20-Minute Retreats: Revive Your Spirit in Just Minutes a Day with Simple, Self-Led Practices


This collection of step-by-step practices from ancient cultures, world religions, and psychological disciplines provides readers with the self-renewing, spiritually, uplifting rewards of retreat anytime, anywhere. We all crave periods of silence and introspection, but with lives lived at an ever-increasing pace most of us find fewer opportunities to fill that need. Now, psychologist Rachel Harris has come to the rescue with this unique collection of 20-, 5- and 1-minute mini-retreats-short periods of meditation, ...

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This collection of step-by-step practices from ancient cultures, world religions, and psychological disciplines provides readers with the self-renewing, spiritually, uplifting rewards of retreat anytime, anywhere. We all crave periods of silence and introspection, but with lives lived at an ever-increasing pace most of us find fewer opportunities to fill that need. Now, psychologist Rachel Harris has come to the rescue with this unique collection of 20-, 5- and 1-minute mini-retreats-short periods of meditation, contemplation or self-discovery drawn from traditions and practices as varied as Buddhism, the Quaker faith, Sufism, art therapy, ritual magic, Gestalt therapy, and Jungian dream analysis. Provocative sidebars, stimulating quotes, and touching first-person stories make this book as inviting to read as it is practical to use. With these brief retreats, readers of any age or occupation will be able to catch their emotional breath regardless of what is happening in life, to pause to listen to the sounds of their souls, and to reemerge balanced and refreshed.

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Editorial Reviews

Philip Goldberg
The perfect antidote for busyness. Thanks to Dr. Harris, time is no longer an excuse for neglecting our souls.
Daniel Gottlieb
An elegant blend of ancient wisdom and modern psychology. With the compassion and understanding of a good psychotherapist, Rachel Harris takes us from a daily routine of mindless action and helps us relax, reflect, and rejuvenate.
Jennifer Louden
I didn't think I could learn much more about retreating. How wonderful to read Rachel's book and learn how wrong I was. This comprehensive exploration has reinspired and expanded my retreat practice immeasurably.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805064513
  • Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 6/1/2000
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 1,358,224
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.68 (d)

Meet the Author

Rachel Harris, Ph.D., is a psychologist who has a private practice in Princeton, New Jersey, and has led national and international workshops for thirty years. She is co- author of the bestselling Children Learn What They Live.

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Read an Excerpt

The concept of a sacred journey is ancient. The Lakota Indians described it as "hearing with the ear of the heart, returning home like the flight of the jay." It is a journey guided by poetic images rather than maps, landmarks, or directions. During our journey we turn inward into the silence. The silence calls to us, beckoning us to cross a threshold and enter the spiritual dimension. This is the spiritual life-the choice of the inward journey as a sacred path. It is the search for the soul, and we are transformed as we travel.

Retreats are an important part of our spiritual journey. They give us time to turn our attention away from mundane concerns so we can attend to that "still small voice inside us," as the Quakers say. Retreats give us an opportunity for undiluted concentration in which we can attune our subtle awareness to our experience of the spirit. Then, when we return to the world, we can continue to perceive this presence in the midst of our daily lives, within us, within others, and in the very fabric of the world.

In our fast-paced lives, we desperately need retreats to regain our perspective, help us balance our inner and outer lives. Otherwise we are at risk for being carried away by the powerful tides and undertow of our mass media, electronic communications, and consumer culture, not to mention office meetings or our children's soccer games and dance recitals. The structure of a retreat gives us a chance to just say no to incessant stress and time pressure, so we can balance the busyness of our outer lives with the quiet calmness of our inner center.

Some of us need regular brief retreats to quench our spiritual yearning. We need the quiet time to commune with the sacred as much as we need to eat or sleep. No6ther activity, achievement, or excitement will satisfy. Steve, a forty-year-old computer programmer, was this kind of person. He knew what stress was and had seen plenty of colleagues burn out. He knew what he needed for his own sanity and spiritual peace of mind. Without his twenty minutes of quiet reflection every morning, his fast-paced workday seemed empty, bordering on the absurd, and he felt uncomfortably pressured. Steve generally preferred retreats that focused on breathing with awareness, helping him to enter a wonderful inner world of silence. After that, he was ready for anything.

