When I see promotions and ads for spiritual retreats that claim to help you find yourself, I wonder — with all the love and humility within me — how I can find myself by going somewhere else. I am right here, already within.
Well-meaning event organizers entice you with a promise to help you center yourself. To which I say, you are at the center of yourself.
One of my favorite enlightened zen masters, Thầy Thích Nhất Hạnh, used to say the only way out is in. This is one of my favorite of his teachings.
This is not to say a retreat is not beneficial. Rather, it is important to understand that the way to resolve any mess you may experience in your life — is by going within.
What is a spiritual retreat?
If a spiritual retreat could be explained in terms of a building, then the teachers are the foundation, yoga is the pillars, and meditation is the walls.
Everything else that goes into the building like furniture, wallpaper, paint, trimmings, curtains, etc. is whatever else the creators of the retreat decide.
To flavor a retreat, one or more of the following could be added: life coaching, massage, meals, free time, circle time, aromatherapy, chanting, singing, dancing, sharing, cooking, field trips, etc.
Retreats are an integral part of nearly all religions — they allow you to find yourself and love what you find.
If that sounds scary at first because it’s brand new and you have a job and a family, then take one day off a month. Suggest that your partner do the same.
If your partner doesn’t want a personal retreat, don’t judge them. Let them take a day off and do what pleases them.
You can create a personal retreat without spending money. Here's now.
5 ways to get centered when you can't afford to get away:
1. Get into nature.
To heal from the place and people that hurt you, you need to retreat toward a place of calm and beauty.
Nothing resets better than nature. Nature is your mother and she knows you best. Return to her to rejuvenate. Most urban places have nature within an hour's drive, sometimes closer.
Plan to leave home early, before daybreak, and stay away until sunset.
Choose somewhere you know is safe, but far enough away to help you feel as if you are removed from the everyday world. Carry comfortable clothes, water, shoes, any weather gear, sunglasses, sunscreen, caps, bug repellant, jackets, raincoats, sturdy shoes, a book or two, a journal, and writing instruments.
Immerse yourself. Become part of your surroundings. Breathe.
2. Eat right.
Next time you reach out for food, ask yourself, "Am I eating from physical hunger or emotional?" In other words, "Do I really need to eat, or do I simply feel like eating?"
Learn to know the difference.
To center yourself, eat right and you’ll eat light. Carry your food with you. Pack two meals, lots of water, and teas to go. Don’t eat out.
Food has energy and when you eat out, you take in the energy of the people and place where it was prepared. You don’t want heterogeneous energy at your personal retreat.
Your food could be as simple as a soup, salad, sandwiches, or scrambled eggs. Fix your meal with the intention of self-love to nourish you when you eat.
Eat light and eat right when you are physically hungry.
3. Use your body to ground yourself.
Your body is your vehicle, your moving temple. It's where you dwell.
So, without anchoring yourself in your body it is hard to know where you are. And, when you don’t know where you are, in other words, when you are disoriented, how can you know who you are?
To find yourself, you have to still your body as best as you can, which will help you slow down your mind. You slowly become aware of your thoughts as they float in and out of your consciousness.
In your stillness, you find silence. In this silence, you see yourself, know yourself exactly as you are at that moment, and you become aware of both your weaknesses and strengths.
This knowledge grounds you. There’s no shame in not knowing. A child is innocent and doesn’t know. You don’t shame a child, do you? In the spiritual realm, accept yourself as a child and remain open to its wonder and as you learn, you grow.
Mindfulness of your body can be practiced through light stretches, Tai Chi, Qi-Gong, and slow gentle yoga.
You could do one sun salutation in three to seven minutes and feel incredible. Twelve rounds of sun salutations are one hundred and forty-four asanas (postures). After you complete this you feel like nothing in the world can touch you.
Sitting meditation is easier after your practice of mindful movement. One-minute mindfulness meditation takes very little from you and gives you so much. If you could meditate for simply 60 seconds, every waking hour, would you do it?
Take a slow, long, deep breath, hold it, and exhale slowly and completely. Pause before taking the next deep breath. Four such breaths set the tone for the next part.
Count 1-5, and with each count, focus on the following parts of your body:
- Chest and upper back
- Abdomen, middle, and lower back
- Lower limbs
- Neck, throat, and upper limbs
- Face and head
Finally affirm, "May I be well, happy, and peaceful. May my loved ones be well, happy, and peaceful. May all sentient beings be well, happy, and peaceful."
Though the prescription is a one-minute meditation, you can take longer during your personal retreats.
5. Write in a journal.
To find focus, you must cancel all distractions. When you get away to find yourself, it’s wiser to stay away from all noise — including your phone, news, internet, etc. Turn off electronic gadgets. Enjoy your bliss.
Noise from nature connects you to it, you realize that you are part of it.
Last but not the least, journal throughout your retreat. Write what you noticed within and around you, what you learned about yourself, and what you're grateful for.
Each time you go on a retreat, you build on your last retreat.
You can still center yourself when you're not at a retreat.
Think of it this way. If a road trip to a spiritual retreat is a regular dental visit, then daily centering through yoga, meditation and journaling is your daily dental care.
Related: Morning pages
Start the day off with 20 minutes of yoga followed by 30 minutes of meditation in the morning and repeat it in the evening. While morning personal time sets you up for a relaxed day, your evening personal time helps you release the stress from the day and prepare for a restful night.
Small and sweet 60-second meditations every hour keep you peaceful, well, and wise throughout the hour.
Journal before bed. Write down at least one thing you are grateful for and one thing you learned that day.
Doing this every day helps you prepare for your next personal retreat and have better results.
Keya Murthy, M.S., is a Clinical Hypnotherapist, Spiritual Life Coach, Energy medicine practitioner, and the founder of Ventura Healing Center. Also, she is a #1 International Best-selling author and has authored The Book On Happiness: How To Have Peace And Stability As A Working Mom for you.