DIY All-Reclusive Retreat

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cartoon image of a brain relaxing with cucumber slices on its eyes and surrounded by music notes, a journal, and paintbrushes
Brains need a break (even if we’re all at home, all the time…)

Need a mental health break? Stuck at home during a pandemic? Lucky enough to have a job you can do online, at home? Still need that mental health break?

Here is what I did:

Plan: Design your Retreat with Care & Purpose

  • I did a modified/solo version of the Liberating Structure, Purpose to Practice to guide the design – it’s a good activity for kicking off any new project or initiative because it invites you to consider important stuff before you start DOING. Here’s a overview of where that led ME (your mileage will vary):
    • Purpose: foster brain rest, get lost in “flow” state, and exquisite self-care
    • Principles: no chores, no laptop/work channels, “use the good china” (i.e., all and only the good stuff – soap, cream, candles, sheets, squishy blankets, PJs, socks, etc.), use the law of 2 feet, and whenever possible, even in the smallest things, choose novelty and decadence over routine and scarcity
    • Participants: lol. well…me. And the cats (they do love yoga), and also…YouTube yoga teachers, some heart friends and family. I live alone so I don’t have to navigate other humans.
    • Structure: 2.5 days. I get to decide what to do. This step is usually about things like “how will we make decisions as a group?” or “how will we distribute resources?” or “what roles do we need?”. In this personal all-reclusive retreat, you get to decide everything. It’s nice to feel in control of something for a goddamn change.
    • Practices: choose 5 activities per day that align with your stated purpose. Do them in any order that pleases you. Occupy novel spaces (e.g., a special new corner for reading), only consume media that makes you feel good and aligns with your purpose (so probably some, but not all of your regular podcasts and shows). Eat and drink good things that you love and make you feel good. I started with, “news once a day max” but it immediately became “no news”

Preparation:

Put everything in place BEFORE your retreat starts so you can stay focussed on it. For me, this meant about a day of…

  • Some online/retail therapy – decadent new sheets, shower curtain, new book, face junk, hand cream, pajamas, etc. Whatever makes you feel good and cared for.
  • Some chores so all my favourite things were ready to roll and I wasn’t tempted to “just” throw in a load of laundry or do a quick vacuum. For me, clean = peace, so I cleaned the house, mowed the lawn, filled the bird feeder, tidied up my art space, and set up a cozy spot outside to read.
  • Make the bathroom a bit more spa-like (new shower curtain, clear off counter, fresh flowers, clean towels, etc ). I made a display of “retreat products” on an antique china tray.
  • Other misc set up: make or find playlists, artfully and conveniently display books you want to read for pleasure, make sure you have a journal and a great pen handy, art supplies, etc. This might sound fussy, and if it is, you might be going too far – the idea is to treat things with care, and like it’s special.
  • Create your card deck. Each card is an invitation to do an activity that aligns with your purpose. My invitations included: make art, meditate, do yoga, go for a walk, go for a drive, text a love bomb to a friend, call a family member, read for pleasure, DIY manicure, DIY pedicure, go to the water, “wild card”. I made 16 invitations, some were doubles. I just used some card stock I had around and a black sharpie. The MOST important thing is that activities align with your purpose, so for me everything had to relate to brain rest and self-care
Pick 5 invitations per day and do them in any order…

Retreat!

  • Every day starts with coffee (in a favourite mug), some great music and pulling 5 cards. The number 5 is arbitrary, but it worked – it’s not enough to FILL a whole day, and that’s partly the point.
  • Consider the shape of your day based on the cards you got, and tweak if desired (e.g., I ended up with a day that didn’t have any movement, so I added a walk or yoga).
  • I journalled every day about the process/how it felt, and with some of the Isolation Journal Prompts
  • This is not necessarily about isolating from others (for me, some cards were about reaching out/connecting), but in any case, don’t let your day get hijacked
  • I had 16 cards total (again, arbitrary and it seemed to work) and was weirdly excited to see what the combo would be for the day. One day I got 2 “art”, so I did 2 pages in my art journal. One day I got “go for a drive” and replaced it with meditation because it wasn’t sunny and I knew a drive would turn into chores somehow.

Reflections

  • There is something about our current broken relationship with TIME that made this work for me. Since time has become a blob of sameness (no one ever knows what the hell day it is), this “retreat” helped me impose structure, novelty and specialness on time. It felt like different time.
  • I also noticed/was surprised by…
    • how good it feels to unplug from the NEWS! And how much news I normally consume! Much. Too. Much. I didn’t realize it! I’m going to introduce some limits.
    • how habitually I drift into doing “chores” and how “having to” do restful activities instead required discipline. When I caught myself starting to move toward a “chore”, I just wrote it on a list for another time (i.e., parking lot) and forced myself back on retreat.
    • another habit: observing vs. experiencing, i.e., being present. Maybe this is partly my facilitator brain wanting to track the “design” of this workshop for one, but still, the point was to be present, get into “flow” state, rest brain, stop thinking, etc. The solution for this (for me) is meditation practice.
    • the emotional backlog I wasn’t aware of until a yoga or meditation sesh
  • In the beforetimes, vacation days were often about taking your body and physically going somewhere else and doing stuff there. With that not possible at the moment, it’s tempting to just keep working because what else are you doing? The weekend is coming anyway…I plan to resist that reasoning going forward. Brains still need to be OFF from work mode, including “chore mode” and “home project” mode. Off off. And it’s possible to let your brain go elsewhere, even if your meat suit is stuck at home.
  • Bottom line: glad I did it and will do it again. It easily scales to whatever time is available – an afternoon, a day, a weekend. Next time, I will aim to make time for it before it becomes a pressing need, but it feels like another tool in my kit. I think many of us know what’s good for us, but it can be a struggle to do the things, especially in a crisis. This helped.

Resources

  • Isolation Journal Prompts – some really good invitations – I especially enjoyed thinking deeply about a photo that is meaningful for me
  • Quilts, etc – I’m not kidding about these fricking sheets!
  • Book: Real Love: The Art of Mindful Connection. I’ve been reading this book on and off for a couple years, there’s always something good there
  • Mediation App: Ten Percent Happier for mediation and Calm for sleep stories and music
  • Yoga Online: both Yoga with Adrienne and Sara Beth Yoga are good
  • Your therapist! Thanks to mine for the title of this thing (and also keeping the wheels from blowing off, lol)

1 thought on “DIY All-Reclusive Retreat

  1. Andrea

    I really enjoyed this read but also the logic and practicality behind it. I too live alone exceot fir 2 cats and this is us exz3ctly what I need to allow myself to do. Thank you for sharing!!

    Reply

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