By Josh Cabral, MS, LMHC
Being a behavioral health therapist, I’ve been forced to develop rhythms of escape. One that I’ve really benefited from over the years has been visiting monasteries for emotional and spiritual retreats. The benefits that I’ve reaped from this practice are amazing. The list below is definitely not exhaustive but here are few of the reasons a spiritual retreat may just be the thing you need to attain some much needed balance in your life.
The most obvious benefit is relaxation. Ideally we wouldn’t all need a physical, geographical retreat just to experience some much needed rest. Sadly, many of us do. I have places in my house, yard, office that can be very calming. However, if I’m honest, this is interrupted peace at best. It is a slow leak that inevitably results in a torrent of busy racing thoughts . I’ll tell myself that I am going to stay present but it is not long at all before I am thinking about that email that I need to return, those therapy notes I have to finish, or when I will need to mow the lawn next. Distraction doesn’t accurately enough describe the constant gnawing of everyday life. There is something about the powerlessness and disconnectedness of being “away” that makes us lean into the present and finally let go.
You don’t need to be a therapist to be assailed by people. Even extroverts cannot help but be depleted by friends’ and family’s emotional struggles, poor boundaries, difficult personalities, etc. Surrounding yourself with healthy people is a great start but life is complicated and relationships require time and attention. This is different than isolation or running away from life. Being alone and being lonely are two very different things. Solitude helps us get away to realign our mind, body, and spirit enough to go back into our world energized and hopeful. Remember, complete wellness requires a healthy balance of community and solitude.
If you’re anything like me, you could have the propensity to struggle with “shiny object syndrome”. This is when you have the greatest idea that has ever been conceived and feverishly start planning it. Unfortunately six minutes later you have the ACTUAL greatest idea ever and start planning that. This process repeats ad infinitum and you actually accomplish nothing or very little. Getting away from the constant push to “produce” has a simplifying effect that lets only the ideas that most challenge and excite us rise to the top. A retreat helps all the distractions fall away so you are free to work on the projects that are most inviting to you. As an added bonus, this causes us to actually follow through, making us our most productive selves.
Being away from our routines, comforts, and amenities, is difficult. I don’t particularly consider myself who is unhealthily attached to my phone, internet, etc. I have to admit though, when I got to the monastery and saw the dreaded “No Service” indicator on my cell, I panicked. It was extremely discomforting to not be able to check in on the world that I left behind. After the initial anxiety subsided though, I was able to see even those small comforts as a blessing. This opened the door for me to look at my life through a lens of gratitude and genuinely appreciate all that I have on a deeper level than I would ever be able to in the midst of everyday life.
Finally, in that separateness and that state of mind, body, and spirit balance it almost feels that all the things in my life just fall into place. I stop trying to juggle all the different roles that I play in life, all the responsibilities of everyday, and I remember what things really matter. I remember the things that I am working so hard for and I’m able to get some much needed perspective on whether or not these are things that contribute to my wholeness or the wholeness of those I care most about. When everything is stripped away I’m able to clearly see those things that are vital to me such as faith, family, friends, and all the other blessings that I would gladly squander in pursuit of more trivial things I don’t necessarily need or even particularly want.
Perhaps you are an experienced retreatant or you have been on the fence for a while about adopting a practice like this. Tailor your time in the way that is most inviting to you whether it is a trip to the country, a view of the ocean, or even something a little less remote if that works for you. However don’t wait for opportunity to do this because it will remain just out of your grasp. Stop looking for a convenient time to withdraw and just get away for a bit. You won’t regret it.
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