Karen, on the other hand, liked to practice her daily retreats in the evening. She was a thirty-two-year-old graphic designer who worked with a group of people who were unusually warm and supportive. At the end of the day, she needed quiet time for herself. She enjoyed the variety of the retreat activities and the psychological nature of the journaling exercises. Karen would often sit in bed to write in her journal just before going to sleep.

Some people, like Steven and Karen, know they yearn for a retreat and are restless when they don't heed that call. But if you have never retreated, how do you know it's what you crave? Here are some clues.


1. You can hardly remember the last time you had a moment to yourself

2. You feel an unquenchable inner yearning.

3. You don't laugh as much as you used to.

4. All you do is take care of others' needs, neglecting your own.

5. Your heart feels closed.

6. You rush everywhere.

7. You don't remember your dreams.

8. You feel disconnected, without an inner center.

9. You know there's more to life, but you don't know what it is or what to do about it.

10. You comment to friends that you feel like you're running on empty.

11. With no energy to do anything else, you spend evenings and weekends zoned out in front of the TV.

12. You want to experience more love in your life.

Most of us can identify with at least some of these signs, but if more than half of them are true for you, it is clear you need to turn your attention to your spiritual life. Taking twenty minutes a day to retreat will give you the silence, solitude, and sacred time to remember the divine in yourself and in your life.

There is no enlightenment outside of daily life.

-Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Buddhist monk

Twenty-Minute Retreats

A retreat can be anything that allows us to intentionally enter another world where time slows to nonexistence, silence prevails, and a certain tranquility permeates the atmosphere. Here, in this sacred space, we can .replenish our souls, restoring our connection to the eternal.

A daily retreat nurtures our inner life and encourages our progress along our unique spiritual journey. I have provided a variety of retreats in this book so that you can explore and find your favorite entries into the quiet, nurturing space of calm within you. The instructions for each retreat are listed step-by-step so they can easily be understood and practiced. They provide a structure, allowing us to be actively involved and engaged in the spiritual exercises. Organized by theme, each chapter focuses on retreats for expressing one aspect of the spiritual journey: faith, forgiveness, gratitude, healing, intuition, joy, love, patience, peace, relaxation, self- acceptance, and self-care. We will each encounter these themes as we move through life, and the retreats within them give us the opportunity to become more aware of how they are currently manifesting in our lives. Practicing regular retreats will make a difference in how we deal with these themes as they arise, thus changing the course of our lives. It's my experience that even twenty minutes a day can enhance the clarity with which we approach life and its daily choices.

One example can be drawn from the experience of Fred, a thirty-five-year-old manager, who was stuck in an ongoing personality conflict with his boss. Every day was miserable, and Fred saw no way out. However, he began practicing specific retreats on forgiveness and relaxation, which enabled him to change how he perceived and felt about his boss, and perhaps most important, how he behaved in the office. Fred no longer seemed to have a chip on his shoulder. Needless to say, his boss noticed this positive change and began asking Fred for his opinion more frequently, even giving Fred more responsibility and decision-making power. Fred's work with forgiveness and relaxation helped him to create a positive outcome from a difficult situation.

I've selected retreats for each chapter to cultivate the various themes, infusing them with energy and consciousness so that they deepen. and expand in our daily lives. The term cultivate comes from horticulture and encompasses the whole process of preparing the soil, planting the seed, nurturing the plant, and yes, even weeding the environment. This metaphor describes our relationship to our spiritual life. just as 'we cannot hurry a plant in its growth cycle, we cannot force our own inner development. We can only prepare, seed, nurture, and weed. Daily retreats help us tend our inner garden and, with this steady attention, we often find ourselves growing and blossoming in ways we couldn't have imagined or foreseen.

The retreats described here are inspired by a variety of cultures and religions, from native peoples, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. This multicultural, transtraditional approach reflects the current blossoming of the spiritual revolution, evidenced by the fact that never before have we had such access to sacred texts or spiritual teachers of all the world's great wisdom traditions. Our daily retreat practice can be enriched by this wide range of techniques and philosophies, giving us the opportunity to select the one's that suit us the best.

