Sunday, April 11, 2010

Stay at Home Retreat: Health, Poetry and Spiritual Inquiry

When I told my friend, Caifornia-based poet Ellaraine Lockie that I had finished a four-day stay at home retreat, she suggested I write about it, that other writers might like to know how and what I did.

Well you can imagine that two things which inspired this kind retreat (as opposed to traveling somewhere) were time and money, or rather lack of it. In the last three months, I have already traveled to Mexico with family, and then to NYC with daughter for a college visit, therefore my travel time and budget were used up for the next few months at least.

Some aspects of my lifestyle worked in my favor. I have a creative and supportive family who understands the importance of pursuing art and spiritual contemplative study. This was important—I didn’t have lots of loud people in my periphery, people asking me to do things for them or meet their needs.

I live on a beautiful farm and especially this time of year the cherry tree in front of the house is in full bloom and the pastures around the house are bright green. Because I live here all the time, I think I forget, or take for granted, how beautiful Cumberland County Kentucky is. Often times I think about all of the places I would rather be. This time was an opportunity to settle in to a remembrance of the beauty of my own backyard.

Earlier in the year I posted photos of my beautiful new writing space, well-lit with big windows and bird feeders. So, while the beach is always calling me, my own humble home is also a place of tremendous inspiration. My muse is on call 24/7, it’s helpful to be reminded that I do not have to travel to exotic places or place myself in complete isolation to find her.

More or less the retreat, or any retreat for that matter, was more of a mindset, and in some ways even a form of clever trickery. An agreement perhaps, or a commitment of sorts. I scheduled the four-day block well-ahead of time. I wrote it on my calendar just as I would any other time important commitment, and I informed my family that this event would be taking place. I arranged my work schedule accordingly, and yes, I had to say no to a few things. For instance, a coworker who missed her usual work day offered to come later in the week, but instead, I rescheduled her to come the following week. I made arrangements with my husband to take up my usual day driving daughter to dance class. So, it did take a bit of effort. But a small price to pay. I can see how if I would have been more lax, life would certainly have seen to it that I didn’t have this time to dedicate to my art, my self-development, my health. Here I was faced with the question of worth and value of these sometimes diminished rights—and it felt right to place these pursuits in a place of importance, for this short block of time anyway. If I can’t say “no” to the onslaught of outside influences for only four days, how can I expect these aspects to thrive?

So—how did I spend my time? I spent long periods in the morning journaling, and in mediation.

I was able to edit large numbers of poems, and complied a new chapbook. I submitted the chapbook to some contests, and submitted additional poems to online literary magazines.

I sat outside and ate my lunch. I reinstated my daily brisk two mile walks, which had fallen by the wayside with cold wet winter weather (perfect excuses!).

I took the time to consult the I Ching on matters relating to the direction of my writing (#14—those who act out of a place of joy can’t help but gain followers).

I studied Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook” A Prose Guide to Understanding and Writing Poetry, read quite a bit of Ezra Pound, and another book about Tolkien’s work on the Oxford English Dictionary, and his wonderful ability to adapt Old and Middle English words into his stories.

I ate a lot of raw foods (salads, fruits, smoothies). I find a noticeable increase in mental clarity and energy when I eat mostly fruits and salads.

I only checked email in order to look up contest and submission info (I did take one phone call from my friend Pat Ritter).

How did I feel on Monday? Well, as though I could use two weeks of this kind of life! But really, I reentered into a busy work day with a renewed sense of ease and appreciation. My thoughts had slowed, they had a chance to stretch, and feel free. I accomplished more that usual working at a slow and steady pace. I have a clear understanding of why this is—I have taken a bit of my retreat-ness with me into my week. Not having to transition back into home, and my “usual” life, saved me from having to experience a sense of feeling let down, having to give up a strong feeling of freedom. The stay at home retreat didn’t set up such a strong contrast between “retreat life” and “regular life.” Feeling this in my own home was empowering, I know I can encounter a sense of freedom that I once thought I could only access by getting away.

I highly recommend trying this. It’s affordable, it feeds your soul, and your muse will reward you for it.

—Christy Korrow