The secret to retreat
The difference between leisure and luxury, and a giveaway of The Evangelical Imagination!
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The difference between luxury and leisure
Have you ever come back from a holiday—or even a luxurious spa day or other leisurely activity (what is the male analogue of a spa day—a fishing trip?)—feeling tired and unfulfilled?
When I’ve reflected on why this is the case, I’ve realized it’s because the activities stayed at the luxury level, or meeting the needs of the body alone, and I lacked the attitude of leisure—an all-encompassing disposition of rest that engages mind, body and spirit, all.
These last seven months have been some of the most challenging of my life, as I shared in the last CR issue.
Half of our home was destroyed in a flood, and most of our belongings with it. Dealing with the aftermath of this crisis has been an ever- present part of my life. Insurance. Contractors. Estimators. Appraisers. Tradespeople of every stripe. This, on top of finishing a TV series, a book, and also raising our two young children, now ages 1.5 and 3.
Despite this chaos, I’m grateful to say that I’ve been able to find moments of supreme beauty and joy—in my kids, work, and even in re-designing the home.
I have, though, desperately craved quiet, stillness and peace.
I finally found it when I went completely off the grid last week. I forced myself to go on retreat. I was burnt out. I was empty. I had nothing left in me. No more fight, energy, will.
Life is difficult, and sometimes we need a radical break from the world in order to refresh, restore, and replenish our mind, body and spirit.
I’ve found that it’s easy to go too long ignoring our needs for restoration.
Retreat may seem like a luxury. But it’s not. Doing it right, it'’s not just resting and indulging the needs of the body. Though physical rest is an important part of retreat, alone it isn’t enough.
True retreat—and true leisure—involves resting the mind, spirit, and soul by slowing down and sitting in stillness.
While luxury—the lavish trip or spa day—stays at the level of the body, leisure meets the need for rest of the mind, body and spirit in unison.
(This is how the Greeks conceived leisure in their word scholē—which is the root of our modern word school—which was a means of cultivating the fullness of our humanity through unstructured self-cultivation and pursuits.)
To retreat literally means to “pull back.”
And that’s just what I did.
My parents graciously offered to watch my children, and I went to a retreat center in the woods for several days. I turned off my phone and left it in my car. The soul heals itself when digitally disconnected.
But that healing is astronomically amplified when the digital detox is paid with immersion in the beauty of nature.
I’m sharing with you my time-tested tips for a truly magical retreat.
Lock away all technology. No computers, phones, pagers. Nothing. Digital detox and disconnection is essential.
Journal freely. Bring a notepad and freewrite until you have nothing left to say. Get everything—every grievance, everything on your “to-do list,” every little thing on your mind—out of your head and onto paper. You might be surprised how much you have spinning around in your head just begging to get out—and how free and at peace you feel when it’s no longer clamoring for your attention because it’s down on paper. Do not re-read or edit. Just get it out. Self-empty. And then move on to the restoration.
Nature walks. Try to enjoy and explore nature at all and different times of day. Early morning, try to watch the sunrise. Afternoon. Mid-afternoon. Dusk, enjoy the sunset. At night, enjoy the stars in the sky and contemplate the vastness of the cosmos. Watch the light shine on nature, how it penetrates the canopy, how it reflects off the river or pond. Observe the patterns of nature, how the fish swim, the birds sing, the squirrels play at different hours. There is such beauty and joy to be imbibed around us, but only for those with the desire and eyes to see it.
Something transformative occurs when we combine looking out and looking in. Enjoying nature around us fosters inner peace and contemplation. Nineteenth century German philosopher Immanuel Kant said it well: “Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily we reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.”
After we’ve self-emptied and begun to fill with nature, also replenish by reading soul-nourishing literature. Poetry. Sacred scripture. Narrative. Memoir. Preferably historic but not necessarily so. Something about being connected to people in other times and places is powerful and grounding. Bonus points for choosing literature that moves us to tears—crying is cathartic, and so good for the soul. (It goes without saying, but absolutely no news, and especially no media criticism / commentary of any kind!)
Sing. Loudly. Especially in nature.
Pray. Meditate. Either in your head or aloud. Especially in nature.
Write a forgiveness list. Are there hurts or people in your life that you carry with you? Bitterness is a burden. Un-forgiveness weighs on you an takes it toll.
Write a gratitude list. this is powerful. Do this every day, several times a day, while you’re on retreat. keep adding to it, and keep searching and finding things in your life to give thanks for.
Sleep. Perhaps my favorite of these tips for a restorative retreat! On my retreat last week, I slept over fifty of the 72 hours I was away. Do you think my body was trying to tell me something? We often do not realize how sleep-deprived we are until we give our bodies the rest—and leisure—it craves.
Combining any and all of these at the same time or in succession can amplify therapeutic effects!
Now that you know the difference between leisure and luxury, and also how to retreat, two things:
I hope this post helped some of you reading it realize that you need a break—and that you take one!
Finances should never be a barrier to retreat. Many retreat centers operate on a donation basis to enable accessibility. You could even camp! But I’d like to give one retreat away to one reader. If you’re reading this, and you feel burnout— that your life may depend on taking a break—and finances are an issue, I’d like to help make the retreat happen. Write to me at email@example.com with the subject RETREAT.
A giveaway! The Evangelical Imagination
My friend Karen Swallow Prior has a book coming out TODAY! As someone with a book coming out in just TWO months, I know how exciting this day is for her, and I’m thrilled to support her.
I hope you’ll support her book, The Evangelical Imagination: How Stories, Images, and Metaphors Created a Culture in Crisis, by buying a copy!
I’m also giving away TWO copies of her book—so write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject “The Evangelical Imagination” with your interest in the contest.
And wishing you a restful, and leisurely, week.