by: Jodi Lammiman
I’m sitting in the hallway at a little retreat centre in St. Albert in a large, plush turquoise arm chair. The air feels cool on my cheeks and time has taken on an almost lucid, dreamlike quality. I’ve tucked away here to take a few minutes out of my day to indulge in a mini retreat while thinking about retreat and what it means to me. I grew up in a firmly protestant culture where I often heard the phrase “time is money,” thrown around. If I’m being very honest, I would tell you that I thought I would somehow be further along by this point in my life – more accomplished, more productive. I certainly didn’t expect to pursue a career in retreats. And yet here I am. I’ve chosen to be here because along the way I’ve learned the value of retreat. It’s not a value that easily translates to the “time is money” ethic, but I’ve come to believe that it’s a deeper pursuit.
Retreat, as I define it, is an intentional coming away from one’s day to day existence for a period of time to slow down, listen intently and re-emerge into day to day existence with clarified understanding of self, reality, and purpose. Retreat disrupts the status quo of day to day activities, habits and productivity and invites the retreatant into attention and presence in a way that is not always possible in our daily lives. It invites us to practice being versus doing, reminding us that our worth does not lie solely in what we do, but perhaps more importantly in who we are. It challenges us to understand that what we do flows out of who we are. This can be a hard but necessary concept to grasp when we are so caught up in the business of living and producing.
In addition to this truth, retreat also reminds us that every person has worth. In a culture that traps us into thinking that we are what we do, retreat has the power to remind us that every single person regardless of skill, intelligence, ability, and productive capacity has worth, insight and is a gift to the world.
Equally, retreating invites us into a larger and more connected story. When we look at the natural world, we see everywhere balanced rhythms of being/doing, productivity/rest. Autumn harvest gives way to winter stillness. Bears hibernate and then awaken for spring foraging. The natural world has rhythms and cycles that the practice of retreat can offer us, connecting us to a way of living that is intentional, reflective and recognizes that we too are a part of the natural world. We have need of rest, and seasons of slowness that are necessary parts of our life cycle and prepare us for seasons of busyness and productivity.
A final gift that retreat has to offer us is the invitation into honesty and congruency. Taking time away on retreat can sometimes be intimidating because we are forced to wrestle with ourselves. Busyness has a way of covering up our fears, insecurities and the places that we are not living out of our true selves and retreat often exposes this. When we get quiet, when we take time away, what sometimes emerges is the voice that we recognize as our soul, our intuition, conveying to us all the ways that we are living in or out of alignment with who we are. This, while sometimes intimidating, can be a gift, providing us with clarity and insight that invites us to re-orient our lives so that we are living out of authenticity and into purpose.
Parker Palmer in his book, A Hidden Wholeness, tell us; “The soul is like a wild animal—tough, resilient, savvy, self-sufficient and yet exceedingly shy. If we want to see a wild animal, the last thing we should do is to go crashing through the woods, shouting for the creature to come out. But if we are willing to walk quietly into the woods and sit silently for an hour or two at the base of a tree, the creature we are waiting for may well emerge, and out of the corner of an eye we will catch a glimpse of the precious wildness we seek.” This is the gift that retreat can give us; the gift of ourselves.
Palmer, P. J. (2008). A hidden wholeness: The journey toward an undivided life: Welcoming the soul and weaving community in a wounded world. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Photos from time on retreat at: King’s Fold Retreat & Renewal Centre, Waiporous, AB - Star of the North Retreat Centre, St. Albert, AB - Loyola House. Ignatius Jesuit Centre. Guelph, ON