A Seaman's Quest

One man's search for truth

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Know When to Retreat

Mental Health

The personal retreat is the most important aspect of my mental health. Without breaking the routine of life I would be overcome by its challenges and demands. My life and joy is only sustainable through periodic times of detachment.

The retreat gives me time alone, away from the demands of others, and perhaps even more importantly, the demands that I place on myself. I am wired for performance and this usually serves me well. But without a break I am in danger of harmful attitudes that can hurt me and others.

When a sidewalk is poured, it is built with expansion joints. Sometimes these are gaps filled with fibrous material, or just indentations in the top surface. When the expansion happens this will be the place that the concrete moves. If it will fracture, it will do it here.

Unattended turmoil may lead to personal crisis. But it is better to have a regular and safe way to make small adjustments throughout our lives and avoid the catastrophic resets.

Why retreat?

A personal retreat is an opportunity to break the routine and contemplate life. It allows me to step back and examine the quality of my life and imagine what it could be. The routines of our lives typically prevent this type of reflection through the constant demands and habits that run our life. A retreat sets these aside for a brief time to explore what is and what may be.

When to retreat?

There are several different levels that each require this practice of Advance/Retreat. I find that the rhythms of life require me to have times of contemplation and reflections at every level: Day, Week, Month, Quarter.

The amount of time invested scales with the elapsed time. I found that taking 20 minutes daily to sit and ponder life provides a great structure for my entire day. The weekly retreat provides me with a couple of hours to think about all of the interactions that I have had with others throughout the week.

My monthly retreat is usually around 4 hours and the quarterly retreat a full day. The longer terms give me opportunity to contemplate my roles and goals in life. These often produce changes in my commitments and overall direction. It is hard to overestimate the value that these times have meant to me or the imagine what my life might be like without them.

How to retreat?

I value structure very highly in my regular life. When I am "ON" there is a tremendous desire to control every aspect of my world. Therefore when I am "OFF" it needs to be embracing a less structured life rhythm. I resist the urge to read a stack of books or make lists of goals and objectives.

I try to spend the time pondering the meaning of life. What does it all mean? Am I OK? What do I wish were true? What would I like to change? These questions are about plumbing the depths of the soul, not running the length of the treadmill.

I also don't view this time as an opportunity for entertainment or recreation. That is a medication for another time. I am here to do real work (that is often difficult emotionally).

Self-awareness is the result of honesty . It takes a tremendous amount of courage and energy to face the truth. But truth will set me free and what I learn during this time will change the rest of my life.

I do have a series of exercises that I have developed over the years that I find quite helpful. They usually amount to a series of questions that I ask myself. A good question can reveal amazing insight when answered honestly. I rotate through different exercises to keep it all fresh. I don't have any fixed routine that sets the activity. This is a time for exploration and discovery.