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Tuesday, July 8,2014


By Jonna Shutowick. M.S. Ed.  

"Retreat!” As a verb, it means backing away from a battle. As a noun, it is a place of rest and relaxation, a place to recharge your batteries away from the hustle and bustle of life. At face value the words seem at odds, but the command, “Retreat!” urges a movement away from stress at the risk of failure or breakdown, and a retreat urges the same thing! Opening up space to reconnect with our inner selves and spirit requires a break from daily roles and responsibilities. If we remain entrapped in the din of our daily life, our gifts and talents may never grow. In order for our authentic selve to emerge, we must retreat.

Last April I felt an urgent need to retreat. Let’s just say it was an EMERGEncy! I went home to my beloved Mid-Hudson Valley in upstate New York and attended a workshop at the Omega Institute called “Channeling your Creativity,” facilitated by Alanis Morissette and James Van Praagh (which, I confess, was a huge catalyst - what an opportunity!). When I booked the trip I told my family and colleagues that I was taking a much needed hiatus from life to recharge my battery. I did the whole “off the grid” thing: no cell phone, no computer, no TV. When I stepped onto the grounds, however, I realized I wasn’t so much retreating from my life as much as removing myself from the distractions that interfere with my spiritual life. Despite my deep love and gratitude for my family and friends, once in a while I just need to take a little time to be alone. A friend once asked me if it was lonely when I set off on these weekend retreats by myself. As I explained how that was not at all the way I felt, I thought about the difference between being alone and being lonely. Loneliness is a state of suffering where connection with others is scarce. Aloneness, on the other hand, creates space inside of us to be more present with others. I am a caretaker by nature. It is one of the things I feel I was put on this earth to do, and I do it very well. I’m a mother, a teacher, a counselor, a wife and daughter, and I genui n e l y f i n d peace and passion in these roles. But, of course, I have more gifts to share, and this part of me needs to be nurtured as well. I’m sure this is true for most of us. I am at my best with others when I am at my best with myself. And while retreating to an amazing venue with incredibly gifted and inspiring people is fantastically delicious, I was grateful to be reminded at the workshop that a physical retreat is not completely necessary. We can retreat every day of our lives wherever we are.

The truth is, there is a quiet oasis inside of all of us that can be tapped into whenever we put our focus there. Admittedly, climbing beautifully landscaped rock formations to a meditation temple at the top of a hill, with the sound of Tibetan bells chiming and birds reminding us of nature’s simplicity, and creating art and dancing with Alanis and James, makes the experience far more rich and juicy. But this can be created in our own environment every day. The saying, “Bloom where you’re planted” comes to mind. Mindfulness can be brought into any and every moment by simply breathing in and out. Each breath offers an opportunity for a mini-retreat roughly 23,000 times a day!


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