The last year has been one wild ride. Twelve months ago Barack Obama wasn't yet the Democratic nominee for President. Now against fairly monumental odds, he's the guy in the Oval Office. The economy continued its slippery slope, gas prices made their unpredictable gyrations, housing values plummeted and the job market dried up. In a year when the rate of political, economic, employment and technological change has not only accelerated but now shows no signs of abating, anyone would want to retreat. Get away from it all. Hole up in a dark recess and stumble occasionally to the mouth of the cave for food. Run, hide quietly, and wait until it all blows over.
Tempting though that scenario may be for some, it's not the kind of retreat I'm suggesting. In fact, the ostrich approach is exactly the one we shouldn't be taking right now. It is instead what we now know we can't afford, and what has largely gotten us into the mess we're in. Instead, I'm recommending the nurturing, healing kind of retreat and now - yes even in these recessionary times - is when we need such a replenishing sabbatical the most.
Recession is a time of contraction and pulling back. Through the rotation of the seasons, of birth, growth and death, nature shows us how everything moves in cycles. This current period is no different, except that we happen to be in a stage of the cycle most don't enjoy or prefer. In the classic four seasons metaphor, we're in winter.
Think back to the America of one hundred and fifty or two hundred years ago. As citizens of a mostly agrarian nation, what did people do during winter? They used it to reflect, repair, replenish, heal, retool, and create in anticipation of coming new growth. They refurbished broken tools or farm equipment. They made quilts, sewed clothes, and canned fruits. They fashioned both useful and beautiful creations that required lengthy uninterrupted stretches of singular focus to produce, like carpentry projects, or fine metal work, or embroidery. They went to bed early and slept longer than necessary. They unplugged, relaxed, recharged and even in some cases, innovated.
Rather than considering literal or figurative winter as a season of cold and death we can acknowledge it, as our forefathers did, as a necessary resting stanza; a germination stage on the circle of new growth. Just think - huge swaths of humanity had an annual retreat built into their lives. Yet how many of us can see it that way? Or ever recognized it as such?
In modern life we've become detached from the cycles of the natural world in all but the most unavoidable ways. It seems we've also developed a selective memory when it comes to economic boom and bust cycles - forgetting that continued upward growth and expansion is not a sustainable model. Eventually, corrections and contractions occur, and rightly so. They are necessary course corrections, providing us the direction by which to steer the ship for the benefit not of the few, but of us all.
This is exactly why it's valuable to recognize the opportunity inherent in a recession, contraction or downturn as a chance to reflect and reinvent your circumstances - financial, personal, vocational or career. Take stock of what's working and what isn't, and embark on a course correction of your own while you have the space to plot wisely.
Whether you're thriving or barely surviving, my advice stands: now is the time for your personal retreat. If that sounds at best improbable or at worst ludicrous to you, read on for why retreat now is essential to the prosperity of both camps - thriving and surviving - and how even if you're living on unemployment a retreat is well within your reach.
If You're Thriving
Despite the top stories on the nightly news, not everyone is being negatively affected by the present economy; in fact, many are experiencing the opposite. There are always two sides to every coin, and the underreported story in this recession is that there is a significant percentage - not the majority, but still significant - of industries, companies and individuals thriving in the current state of affairs. Yes, I said thriving. They are the pioneers of the new economy. Just as things started crashing and burning for everyone around them, their idea or business went gangbunsters. With growth happening so fast, they can barely keep their heads above water. In these circumstances, a retreat is critical because:
• If you're experiencing your first major growth curve, you're at a critical inflection point. Failing to lay down a solid foundation now can mean a weak and toppling structure later.
• You'll burn out if you don't build regular opportunities to recharge into your life. You'll hit the point of diminishing returns and pay for it with diminished quality of life or health, which is sure to distract you if not take you out of the game completely. But we need you, we need your big dream and innovation to light the way forward.
• A change of scene is always fertile ground for new ideas. Get out of your daily comfort zone, routine or office and focus on your overall wellbeing, or take a retreat aligned with a passion or hobby that is not your primary means of making a living. Engaging the underused areas of your brain enhances the whole of your mental, emotional, and spiritual capacity.
If you are economically thriving, money isn't your challenge, time is. Here are my top three retreat center choices - each fits a variety of schedules and budgets.
Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health. For more than 30 years, Kripalu has been teaching skills for optimal living through an integrated body, mind, and spirit approach. It is the largest and most established retreat center for yoga, health, and holistic living in North America. Don't let the name fool you, Kripalu (kri-PAH-loo), in the scenic Berkshire mountains of western Massachusetts, boasts a calendar chock full of retreats for both yoga and non-yoga lovers alike, like the upcoming Luscious Creative Comfort Weekend Retreat for women, led by self-help author Jennifer Louden. Louden offers this weekend program or a similar weeklong version, both beginning in mid-April.
Shambhala Mountain Center. Shambhala Mountain Center is a mountain valley retreat located on 600 acres in northern Colorado. Since 1971 the center has offered hundreds of programs on Buddhist meditation, yoga and other contemplative discipline but they also offer programs on art and education, family life, social engagement and outdoor adventure. Like Kripalu and other centers, Shambhala hosts both weekend and longer options. It's a great choice for beginning meditators or those seeking an introduction to yoga.
The Sedona Mago Retreat. You can't go wrong retreating in Sedona, a natural sanctuary about two hours north of Phoenix. At about 4,000 feet elevation, Sedona escapes Arizona's summer desert heat and experiences four seasons. It's a mini-Mecca for new age types, but despite the good vibes and artist-colony feel, the unique red rock formations and exquisite vistas make it one of the most beautiful sites in the country. For the lowest budget option, pitch a tent among the canyons and spend your days hiking the desert. For a high-budget spa retreatment, there's Enchantment Resort. Or for a more reflective and structured option, there's the Mago, a non-denominational, non-dogmatic public retreat center welcoming groups or individuals seeking peace and harmony. Their Full-Moon Retreat is a one-day overnight option occurring - you guessed it - every full moon. Their Rejuvenation retreat and other programs last several days to a week.
If You're Surviving
You've lost your job, or you have friends and family members who have. You're worried about paying the rent. You're under water on your mortgage. Your retirement savings has taken a huge hit or been decimated entirely. If you have managed to survive the layoffs and downsizing at work, you're now doing the job of two or three people, but you can't complain, you need what security you have.
Retreat? Yes it can seem impossible, but you won't be able to endure challenge without a break. We all need a chance to decompress and revitalize during stressful times or we can't persist. Because the tough times do eventually end; don't lose sight of the big picture - to make it through.
So what are your best retreat options? You don't have to travel to successfully retreat, but you do have to transform your everyday environment, or distance yourself from it.
• If you can, set aside a weekend in your home (much like a "staycation") without the television, phone, computer, or normal modes of connection to the outside world. Make the goal of your weekend hiatus nurture and self-comfort. Give yourself plenty of opportunities for physical pampering - take that long hot bath you've been putting off, read the book you haven't had time for, or delve into a favorite hobby. Do only what you want and not what you "should".
• If your household includes other family members who can't leave for the weekend, then you'll be the one to go. Get out of the house and into soothing, enriching environments which feed both your body and soul. That might mean a library, art museum, arboretum, or depending upon where you live, a long hike in the woods, scenic bike ride, or day at the beach. If you reside in an outdoor-friendly climate, make it your goal to be in direct contact with nature as much as possible. Ask your spouse, partner or dependents to assume your normal household responsibilities on your retreat days.
• Visit a local spa. Treat yourself to a soak in a hot tub, massage or body treatment. You don't have to splurge for an entire day package, even an hour will do when worked into one of the above itineraries.
• Go on a dietary retreat. Decide whether for a weekend or longer to avoid processed, fried, sugary foods as well as caffeine and alcohol. Stick to raw and natural foods. Eat what you aspire to, not what you normally have time to grab on the go. Providing this cleansing opportunity for your body will work wonders for you health, stamina and mood.
The idea of the retreat is not only to relax and recharge, but to change the outer so as to bring the inner into alignment with it. Without the integration of these two worlds, there is no long term sustainable transformation, in business or in life. Spending another weekend either working furiously or stewing about your income, finances or employemnt assuming you've already taken all the action you can won't help you nearly as much as self-nourishment. When times are tough, it's tempting to focus even more on what created the challenge in the first place which only creates a downward spiral. A retreat interrupts the potential for this to happen.
It's time for realignment. Your outer reality reflects your inner focus, energy and attention - who you're being - your relationship with yourself. Let's face it, we're collectively in the midst of transition, but the reality is that we're all in transition most of the time and it's actually an exciting and opportunistic place to be if we you can recognize its potential while you're there.
Remember, you can begin the transformation anywhere, the point is to start. Create a safe, nurturing space for clarity, inspiration and passion to flourish. Remember that contained within the word "retreat" is the word "treat". With spring school vacations upon us nationwide, take a cue from the kids and give yourself a break today.