When the time came for my personal retreat, I was not ready.
I had not sent out the emails I wanted to send. I had not finished all of the phone calls. Including two important ones.
But the dates were fixed. The little cabin in the woods was booked. The time had arrived. And so I went.
I shut down my laptop, threw some warm clothes in my bag, filled up the car’s tires with air and the gas tank, and drove through the windy mountain roads to one of my spiritual homes: Ben Lomond Quaker Center. I once worked on the 80 acres of redwoods, have attended numerous retreats there and now lead retreats there. So I know the place well: several trees have become friends. The land holds memories of friends and questions and prayers offered and received over the nearly two decades that I have been serious about the need for collective and personal spiritual transformation to face such catastrophes as climate change.
As soon as I began to pass the great redwood trees that signal the beginning of the incline to the Center, my heart soared.
While for some folks the time between Christmas and New Years is the ideal retreat time, for others, including spiritual/religious leaders such as myself, the holiday time is a busy time. I support people in deep reflection around New Years to enable a deeper human-earth-Spirit connection. I love the work, but it is work. If we pay attention to our external schedule, for many of us, there simply is no “good time” to do some of this deeper work that requires a fair amount of silence. So just stop looking for one. Just. Stop.
Instead, pay attention to your internal knowings.
I’ll be honest: the last few weeks have been unusually stressful. I’ve been working through one of the toughest “personal” challenges with my mom that I have had for well over a decade. As a result, I have not been able to concentrate. And that is one of my signals that I need to stop, and go into a deeper communion with the Spirit - if at all possible, a retreat.
Sometimes the perfect time to “stop” is when you are not working well.
Passing beneath those friendly (tree) giants, I remembered that the work I have been given to do in the world cannot arise from a place of fear or anxiety. Spiritual work arises, is given to us, out of our relationship with Spirit and the human-earth community. Such dialogues require time away from human interaction. We must cultivate inner silence, and that particular listening that comes from engaging with our non-human community. In my case, that especially includes sequoia trees and streams and mud and rock that are part of the overarching communion with the Source of my creativity and journey towards wisdom.
After 24 hours, I had found some answers. After 48 hours, I was back in “flow”. Yes, I have been going in and out of retreats, taking them and leading them, for close to two decades - I have some sense about the processes that work well. I’ve even written a short guide about it.
But regardless of your experience of being on retreats, I would encourage you to listen to that internal no as responsibly as you can (enabling the people around you to be ok without you being present) as much as you can.
To do so enables a greater honesty to arise. It enables you to enter the fullness of time - that temporal zone where past present and future and intersect, come together and support you. It is less of an “away” as a going inwards.
We are living beings who are part of a living being: going ‘in’ to the deeper wisdom can, if done well, ripples ‘out’ in ways we don't always understand and certainly can not foresee.