creative retreats at-home or away: pros & cons


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COWS ARE MY PASSION. What I have ever sighed for has been to retreat to a Swiss farm, and live entirely surrounded by cows – and china. -Charles Dickens

Nowhere can man find a quieter or more untroubled retreat than in his own soul. – Marcus Aurelius

Some of us share Dickens’ bucolic fantasies – country life surrounded by moos and mountains, the sounds of our own soul wrapped around the trees. “If I just had the right place,” we tell ourselves, “I’d be at peace and able to write/create/launch/explore to my heart’s content.”

Would were it so. I’ve lived in New York’s Hudson River Valley for a dozen years. I do savor my space & place as those of you in the Inner Pack know. I have news: The cows and the soul are noisy. Mostly, the soul. (Even Thomas Moore – the care of the soul guy with whom I shared a few meals last January – would back me up on the soul’s messiness.)

As a writer, I’ve had my share of retreats and residencies – for creating and for business. I’ve taken stock of what works for me and my clients. As you plan ahead for retreat time, here are take-aways and resources to help you go deep and retreat.

Weigh in on how you retreat best in the comments below. 

At-home retreats
Once you lay ground rules that work for your household, an at-home retreat can be remarkably gratifying. Much depends upon who else shares the living space, your abode’s layout, and your other commitments. If you’re not accustomed to working on your own at home, start with four hours of uninterrupted time to contemplate, create, roam, and create some more. One client built to two four-hour segments. Then, 24 hours. Then, 48 hours – my regular monthly quota. In this article at Psychology Today, I share more guidelines.
Pros: economical, convenient, grounding, familiar. Cons: too familiar & “too close to home.”

Solitary away retreats
These kinds of retreats can be the most mind-rattling. Once each 3 months, I try to get away for 3-5 days. Cabins in the woods, rooms in b & b’s, cottages. One client rented an office space a few days each month to finish her manuscript. Another client visited a nearby b&b for a weekend once a month. But beware that noisy soul. Visit Poets & Writers for this article on “Retreats on the Cheap” and for classifieds listings.
Pros: fewer chances of external distractions (maybe!). Cons: increased chances of internal distractions & costs.

Supported & organized away retreats
If you find the right one, a retreat organized by someone else can offer the comfort of home and the benefits of a solitary retreat. If you tend to be introverted and group-shy, find a retreat that offers adequate pockets of solitude for creating and options for “free time.” If you tend to get restless with too much solitude, be sure to find a retreat that offers opportunities for connection, collaboration, or at least mutual create time.

I find the right kind of supported away retreat the most beneficial. That’s surprising for this guy who at gatherings of people whom he doesn’t know hovers around the food table and talks to the dog who’s only talking to me because he’s hoping a cracker falls from the table. But the right kind of organized retreat or residency offers me the mix of supportive community my restless mind needs and the long stints of solitude I crave for creative immersion. I finished most of my book proposal for The Journey from the Center to the Page at a four-week residency at Woodstock’s Byrdcliffe program; I finished much of the first draft of that manuscript (which was so dreadful, by the way, that only about 12% ever saw publication) at a four-week retreat-residency at Earthdance; I conceived earlier versions of my current book-in-progress with a 7-day hermitage at the Omega Institute and a 3-week fellowship at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts (one of the most flexible residencies in the U.S.).

So, I’ll amend Aurelius’s claim for myself and for many others with whom I work, play, and retreat: Nowhere can woman or man find a quieter or more untroubled retreat than in his or her own soul while in communion with other good souls.
Pros: most logistics of food & lodging taken care of, structured freedom, cool experiences, good connections.
Cons: costs & depends on what you like and what you need.

How do you retreat best? Any tips to share on how to make the most of a retreat? Share your thoughts by replying to this message. And if you find something useful here, please forward it to a friend.

See you in the woods,


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