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A Do-It-Yourself Retreat Book from the Author of The Woman's Comfort Book
Do you yearn for time to rest, dream, listen, grieve, celebrate, stretch, or just be? Then you — like most women today — need to retreat: to make time to get away from it all and reconnect with yourself. With the wit, humor, and style that have made her Comfort Book series so popular, comfort queen and modern-day pioneer of women's well-being Jennifer Louden offers a practical and inspirational handbook — ...
A Do-It-Yourself Retreat Book from the Author of The Woman's Comfort Book
Do you yearn for time to rest, dream, listen, grieve, celebrate, stretch, or just be? Then you — like most women today — need to retreat: to make time to get away from it all and reconnect with yourself. With the wit, humor, and style that have made her Comfort Book series so popular, comfort queen and modern-day pioneer of women's well-being Jennifer Louden offers a practical and inspirational handbook — the first to focus on the needs and stresses of women — that walks you step-by-step through planning and savoring a self-led retreat. Easy-to-do practices and encouraging insights help you:
A wise and useful sourcebook of ideas and inspiration, The Woman's Retreat Book can be turned to again and again, whenever you feel the need to retreat.
"If we don't get there, the mind will take us there anyway. We must retreat to survive."
--Marcie Telandar, therapist, writer, and ritualist
My interest in solitude and retreat has been one of the main threads running through my life. It was the way I used to hide from being connected to others. It became the way I located my authentic self and, in doing that, true connection to others.
Thinking, writing, and teaching about women's and couples' self-care has consisted of years of diving deeper and deeper into the subject and into my own psyche, each time surfacing with another fragment of understanding. After years of doing this, I had to ask myself, "Why am I so obsessed with this subject?" The answer was that as much as I immersed myself in trying to understand and explain the importance of self-care, it remained a mystery. I could never lay my hands on exactly why self-care was so important.
Until I took a retreat.
And met my authentic self. Only then was I able to grasp that self-care helps me to make daily choices that affirm me, thus allowing me to contact, hear, and eventually live from my truest self, what Alice Walker calls "the natural self." I am more and more able to choose a self-referenced life: looking inside of myself to see what I think, feel, and need, then looking outside of myself to see what others think, feel, and need, and then bringing the two together. This may seem like common sense, but for millions of women, including myself, it is nothing short of a revolutionary act.
I have always been in love with solitude. Some of my favorite childhood memories are of riding my bike in the winter wind alone, playing on a huge sand pile in our backyard alone, exploring empty lots alone. I lived alone for seven of the ten years between my parents' house and the house I now share with my family. When I was twenty-seven, I read everything that poet and lover of solitude May Sarton wrote. I seriously considered emulating her lifestyle. I filled files with information about writers' colonies, wilderness trips, vision quests, and yoga retreats. And yet, as wonderful as solitude was, for me it was primarily an escape. Anthony Storr in Solitude: A Return to Self described me when he wrote, "Other individuals find it difficult to be authentically themselves even in the presence of their spouses, lovers, or closest friends and relatives. Such individuals, whilst not going so far as to construct a false self which entirely replaces the true self at a conscious level, have an especial need to be alone which goes beyond the occasional demand for solitude. . . ." I was running away from intimacy with others rather than toward knowing my authentic self, both alone and in the presence of others.
It will come as no surprise, then, that writing this book on retreats was very difficult for me. After months of painful stumbling in the dark, unable to find the focus of the book, my psyche guided me by giving me one clue: a woman's retreat springs from and is guided by her inner knowing. Well, to be guided by your inner knowing, you have to stop moving, stop doing, and sit still, listen to, and trust yourself. Unfortunately, I found this to be a difficult process. Unable to make the leap of faith that what I was feeling was okay simply because I was feeling it, I found it difficult to hear or believe my inner wisdom. But, thankfully, from my research the remedy emerged: do it anyway and use a map.
"Do it anyway" is best summed up by my friend, the writer and feminist theorist Kay Hagan, in her brilliant book Fugitive Information:
A counselor specializing in mid-life transitions for women startled me a few years ago when she confided that she had stopped telling her clients to love themselves. "That was absolutely the wrong advice," she told me. When I recovered from my surprise enough to ask what she was suggesting to women instead, she said, "I tell them to act like they love themselves. I realized if a women waits until she actually loves herself to act that way, it may never happen."
