What you REALLY learn on a retreat
It’s not all juicing and chanting; going on retreat is a time to meet your true self.
I just came back from the Five Elements Retreat with Fusion Yoga & Fitness. I took part in the retreat as both a guest and collaborated on content as a session coach. There were some pretty big learnings for me and I’d like to share them in this blog. I’ve been on retreat before and there’s always been revelation, emergence and creation in it for me. and running my retreats has also offered up just as much opportunity to grow. What would you experience, I wonder?
Realising you need time out and acting on it.
So before you even go on retreat, you have to get to the point where you know you need time out. You’re probably at the point of ‘stop the world I want to get off’ and a retreat seems just the ticket. How else can you literally step out of your life and get some clarity and space? It’s not easy in our modern world.
Taking the first step to book and attend a retreat is a HUGE deal. All our anxieties pop up over money, time away. Do I deserve this? Will I like it? What will the other people think of me? And all that other schizzle. We are usually prompted to retreat when we need a big check in with ourselves. It’s no longer good enough to spend an hour in the bath, take a walk or meet friends, there needs to be a bigger change in our lives. So hang on to that, that big feeling of wanting to makes changes and find out more, that can be your motivation to overcome those anxieties and go on the retreat in the first place!
Learning: Hang on to your motivations for retreating - they will get you through this first rocky stage of committing.
Arriving. Not just getting there.
Finding your way off the beaten path can be a challenge. This particular retreat was at St Nectan’s Glen in Cornwall. We parked and took a 30 minute walk through woodland to get there. It wasn’t easy but it was perfect.
What I mean by arriving is being present; after committing to being on retreat it’s still super-easy to not show up. OK, I get that you might be sharing a bedroom or bathroom with strangers. The food might not be what you are used to. Everyone else might have better yoga clothes than you (yes this was one of my first worries!). You might not have WiFi. Get used to all that. See it for what it is - your brain trying to reject what scares you. Breathe through it and remember why you are on retreat. The first night/breakfast/session can be a nerve tingling time, but you will settle in.
Learnings: Take time to arrive and be present. You are there for you, so do what you need to do. Walk around, have a snooze, meditate. Don’t get caught up in the physical arriving only to back off mentally and emotionally.
Let go of perfection.
This can be really hard for some of us. We might want to be in every session, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, only to find out what we really need is some sleep. We might want to have our ultimate mediation experience only to realise that it’s more of a challenge outside our little bubble. We may want to be the most popular, the most chatty with the most new friends, when in fact we might need some quiet alone time.
Stop overthinking the experience and submit to it. If you’re a planner, stop planning. If you’re a controller, let go. If you’re a worrier, know that it will be OK.
Learnings: Leave who you are and all your expectations at the door. Keep an open and curious mind. Retreat really works when you are in the present, work out how you get yourself there.
Hold space for yourself.
Stuff can come up on retreat. It happened for me down at the beautiful waterfall, where many people leave tributes to those they have loved and lost. Having recently had two family deaths I felt overwhelmed. I woke early the next day to write out my own rocks as tributes and leave them at the waterfall. This wasn’t in the brochure! But it sure as hell was what I needed.
Giving yourself time and space on retreat means you hear what else is going on within you. You might have tuned out to it during your busy life, you may not have realised it was lying there inside, unresolved. It’s OK. It’s what you need, that space, for this to rise to your consciousness.
Learnings: Be kind to yourself and let whatever comes up be heard. It’s totally fine to step out of the activities, this is way more valuable to you than the planned sessions.
Know you have the power.
You truly do. No matter how wonderful the retreat leader and coaches are. They can’t do the work for you; it’s down to you. Being present and remembering why you went on retreat in the first place are two steps to unlocking your power.
Your next step is being responsible for yourself (something I have written about before). Accept and revel in the fact that you need to do this. No-one else, just you! Ask yourself, and others, for what you need.
Learnings: Don’t expect anything to happen passively; be active in retreat! Active can be sitting quietly meditating as well as a crazy cardio session. Being active means creating what you want at each moment, not sitting back in reaction to what’s going on around you. Read more on that here.
Get ready for magic
Magic happens. It might be small and gentle, seeping into you over time. It might be big and noisy, happening in a moment. Whatever magic is for you be ready to notice it and accept the joy of it. We come back to being present and active. Showing up as your true self, staying curious, holding space for yourself; all these things will open you up to the magic that you create.
You know when magic happens because its full of wonder and joy. That feeling can’t be chased down, it has to be cultivated and nurtured.
Learnings: stay open long after the retreat; some of us are slow burners. Take the retreat experience with you into your life and keep your eyes, ears, mind and heart open for those magical moments. Don’t judge or worry that your magic isn’t as good as theirs - it’s all magic.
There’s so much opportunity for connection, for friendship, for sharing and fun too. Everyone is there to enjoy and grow; there’s power in togetherness. Embrace it!
I’d love to hear your experiences of retreats - message me or connect on social.
Kelly Herrick is an artist & creativity coach who helps people access more freedom & joy. She is also the strategic lead in an international design agency, a painter and mum of two boys.