my wife’s monthly creative in-house retreats

If you write me between now and Monday morning, I’ll be in the woods. Literally.

I’m on retreat. In my house – mostly in my studio and create room. And for over three days, I will not answer the phone or even speak to or mostly see my wife or three-year-old little girl.

Last week, my wife got the same delicious silent treatment for a shorter period (due to her own business limitations).

Last week I mentioned to my friends and clients that I needed to shuffle my schedule around to take care of my daughter on certain days because my wife was on her monthly retreat. I think I’ve helped five clients in two weeks do their version of this very thing, in fact.

“Monthly retreat? Where does your wife go? What does she do?” they say usually in disbelief, especially because of the toddler in the mix.

My reply: “Wherever she wants. Whatever she wants. But mostly she gardens, reads up on Traditional Chinese Medicine and philosophy, tracks animal prints, and works on business projects. Sometimes, I think she just daydreams.”

“Every month? How do you do that?”

These in-house retreats are not for everyone. But if this is you, I think they’re a necessity:

  • You hunger for just a few hours to do nothing online and to immerse in your own reverie space and deep create space.
  • Your obligations to other people are way taking over your responsibility to your best self’s creative work.
  • You and your partner do not have a structure to support one another’s need for creative solitude (or your partner does not have a compassionate structure to support your need for solitude).
I joked to my wife the other day that we should team up and teach couples how to do what we do. There’s such a hunger for this. Maybe we should do something on Creative Intimate Partner Collaboration.

Anyway, here are some factors that help my wife and I and what you can do:

  • Part of our vows literally were to support one another‘s complementary paths and not to get in each other’s way. We stumble but make concerted efforts almost every day to practice this.

What you can do: In a non-threatening manner, open the conversation of mutual support for solitude to your partner. Find the flexible structure. If you live alone, open the conversation with your best self.

  • We schedule and coordinate our retreats each month several months ahead of time. Typically, I receive one 48-hour retreat a month and one 3-5 day retreat each three months. But for now we’re experimenting with longer monthly retreats for me.

What you can do: Schedule them! Start with a 4-hour or 8-hour retreat just to reacquaint yourself with yourself and to observe your default habits (i.e., checking email, etc.).

  • We get the toddler on board and coordinate the child care and school hours. In my conversation with Jen Louden and Tara Mohr about purpose, I mentioned that one of the best things I think we do for our daughter (and believe me, we mess up in a lot of ways) is model for her that each parent pursues what matters to her or him. We’ve been doing this since she was a baby. We choose to spend more money on child care and early schooling even though it is a strain on our limited budget. So, even though our little girl gets sad about one of us going on retreat, when we say “Mama is going on retreat,” she gets it. And even if she sees Mama in the garden, she tells me, proudly, “Mama’s on retreat. Let’s don’t bother her.” Love that.

What you can do: Start retraining your children. Invest a little more in child care as an experiment. Or barter with a  friend. Talk to your partner! Whereas you can accept that every household differs, also accept some agency in actively coming up with creative solutions.

  • Our house structure reflects our priorities. It’s an advantage, I know. After a disorienting house fire, we seized the opportunity to re-structure the back part of the house where my studio and conference room are. Double-insulated walls. Barn doors between my studio and conference room. Plus, we revamped two odd small rooms into my wife’s house office (she also has her own office down the road).

What you can do: If you don’t have a house fire scheduled, claim your space and set boundaries and hours of retreat. Go off-premises. Ask to borrow or rent a friend’s office space for a day. Go to local b&b.

  • We all get on board to support the retreatant. The retreatant receives breakfast in the office. The retreatant does not have to speak to or otherwise interact with the family. The rest of the family tries to respect quiet on behalf of the retreatant as much as possible and reasonable (She is three, after all!).

What you can do: Talk with your partner and other family members. Lay the ground rules. Get everyone on board. If you repeat the process often enough, everyone might start to accept monthly retreats as part of the family rhythm. Maybe not, but how will you know unless you make a concerted experimental effort? If you live alone, set the ground rules for your best self. (Psst! You might be as difficult to persuade and retrain as anyone else!)

I’ve been taking my own retreats since I was 22. So, I know that if you live alone or if you have children but not a partner, your situation differs to some extent. Your main task is to partner with your best self and figure out what your best self needs to flourish and then figure out how to help make that happen.

Because I’ve been retreating for over 25 years, I love to hold retreat space for other people. I know its value. (In fact, I have the idea to hold a virtual all-day in-house retreat for you soon! What do you think?)

This topic can raise a lot of emotions for people. So, I’ve tried to present the idea as a possibility and an experiment that can be treated as such. Our circumstances differ, and even one person’s circumstances differ from year to year. The idea is to define or track the problem. Bring on board your Nurture Pack (the friends and family who bring you comfort) and your Smooth Running Pack (the people behind-the-scenes who help you run with your ideas and projects). And come up with novel solutions of your own. That’s the creative mindset at work for your best self.

So, yes, I’ll see you in the woods out back and up to the Mohonk Mountain House for trail-wandering with vista-stealing of the Catskill Mountains. But mostly I’ll see you right here in my studio working for my boss – my best self.

Let me know what you think or what you’ve tried or what questions you have. And let me know if you’d like me to host a virtual in-house retreat soon.

See you in the woods,


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