Daily Retreat Time

I realize that setting aside twenty minutes a day is not always easy. We are experts at coming up with reasons why we can't find the time. The five-minute retreat entitled "No Time to Retreat" will help you honestly clarify your daily commitment to your spiritual life. Devoting twenty minutes a day requires discipline as well as a re-prioritizing of our lives. Concretely put, we have to be willing to say, "My spiritual life is as important to me as brushing my teeth, reading the paper, or talking on the phone." For the truth is that we need daily spiritual practice to sustain our journey, and nothing can compensate for the lack of it.

This book includes dozens of self-led twenty-minute retreats, as well as one-minute and five-minute retreats that serve as reminders -of our inner life while we are in the midst of our busyness. The idea for the shorter retreats emerged spontaneously from my writers' group. They are all high-powered career women who enthusiastically embraced the idea of a retreat book, yet immediately asked if they couldn't do the retreats while they were ironing or stuck in traffic. I was horrified. My heart's desire was to do a four-month retreat, and they wanted sixty seconds.

A synchronous event helped me to hear their request on a deeper level and broaden my understanding of the role of retreats in daily life. I was invited to attend the yearly Princeton lecture of two Tibetan brothers, both highly respected teachers. The younger brother translated for the older, yet the contrast between their orange-red robes and our western culture still seemed unbreachable. The lamas had grown up in monasteries and spent their entire lives devoted to spiritual practice. How could we, a small group of suburbanites, begin to think we could follow such a path?

The older brother spoke passionately in Tibetan, giving us long explanations along with his shining face and beaming smile. I was mesmerized by the strange sounds and rhythms in his speech and the liquid sunshine radiating from his being. Then the younger brother translated, "You can do one-minute meditations, during your day. just stop and pause and breathe."

I couldn't believe it. Permission to do retreats while ironing, while waiting in traffic. One-minute retreats sanctioned by high-ranking Tibetan lamas. My corporate writing friends were right. In my own life, these brief retreats help me to wake up during the day, to renew the sacred experience from my regular twenty-minute retreats. By pausing to connect with our inner life, even for a moment, we shift our perspective to remember the eternal and that whatever we are doing in the outer world is transient.

The Experience of God

I must confess, I have tried to write this entire book without making a reference to God. I wanted to avoid having to define the ineffable and, instead, use every sacred euphemism known to spiritual literature. But the purpose of retreats is to connect with our personal experience of the Ultimate, which many call God, and there are chapter themes in which God is implicit. For instance, how could I write about faith without considering faith in God? So please, trust your own experience of the Infinite and your own way of expressing it.

Kabir says.- Student, tell me what is God.? He is the breath inside the breath.

-The Kabir Book, Robert Bly's translation of a fifteenth-century Indian mystic

Inner Guidance

As we travel on our spiritual journey, we realize that there are few guideposts, and sometimes the ones we see are confusing. How do we really know which retreat to start with, how long to do it, and which one to do next.? Of course we could always rely on serendipity by opening the book at random and trusting that wherever our hand falls is the retreat best suited to us at this moment.

This approach actually will work, because the retreats here can be practiced in any order or combination, for any length of time. You can repeat a retreat and make it part of your ongoing practice, skip it entirely, or adapt it to meet your needs. However, if you feel drawn to a theme or specific retreat, follow your energy. If you feel anxious or insecure about some of the retreats, please don't push yourself through them. Learning to trust your own sense of what feels right to you is part of your inner development.

As you work with the retreats, you will naturally become more sensitive and attuned to the subtle effects they produce within you and to the ways they influence your daily life. Gradually you'll gain confidence in knowing which retreats to select and how to use them to guide your own spiritual unfolding.

All of us journey in unexpected ways, often with detours and disappointments. This is to be expected. The key is to use our retreat time to listen to the silence deep within us, that wellspring of inner guidance.

The next chapter will provide you with all the practical information you need to begin using the twenty-minute retreats as part of your spiritual journey.

By practicing God's remembrance your inner being will be illumined little by little

-Jalal al-Din Rumi, thirteenth-century Sufi

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 24, 2001

    Meditation and Ayurveda

    This beautiful book by Rachel Harris guides one to the truth and benefits of meditation, which really is a pleasant experience. I read her book after I read the Yale psychiatrist's book called AN ELEMENTARY TEXTBOOK OF AYURVEDA by Frank John Ninivaggi, M.D. He describes in a different way (pretty intellectual) the same thing but adds the theory behind it. Both are excellent books to improve one's life and mental health.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 21, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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