As 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 and what better time to kick start your year then at the start of a new year?
Going away on a retreat can help you gain much-needed perspective on your life. Though, 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.
This January, I am going to Esalen in breathtakingly beautiful Big Sur, California, and though I am teaching a weekend workshop on how to "Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice," I am also looking forward to connecting with my own sense of who I am, what matters to me, and identifying those daily internal dialogues that get in my way.
So why is a retreat so different from taking time at 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? The answer is lots of reasons, and here are just a few of them:
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 city slickers, 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 world in almost every way imaginable, with this worldwide 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 a part of an experience, and not just a passive student in a class. You have the chance to make new 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.
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 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 more money, build stronger relationships, and bring 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.
Read more from Dr. Lisa Firestone at PsychAlive.org