Everyone needs to go on retreat.
I mean that. Everyone. Not just writers or artists or church people, but every single person. Each and every one of us needs to take time and go on retreat.
Note that when I say “retreat”, I’m referring to something more than a nighttime bubble bath or long-overdue massage. I’m talking about a true retreat. A multi-day experience that takes you out of your normal, everyday routine and into a new way of a being. For most of us, that means getting out of a noisy, chaotic, and busy environment and into something that’s quiet, calming, and removed from the slew of emails, texts, and social media notifications.
I don’t feel strongly about this because I used to be a youth minister and retreats were a part of my bread and butter and paycheck. I feel strongly about this because I am a person whose usual environment is busy and chaotic and who is constantly faced with an onslaught of emails, text messages, and social media notifications.
It is exhausting.
We all know it’s exhausting. We all complain to our friends that it’s exhausting. We all go on social media and share memes about how it’s exhausting, yet we’re doing all of these things while not making any plans to leave anytime soon.
And I know, I know—finances, time away from work, figuring out obligations and responsibilities. I get it. But a retreat doesn’t have to mean a luxury resort in the Bahamas or a weeklong overseas getaway. A retreat could be a weekend in a tent, two nights in an AirBnB, or even a day of driving, stopping periodically to check out sites that you never knew existed in your area. Anything that gets you out of your normal environment and into a new way of being will work; and it doesn’t have to be long if you’re present and committed to the time that you’ve given yourself.
Retreats for me have looked like cabins in the woods (cue the horror soundtrack), dogsitting for a colleague in Los Angeles, and two days on the Amtrak as I traveled from Grand Rapids to Tacoma. They’ve been done solo and with friends—although I maintain that even with friends one requires some solitude for a retreat to truly “work as intended”—and they’ve lasted anywhere from a day and a half to a week. Regardless of their length or what they look like, they’ve had the effect of shaking me up and giving me the space to figure out whether how I’m living normally is working and, if it’s not, what I might do to change it.
I think that this is even more important for writers. I’ve never known a writer who hasn’t had a moment of feeling stuck or lost when working on a project, and I’ve also never known a writer who hasn’t had a period of not writing, of failing to write, or of being too exhausted to write.
It’s the last one that gets me. Writers are in a world that continually saps our energy, and writing requires energy. Retreats help us to clear our heads, rest, and reevaluate what we’re doing in a project. If we remove ourselves from our normal routines and all the exhausting distractions that come with those routines, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to come at our projects with fresh eyes and a new perspective, to get back to actually writing.
I maintain that everyone needs to go on retreat, but I do think that retreat holds a special appeal for writers. It gets us unstuck by forcing us away from the things that most likely contributed to getting us stuck, it gives us new direction by putting us on a different path, and it gives us the opportunity to reconnect with our art and with what makes us appreciate the thing we do in the first place.
As I’m writing this on one such retreat, I can attest to its current efficacy—especially in regards to that last one.