by my bedside table had grown to include: “The Gift of the Sea” by Anne Morrow Lindburgh, “The Women’s Retreat Book” by Jennifer Louden and of course “Simple Abundance”. The message in all these books was the same, finding time for oneself through ritual is difficult but essential as a woman moves forward in her life.
Photo Credit: Sarah Stevenson
What lessons could I take from each of them and how could I develop a personal ritual that could be shared with others?
Today, I will be sharing 5 lessons that I learned that were helpful to me in to starting my own personal retreat practice.
As you move forward in your life, personal time and space becomes less and less available but your mind, body and soul require it more and more frequently in order to allow renewal and rebirth to take place.
In our busy, busy lives it is sometimes easy to forget that we need to recharge and regroup and our mind, body and soul really need space in order to allow recharging to occur. A personal retreat is just that – space for your mind, body and soul to renew and regenerate and it allows you time to set new ideas and new paths and direction into place.
You must prepare and set an intention for the retreat and ritual.
Simply writing out your aspirations and asking yourself where you would like to go, is enough at the beginning. Keeping it simple will help you begin. Also giving yourself the gift of time – start with 1/2 and hour and then move towards a longer retreat as you grow more comfortable. Deciding how and when retreat will fit into your schedule is also important. If you must, schedule it in your calendar like you do with everything else as it will make you more accountable to achieve the time and space.
You must create a ceremony surrounding your retreat.
As women, I think we generally love ceremony. I know one of my favorite things is to fully prepare for parties, right down to the color of the napkin on the table. Use this opportunity to create something that makes you feel really special. Create a space that is used just for special ceremony and personal, private ritual. My space includes: rosary beads, a wish bowl, pictures of my children, a cross and some art that really speaks to my inner soul. If you are not religious, use this opportunity to define items that are spiritual to you and speak to you on a higher level.
You must find a space for the retreat that is sacred to you.
I enjoy the outdoors, I love walking in my neighborhood and driving into the mountains whenever I need space to breath. Your special space can be a simple as you wish but make sure it is somewhere you enjoy and can go to easily if you need to take time for yourself. In this space, you will prepare and set your intention, create a private ceremony to get you into a more relaxed space and it will be used to spend your time reflecting upon whatever has brought you to the moment.
After the retreat is completed you must allow space to fully re-enter your daily life knowing that something has changed with-in you.
I am personally not so good at this one. It is something I continually work at as I grow older. When you spend time on yourself, you must also be able to shift back into your normal schedule and continue on with daily life. Sometimes, I want to remain in my retreat and renewal mode because it feels good. By bringing some of the tools you have gathered in your time to yourself you can start to transition them into your daily life as well. Breathing is one for me. If I feel stress beginning to build, I will automatically start to take on longer and deeper breaths in order to help calm myself and bring myself back to the present task.
The last piece that rounds out the personal retreat for me is a retreat kit.
A retreat kit can be a basket, a special bag, or any type of vessel to hold items to be used during the retreat ceremony. My kit includes the following items:
- a sketchbook/notebook
- a favorite pen and markers
- a camera
- a special book, like the ones I mentioned above
- a snack (chocolate is my go to here – 365 brand milk chocolate-use this as a time to indulge and get something that makes you feel good)
- a bottle of water
- items for ceremony as mentioned above
- a blanket
- something to sit on if you wish
By starting simply and giving yourself time to begin and explore, you will find special moments and special practices that help you grow in a more authentic self. For further reading on ritual and creating a more authentic life, the books mentioned above are a great start. All can be found through amazon.com or a local bookstore.
Thanks so much to Michelle for being a cheerleader in my own journey and for allowing me space today to share pieces of that journey with you.
All my best,
This hasn’t always been the case.
In a former life, I led interior design projects for some of the top interior design and architecture firms in Chicago. Like many artists just starting out, I craved a challenging and collaborative environment, where my creativity would blossom. Just like so many of you, I found the reality to be a bit more complicated.
Did I work on creative projects? Yes. In one such project, I was in charge of a staff of 20 and managing over 1 million square feet of office space redesign, furniture redesign, construction and move coordination of more than 3,000 employees. For another, I was chosen to design a learning environment from start to finish. Not only did I have a project that allowed my creativity to show, architectural photographer, Hedrich Blessing, photographed it.
I also worked long hours, often 90 or 100 hours in a week. I moved up very quickly, but I never had the space for my own creativity and art exploration.
Does that sound familiar?
As artists, we gravitate towards creatively challenging work environments, only to find they drain our energy.
That’s why I now dedicate my work to helping artists and creative people in all fields carve out space in their day. I help you allow time for your own creative explorations — no matter how many hours a week you work.
photo credit: Andrea Scher (Tea House Studios – Berkeley, Ca.)