The Wisdom of Retreat

 The view from our little retreat overlooking Central Park. 

The view from our little retreat overlooking Central Park. 

On the streets of New York City yesterday, I was astonished to find that the people around me were very, very different from when I used to visit in my 20s.

The people were calmer, nicer, much friendlier.

They weren’t rushing around as nearly as much as I had remembered them from the days when I would leave work at the World Bank in Washington and come to stay for a few days of socializing, partying and burning the candle at both ends.

Had New York really changed that much?

Maybe the city that never sleeps is a bit different these days – after all, the whole country is different, too.

But what I know is profoundly different is my experience of it and the mind I am bringing to it.

Whereas in the past I ran around and wanted to suck the marrow out of every moment in the Big Apple by doing it all, this trip is remarkably different.

Chinese and Indian philosophy are replete with the complementary wisdom of the energy of going out and forward into the world, and the deep need to retreat and withdraw. In Western culture, we are obsessed with the former, the yang energy of the world.

We worship the sun, energy, movement and going for it. We are all about doing. Americans are prone to this more than perhaps any other culture, and New Yorkers (of which I am one by birth and claim proudly) could be collectively called the poster-child for yang energy.

The mantra of yang is simple:

Go.

Go.

Go.

 

Do.

Do.

Do.

 

More.

More.

More.

But alongside that powerful yang energy (the kind you might find in a strenuous yoga posture like a sun salutation, for example), balance and harmony also require the other side. The darker, more still, more internalized side of life.

The yin quality of life. The being which balances and tempers the doing.

I have been humbled by the opportunity to explore this yin side by actively cultivating an intention to retreat on this trip in what could seem to be the most unlikely of spaces.

Rather than racing from the shops on Fifth Avenue to bars, I am savoring the chance to really appreciate the beauty of nature overlooking Central Park from my window as I write this. Instead of feeling the compulsive need to see and do it all right now, I am indulging in the sweet luxury of coaching my amazingly courageous clients and exploring the joys of mediation with them. In place of waking up with a hangover from spending a night out with a dear old friend I hadn’t seen in years, I linger on the tender memory of ducking out of the rain into St. Patrick’s Cathedral for a few moments to sit, pray, love in community.

As someone who has always loved to travel, I am experiencing the world in a far deeper way by intentionally cultivating opportunities for retreat.

Like many of my clients, I used to seek escape from life by acting out compulsively – eating, shopping, drinking, traveling, always running to the next thing under the imperious tyranny of His Majesty, King FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).

I am so excited to have learned a much, much better way to cultivate those opportunities for retreat (rather than escape) and to be able to share them.

There are so many ways to retreat, both at home and when travelling. It doesn’t have to be complicated.

You can curl up with a good book and rest for an hour when you come home from work rather than getting on the computer. You can do one yoga posture. You can meditate (try some here if you are looking to start or boost your practice). You can plan to join me in Greece this September for two powerful retreat opportunities that will give you a chance to reboot, recharge and reconnect, on an Aegean island and in a secluded olive grove. You can turn off your computer or your mobile right now, get out your journal and a pen, and write a few lines of poetry or doodle.

The wisdom of retreat is available to each of us in every moment. It’s our chance to get nourished and rest, before our lives break down and we are forced to by our health and other markers of how in alignment we may be living with our values.

And when we do retreat wisely, we go back into the world with something to give it. We fill up our cups, that we may have something with which to nourish others.