For the second time in two years, I traveled from Texas to California to participate in a writing workshop and retreat called Djerassi, led by NYT best-selling author Nova Ren Suma. The first time I rode down the winding, tucked-away road to the ranch it was with a sense of exquisite wonder and disbelief. The land itself was stunning--redwoods climbing out of the soil and spilling away to reveal vast, rolling hills with golden grasses waving upon each crest. All of it stretching and stretching out toward a blue haziness in the distance we were told was the Pacific Ocean. Despite how happy I was to be arriving, I couldn't shake this sense of guilt about how much time I'd be spending away and how much money the retreat cost. Was all of this really worth it?
This second time, though, I came back knowing. I knew the curves and dips of the road. I knew the deer, whose ears flicked at my passing footsteps but who kept munching grass anyway, unafraid of my curious gaze. I knew the Artists' Barn--oh that wild, wonderful place where I'd written an incredible number of words the last time I was here. I knew the people. Those who work and live at the ranch and the writers who'd be returning with me. Most importantly, I knew how rejuvenated I'd feel at the end of my retreat.
A writing retreat might not be for everyone, but if you've never traveled anywhere for a retreat--one that speaks to your passions and interests--I can't recommend them enough. We all need time away, if only to appreciate the beauty and splendor of home upon returning. For me, here are the top three long-lasting benefits to attending a retreat.
You Have a Rock-Solid Excuse to Ignore the Internet
I love social media and the Internet, and I'm not shy about proclaiming this love.
That being said, it's quite wonderful to step away. At Djerassi, the Internet is barely functional, and I had one dot of cell service the whole time. It turned out to be absolutely amazing for my self-care. I could check my email to make sure nothing important had come through, but otherwise, it wasn't even worth it to try and check Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or Snapchat. My feeds would sit there for eternity trying to load. After the first few hours of this, I gave up and decided to enjoy my completely valid excuse not to check social media.
Same goes for any retreat, whether you have WiFi and phone reception or not. You're pretty wrapped up in activities, relaxation, and your fellow attendees. It's easy to put the phone and computer away when you're supposed to be disconnected.
While away, you can relax. Social media will be fine without you.
A Retreat Allows You to Let Go of Guilt
At this very moment, here are a "few" things I feel guilty for.
I feel guilty for abandoning the work-from-home schedule I set up for myself this week. I feel guilty for not getting any writing done in the past few days. I feel guilty because the cats' water bowl was empty this morning. I feel guilty for watching too much TV (damn you, Supernatural). I feel guilty because my car's registration is wildly out of date. I know I shouldn't feel guilty for all of this, so I feel guilty for feeling guilty!
This is just a fraction of the guilt I feel, and it's already way too much for one person to carry around.
If you experience this kind of everyday guilt, here's how you navigate around it while on your retreat. First, you request the time off work. Second, you tell friends and family you'll be mostly out of touch. Third, you simply go to your retreat. By explaining in advance what the deal is and carving out the much-needed space for ourselves away from everything, we can let go of any guilt we're holding on to for unfinished tasks. A retreat allows us to put ourselves in a position where, momentarily, we can't take care of responsibilities, even if we want to, and that does wonders for easing a guilty conscience and allowing you to fully enjoy your time.
You Will Form Lifelong Friendships
This is the number-one takeaway I've experienced from both of my Djerassi retreats.
There are three women in particular who've transcended the title of "writing friend" to just plain friend--Susan Bishop Crispell, Rebekah Faubion, and Jessica Fonseca. We first met through an online writing course (also led by Nova), but since then we've kept in touch, become trusted critique partners for one another, and cheered each other along our respective writing journeys. This past retreat was the first time we've all four been in the same place at the same time.
The thing is, even though we live in different cities, I go to them when I'm stressed, when I need to vent, when I want to brainstorm, or when something incredible happens in my life. And they do the same with me. It just goes to show that when people are drawn together because of something they're all passionate about, it tends to create special, long-lasting bonds between them.
Sometimes spending money on a retreat feels like an unnecessary indulgence. Or if money's not an issue, even just spending the time away can bring on questions of "Is this worth it?" But I'm a firm believer in self-love and attending a retreat (one that's right for you) can completely transform you on the inside. The money and time I spent are nothing compared to the incredible brilliance I felt blazing inside me upon returning home from Djerassi both times I went.
My hope for everyone is that we all have an opportunity for this kind of deep rest and renewal on our travels.
You can find the full version of this story on Model Behaviors.