“I am on a boat,” I said. “A what?” my daughter asked with the same disbelief as if I had just said I was on the moon. “A boat, I’m on a boat,” I spoke to the receiver on my phone. “Dad, what are you doing on a boat?” her reply sounding slightly incredulous.
Admittedly, this isn’t something I would typically say or do, but this weekend is a little different. It’s all about me time. As I explained to my daughter, I am on a personal retreat. It’s something that I don’t do often enough: getting away, just by myself for a few days in someplace slightly remote. Here I practice intense mindfulness, self-compassion, and self-reflection. Ultimately, it’s a chance to unplug for the weekend, get away from all the noise of life, be still and be present with my thoughts.
A fully restored 1968 thirty foot Fairliner docked off the mighty Columbia River is my home for the weekend. When I told my wife what I was doing, she said: “That’s such a dude thing!” Probably so. There is just something about being on this boat that that feels masculine. The cabin is cozy, the rocking wake from passing ships, the occasional rumbling of a train passing by keeping time like a metronome, and drumming of the rain tapping on the bow create an orchestration that sings to my senses of adventure. It’s an introvert paradise.
If you are considering taking a personal retreat, I would highly recommend it. I’ve found making these little getaways to be an amazing way learn about yourself and come out recharged. Here are a few things to consider when taking a personal retreat:
Five things to do on a Personal Retreat
- Practice Self-reflection: It’s good to look in the review mirror once in a while to see how far you’ve come. In his commencement speech to Stanford University’s Graduating Class of 2005, Steve Jobs talked about the importance of looking back to see how things connect. ”You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” A personal retreat is a time to look back at the dots and celebrate the successes. As I contemplate the past year, I see significant progress in my personal growth. Retrospect also gives me better understand where I’m going. To quote Kierkegaard, “Life can only be understood backward, but it must be lived forwards.”
- Practice Self-compassion: Doing things for ourselves can feel selfish. If you’re like me, you may sometimes feel undeserving of extravagances, while at the same time be willing to give the shirt off your back. There is a distinction between selfishness and self-compassion. When I’m selfish, I have a depreciation mindset, “There isn’t enough to go around, so I go first.” Self-compassion is an act of generosity. It’s treating myself well so that I have the capacity to give to others; I can’t give what I don’t have. When I love myself, I can give love and compassion to others. Make your personal retreat something that is life-giving. Treats yourself as if you were treating a guest.
- Have little on your agenda: We live in a culture that screams “stay busy!” In my experience, if I’m not busy, something is wrong, and I’m missing out. The last time I took a personal retreat my goals were big, as I planned on accomplishing several projects. The result was feeling overwhelmed when I should have been recharging and discouraged at the end for not achieve my expectations. In hindsight, I recognize that a busy agenda defeats the purpose of a personal retreat. This time I decided to make it simple. I took a laptop and did some writing, (hence this article) but gave myself permission to explore the small town Kalama where the boat is moored.
- Step out of your comfort zone: In September of 1962, on his way up to Seattle, Elvis Presley and his entourage the famed “Memphis Mafia” stopped in Kalama for a rest. Apparently, Elvis ate at a local diner that still boasts having served the icon. Of course, I wanted to eat where the Elvis ate, but going to a restaurant and saying “table for one!” is out of my comfort zone. I know some people do this regularly, but it’s not something I normally do. Still, this was Elvis. I thought about self-compassion and decided to treat myself by breaking through my anxiety. I went in for dinner and had the best prime rib sandwich of my life thanks to the King of Rock-N-Roll.
- Lean into the solitude: With so much noise around us, it’s important to be able to turn things off, get away and unplug. Learning to quiet my mind, focus on relaxation and being good to myself doesn’t come easy. In fact, personal retreats can invoke a sense of loneliness. Even the thought of isolation may generate apprehension. But solitude is the ability to be alone without feeling lonely and creates greater self-awareness. Henri Nouwen said, “To live a spiritual life we must first find the courage to enter the desert of our loneliness and to change it by gentle and persistent efforts into a garden of solitude.”
A personal retreat is ultimately about you: learning to love and live with yourself and practice compassion towards yourself. It’s an opportunity listen to your heart’s desire while recharging your emotional batteries. If you’re feeling rundown, discouraged or need to clear your head, perhaps it’s time to way anchor, set sail and chart a course for some quality “me time.”
Photo—Nath el Biya/Flickr