“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.” Annie Lamott
Taking a personal retreat day is probably one of the best things to do for one’s mental health. It gives us an opportunity to rest and reset so the mind can be more clear and at ease.
For many people, the idea of doing nothing for a duration of time brings up a lot of anxiety because it means sitting with one’s own thoughts without any escape. The mind can be a scary place to be if we are plagued with stressful, negative thoughts, which most of us are when we really pay attention to what is going on in our habitual thinking.
So why would one schedule time out to intentionally do nothing? And I mean nothing with any purpose in mind. No planning, no writing, no reading, not texting, emailing, phone calls, or even just plain old talking. By truly giving our minds the chance to unplug, we can let the brain rest and just be with what is happening the present moment. The present moment is actually very interesting, and can be enjoyable, if we pay attention in the right way – without striving or trying to accomplish anything.
Does this sound enticing? For most people it would not, but for those who have had the experience of taking day or half day retreat, many can attest to the benefits of slowing down the racing mind, not getting caught up in the busyness of everyday life, and appreciating the world around us.
A retreat does not need to be complicated and does not have to be done with a renowned teacher or at a special retreat location. All that is necessary is a dedicated time and location where there are no distractions for a set period of time. If possible, the experience is enhanced with the company of supportive friends who will join in the intention participating in do-it-your-own mindfulness retreat.
This week I took time to do a personal retreat and unplug in the company of fellow meditation practitioners in the midst of our busy, urban lives. Last December a small group of us decided that since we could not make it to retreats at meditation centres, we would create our own. The first gathering was a small group of four friends and since then we have meet every 6 weeks or so and have grown to a group of 8.
We planned a full five hours to gather at a friend’s house to sit in silence together. The structure of the day is very simple. There is a schedule of 30 minute intervals that alternate between sitting and walking meditation and if anyone wants to take an extended walk or even take a nap, that is also allowed. We take a break to have a mindful meal together, usually a mix of something very tasty that each person brings along. At the end of the day, there is a brief time to break silence and share some reflections on what people learned from their day of mindfulness.
Being in silence with others may feel strange as we are so conditioned to be in dialogue when in the presence of others. For many it may seem isolating and lonely. However, the opposite is true and there is always a greater feeling of closeness and intimacy amongst the group which supports each person to have a deeper mindfulness practice than we would have on our own. At the end of the day, it is always a pleasure to hear the insights of co-meditators who have also taken a radical step by unplugging for a full day.
If this is something you might be considering but are hesitant to try it out, try starting with small steps. Aim to take a full hour to unplug to start and see how that feels. Make sure there are no distractions and that nobody will disturb you for this period of time. Don’t place too high an expectation on yourself to feel a certain way. If an hour feels comfortable, consider extending the time to a full morning and invite a friend who is also practicing mindfulness. Make it as simple as possible. All you need is the time, place and intention to unplug, and let the non-doing do the rest of the work in helping you to find a sense of balance and peace of mind in the midst of this frantic world we live in.