I leaped into retreating by pretending to trust myself, praying that with time, by emulating self-trust, I would someday soon truly believe it.
What also made the leap possible was expanding my definition of what constitutes a retreat. When I believed I needed to travel to distant realms (for me that always meant the wilderness) and be gone for at least a week (preferably longer) to locate my true self, I didn't have a chance. With a career and a young child, long trips simply weren't possible anymore. So I got straitjacketed into tight shoulder muscles, confused thinking, and my own litany of when-thens ("When Lily is older, then I will retreat. When there is more money, then I will. . . ."). I spiraled farther away from my natural self till it felt like every word out of my mouth was a whine. But in reading about women on retreat, in talking to women who retreat and women who do not, I discovered what makes a retreat a restorative healing encounter. It is not where you go or for how long you go. You don't have to go anywhere. It is all in your intention and commitment.
In finding and evoking the archetypal pattern of retreat, I could take a Saturday morning and render it regenerative by connecting with my authenticity. I could disengage from my externally referenced mind ("What should I be doing? What are others thinking of me?") and from my web of connections and commitment to others, and I could sit down for a cup of tea with this extraordinarily interesting, quirky woman who had always been inside me, biding her time. I would be, at turns, gleeful, philosophical, enraged ("Why had this break with her happened?"), and sad ("Why had it taken me so long to claim her?"). Slowly I would gain more peace and perspective. Images of whole loaves of fresh bread, mountain hikes, and the smell of clean sweat kept coming to me in this place of grace. Living the archetype allowed me to step out of ordinary time, off the gerbil wheel of endless responsibilities, away from the shoulds and have-tos I burden myself with and into what T. S. Eliot called "the moment in and out of time."
Once again, my psyche drew me to write about what I most needed to learn. Through practicing tiny daily retreats centered around listening, through mini-retreats of a weekend morning and a few weekends, my consciousness has shifted. I am more and more able to live Alice Walker's words:
People have to realize they are really just fine, they are really just fine the way they are. The beauty and the joy is to be more that, to be more of that self. It is unique, it is you, it is a fine expression for this moment, for this time.
And through this, I'm moving into more authentic relationships with those I love. The myth is, when you focus on yourself you are being selfish. The reality is, if you don't know your true self and cultivate an ongoing relationship with her, you can't truly be with or give to anyone else.
A retreat, like each act of self-nurturing, is a radical leap into self-love. You retreat because you are yearning for something. That something may be ineffable, impossible to name, a whisper tickling your imagination. It might be a desire to know your true self, to be at peace, to find an answer, to bask in self-kindness. It might feel like a desire to touch something you can't quite name, a yearning to be held by something larger than yourself. No matter how half formed any reason for retreating can seem, each has a spiritual core.
How do I define spiritual? To become spiritual is to choose to do only those things that contribute meaning and healing to one's life.
I have no record of who uttered this wisdom, but to me it perfectly defines a spirituality that is life affirming and self-loving. How can you know what will contribute meaning and healing to your life? Through retreat, you contact and embrace what is most you. This is the prerequisite to embracing both what is within you and what is infinitely vaster and unknowable. I hope you will come to agree with one of the women I interviewed, Cynthia Gale, a ceremonial artist and retreat leader living in Cleveland. "I can't imagine life without retreat. These chances to reconnect when we've disconnected not only get us back on track and functioning, but ideally move us to higher places."
I hope the stories and practices you find here will enable you to make that leap into having faith in yourself and, by doing so, to reconnect with your authentic self and to connect authentically with those you love and with the Divine as you know it. Living with self-trust and self-love is a lifelong process. Just as in any relationship, there are times when we realize with a sickening pang that we haven't sat down and truly looked at our beloved for a very long time. And, thank God, there are those heady times when we fall in love all over again. Retreating, along with other tools of self-care like women's groups, therapy, meditation, and writing, brings on those heady days of love for ourselves and enables each of us to take another step along the spiral to wholeness. It is my prayer that with this book in hand you will regain what is most valuable to you, the treasure of your own wisdom and beauty, as part of your ongoing quest to know and honor your beloved self.
Namaste.Woman's Retreat Book
Posted June 15, 2014
I take this book with me when I need to re-set my life. I have owned it for almost 10 years and there are so many good ideas - I always find what I need to help me find my authentic self, nurture my soul, and chart my next course.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 5, 2013
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