The Unselfish Gift of Going on a Retreat

mindfulnessAs any of you still shopping for that perfect present for that certain someone knows, this time of year is designed for thinking about others. Thoughts of getting away or doing something for yourself seem, at best, foreign and, at worst, selfish.

Odd as it may seem, taking real, quality time to “escape” from your everyday routine and reflect on your own life is actually one of the best things you can do for the people who matter in your life. Adding a retreat to your agenda is a healthy act of rejuvenation and revitalization. It can help you assess what’s important and gain much-needed perspective. And while the distressed critic in your head may shout at you that you are just trying to get away from your responsibilities, problems, and commitments, a productive retreat will truly do just the opposite.

With this in mind, what better time to kick start your year then at the start of a new year? This January, I am teaching a weekend CE workshop on how to “Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice,” at Esalen in breathtakingly beautiful Big Sur, California. Although I’ll be teaching this workshop, I am also looking forward to connecting with my own sense of who I am, what matters to me, and identifying and overcoming those daily internal dialogues that get in my way.

Granted there are always many reasons to stay home to take on those dusty to-do lists, those pesky New Year’s resolutions, or those personal goals of spending more time with your partner or your children. Yet, there are many reasons why a retreat will benefit you and those you love in the long run. Here are just a few of them:

Nature helps

The poet William Blake once wrote, “Great things are done when men and mountains meet. This is not done by jostling in the street.” Whether we consider ourselves tree huggers or urban dwellers, most of us inevitably surrender to scenes of absolute, natural beauty. Connecting to nature through a retreat like Esalen is primitive in the best possible way, dipping us down to earth, while making us feel like we’re in heaven. Even the most loquacious of individuals have gone quiet over an astounding view, and even the most social of butterflies have sat alone to watch a butterfly. Setting our overwhelming goals aside and getting out in beauty has a powerful way of quieting us and attuning us to ourselves, setting the stage for an inner evolution or motivation to change.

Unplug to reconnect

At Esalen you learn to live for a brief moment away from your phone. If this caused your heart to skip a beat, as it ever so slightly does to mine when I first imagine it, then, chances are, you could use some time away from your phone. When you unplug from technology, you are forced to be fully present and living socially, face to face – without Facebook. You are forced to get outside of the distractions that typically crowd your mind and enjoy the empty space that allows you to think. This is the perfect state to get to know yourself better, to think about what truly lights you up and to reconnect with those aspects of yourself.

Think locally, act locally

A recent study posed that, throughout history, those who lived in a group of 100 people experienced the most cultural success and social peace. Though there are benefits of being connected to the rest of the world, with this connection comes many inputs that cause us stress and sidetrack us from achievable change. Getting away from the News, the traffic, and the things that render us small and powerless to the forces of the outside world helps us shed heavy self-protective layers and relate to our present surroundings. At Esalen, you eat phenomenal food that’s grown in the garden, you sit in a spa that overlooks the ocean, and you live in the moment, simply because there is nowhere else to live.

Say goodbye to your inner critic

On a retreat such as those offered at Esalen, you are not just a passive student in a class. Rather, you’re part of an experience. You have the chance to make friends and actively take on a new perspective toward yourself. In this unfamiliar setting, you are no longer defined by such things as how you dress or what you do for a living. Away from these categorizations, you can identify the negative thoughts that are influencing your behavior in your daily life. How much time do you typically spend tearing apart your appearance, stressing over your performance at work, or overanalyzing the ins and outs of your relationship? It is much easier to recognize and combat those feelings when you are out of your routine life. Our workshop will provide the opportunity to recognize this inner critic. And with the support of a group, the experience will help you practice challenging your critical inner voices.

When you identify this inner critic and make a conscious effort to separate from it, you can actually get closer to your partner, be a better parent to your kids, and achieve more success at work. Once distanced from this self-critical point of view, you are reduced to who you really are, and inevitably you will feel more fulfilled and confident.

Get away from your world and closer to your goals

Going on a retreat naturally removes you from thoughts of what you should be doing and allows you to just be. When you get away from the constant flood of “shoulds,” you begin to experience your true wants and desires, which allows you to pursue what really matters to you. The uniqueness of the experience and the perspective it allows you to gain on yourself can actually be measured in the results the experience yields. Research shows that professors who go on sabbatical bring in more money, build stronger relationships, and offer more prestige to their university.

Sometimes in the business of our lives we forget that taking a break and slowing down can actually make us more effective. Businesses that send their employees on a retreat see happier, more productive staffs. Couples who go away (together or separately) learn valuable and lasting tools in keeping their relationship strong. Parents who take time for themselves are more available and attuned to their children. The excuses to not get away, like you need to spend time with family or get practical affairs in order, will often do you less good in the long run than taking the time for yourself to become who you strive to be and returning home to actually be it.



About the Author

Lisa Firestone, Ph.D. Dr. Lisa Firestone is the Director of Research and Education at The Glendon Association. An accomplished and much requested lecturer, Dr. Firestone speaks at national and international conferences in the areas of couple relations, parenting, and suicide and violence prevention. Dr. Firestone has published numerous professional articles, and most recently was the co-author of Sex and Love in Intimate Relationships (APA Books, 2006), Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice (New Harbinger, 2002), Creating a Life of Meaning and Compassion: The Wisdom of Psychotherapy (APA Books, 2003) and The Self Under Siege (Routledge, 2012). Follow Dr. Firestone on Twitter or Google.

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