This August, I was very lucky to spend two weeks at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire. It is a venerable and prestigious retreat facility that supports artists, writers, musicians and other creatives to spend uninterrupted time working. And work I did. I accomplished a lot. But the best part for me was having a studio cottage in the woods with no one else around.
They assign everyone a work studio plus a private bedroom in a group house. But I chose to sleep in my isolated writer's room instead. I craved solitude and silence after a trying year for me personally, as well as for many friends and clients and for the world as a whole. For me, the sure fire remedy for burn out is a solo retreat. And here I was, alone, surrounded by trees and absolute quiet. Free to sleep, to dream, to read, to write, to drink tea, to meditate and do yoga. Thank you MacDowell for this remarkable gift!
Soul searching, like the practice of any devotion, requires solitude, quiet, and quality time. But life is hectic and our inner needs have often been relegated to the bottom of our endless to-do lists, our dreams and desires deferred, left on the back burner to simmer. More than a hundred years ago, Florence Nightingale observed: "Women never have a half-hour in all their lives (excepting before or after anybody is up in the house) that they can call their own, without fear of offending or of hurting someone. Why do people sit up so late, or, more rarely, get up so early? Not because the day is not long enough, but because they have no time in the day to themselves."
In bed at night in my cozy forest den, I read for perhaps the one hundred billionth time, A Gift From the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. It is the holy bible of my retreats. It inspires and enriches my seasonal times of solitude. One of my favorite lines: "I find there is a quality to being alone that is incredibly precious. Life rushes back into the void, richer, more vivid, fuller than before." This is absolutely the case.
Every year I retreat to some extent and fast to some degree for a one-to-two week period around my birthday, and ideally, six months later, during which time I devote myself entirely to purifying my body, my home, my thoughts, my emotions, my intentions. No talking. No contact. No media. Not even any music. I always think I will want to listen to Celtic harps or Tibetan chanting or Mongolian throat singing, but I never do. All I want is silence. Shhhh. I am listening to my inner voice.
My introspective ritual is my way to center myself. To sharpen my focus, realign my perspective and rededicate myself to living the very best life I can. I emerge with energy and enthusiasm, my path reconsecrated with purpose, passion and power. I cherish these times out of time that I reserve for my Self -- slow and silent times of going within to see and hear and feel and know what I might. This ceremonial practice is essential to my sanity and is completely non-negotiable. Retreating has been the centerpiece of my Sacred Spirit Survival Support System for more than 40 years and counting. As Morrow counsels: "Woman must come of age by herself... She must find her true center alone." Marion Woodman, the Jungian analyst, writer, and specialist in feminine development research, calls this process, "coming home to ourselves."
By taking the time, by taking our time, we bless ourselves with true devotion. We consecrate our precious lives, and celebrate the continuously wondrous miracle of the unfolding of our Selves.When we carve out a niche in our busy lives to do the sorts of things that feed our soul, we are affirming our Self-worth, acknowledging that we crave and deserve our own undivided attention. When we claim the psychic space and set aside the personal time to pursue the knowledge and mastery of our Self -- when we assume the entitlement, the ability, and the authority to do so - we are able to access and transform our perceptions, our perspectives, our experience, our expectations, and, in the process, our entire reality.
" How inexplicable it seems. Anything else will be accepted as a better excuse. If one sets aside time for a business appointment, a trip to the hairdresser, a social engagement or a shopping expedition, that time is accepted as inviolable. But if one says: I cannot come because that is my hour to be alone, one is considered rude, egotistical or strange. What a commentary on our civilization, when being alone is considered suspect; when one has to apologize for it, make excuses, hide the fact that one practices it - like a secret vice!"
- Anne Morrow Lindbergh, A Gift From the Sea