How to Retreat at Home
To go on a spiritual retreat has been a necessity for people in all cultures and times. All major religions and spiritual traditions use the tool of retreat to enhance the individual’s connection to themselves, and to that which is greater.
A retreat is a time away from your daily routine. You would normally go to a quiet location in nature and engage in contemplation or spiritual exercises. You’d eat a simple diet, or fast. And likely, you’d observe silence for at least some of the time.
Retreats can take any form. From a super-intense Vipassana meditation retreat, to a holiday-like yoga retreat with lots of time for lounging by the pool. They could be a few hours to a few months long. Solitary or in community. Guided or self-guided.
People go on retreat to take deep rest from the heroic journey of their lives. To recharge and reset. To rekindle inspiration, develop better habits and put their lives in perspective. A good retreat should leave you refreshed and energised, with clarity and enthusiasm, brimming with gratitude and optimism.
It’s great to go on retreat to an exotic location, away from home. To take a week or two in a place of extraordinary natural beauty. Leaving the pollution and noise behind. Spending the days in pleasant spaces, purposely designed for contemplative living.
There would be an extensive program of effective practices, delicious healthy food, and interesting like-minded people.
But it’s not always possible to effect such great escape from our daily life. Busy work schedules, family responsibilities, lack of time or money… Indeed a retreat away from home is not something we can do every few months.
So, what to do when we need a good reset, but don’t have the possibility to go away to Bali or Morocco? How to get away from it all, while in the midst of it all? Is it even possible to go on retreat at one’s own home?
As tantrics, we’re used to working with the conditions we have rather than awaiting for perfect conditions. In other words, we make the best of any situation.
So, when we have to retreat in a small flat, with a crying baby, and a semi-deaf elder watching television; we just get on with it.
There’s many advantages to running your own retreat. For one, you can customise it to be exactly as want. You wouldn’t necessarily meet new people, but you’d get a more intimate connection with yourself. Making a retreat at home, also gives you the opportunity of turning your house into a sacred space.
Whether you want to kick-start your spiritual growth, get more clarity and perspective in your life, or just get a well-deserved rest after a period of intense work; a self-guided retreat might be the thing for you.
Here’s steps for gifting yourself a healing and uplifting retreat from within the comforts of your own home.
1. Make the Decision to Retreat.
To retreat means to retire, to disconnect to suspend communication. Are you ready to cut loose for a bit? This may be tricky if you’re a parent or a busy businessperson, but it’s not impossible.
2. Set the Scope of your Retreat.
Will you retreat the whole day for several days in a row? Will you retreat for part of the day? If you cannot take full-days off, it’s perfectly appropriate to retreat for some hours a day. Consider the cycles and demands of your life and ensure they support your plans.
3. Save the dates and Commit to them.
Prepare everything for having free time during the retreat days. Communicate with the relevant people in your life. Set clear boundaries with your flatmates. (Maybe you wish to avoid chitchat?) Arrange for childcare or time off work when necessary.
4. Plan your Meals.
Will you rest your tastebuds by eating lightly-spiced food? Or will you rest your whole body by fasting or intermittently fasting? It’s best to keep your diet as light and wholesome as possible, home-made and simple. But of course, you can choose otherwise.
5. Consider a Detox.
Retreats are a great time to refresh your whole organism by reducing and clearing daily life toxins. This involves eliminating caffeine, tobacco, alcohol and meat from your diet. Taking cleansing foods like ginger and garlic. And maybe even practicing some detox methods, like Shatkarmas.
6. Set an Intention.
Having a single intention, one that you repeat in the same way every time you practice your meditation, is a powerful tool for shaping your reality. Formulate your intention in an affirmative, present-tense phrase. Preferably no more than seven words. The simpler and clearer your intention, the better.
7. Make a Schedule.
What does your retreat include? A retreat may have any structure you like. You may do yoga, create art, journal, go on nature walks… or do nothing at all. What inspires you? What do you feel you most need? Be realistic when you create a schedule.
8. Gather what you need.
Shop for the ingredients of everything you plan to eat. Ideally you won’t do any shopping during your retreat. Stock-up on candles and incense. Get any practice guidance you might need, in the form of books or other media. Buy anything else you feel you might need (bath salts, art material, flowers, etc.)
9. Create a Sacred Space.
Tidy-up your place. Avoid clutter or too much stuff around. It’s great to have plenty of floor-space for yoga or dance. And clear surfaces that let the gaze run. Make it beautiful, aesthetic, pleasing. Create a little altar as a focus of energy. Have objects that remind you of your intention. Have candles, plants and incense. Remove anything that reminds you of habits you want to avoid. For example, I like to remove from my kitchen everything that falls outside my diet.
Getting offline and even turning-off the phone can be such an empowering act. It’s a first step towards having a quiet mind. Maximise your offline time during the retreat, this might be the biggest gift you give yourself. Get clarity on how much offline you can allow yourself to be, it’s probably more than you think. Then make a commitment and put your devises away.
A ritual brings meaning and awareness to whatever you do. It can so simple as lighting a candle when you wake up, taking this moment to reflect on the day ahead. Or it can be more elaborate, consisting of different parts and props. Rituals are a good way to mark different stages of your day or retreat. They remind you of your intentions and bring you back to the here-now.
One of the most profitable practices you can schedule on your retreat, is quiet meditation. Take a few minutes each day for sitting still and becoming aware. Observe your breath, or listen to the sounds. Be present with whatever arises, without judgement or fascination.
13. Enjoy the Solitude.
We’re often distracted from ourselves by not taking enough alone time. Even if you retreat with company, give yourself the pleasure of only your own company. Go for a walk. Sit quietly watching a lovely landscape. Engage in some solitary art-making. Being alone will bring you closer to yourself, your deepest longing and hidden fears.
14. Practice Mauna.
I our tradition Mauna means to not speak, nor read, nor write. It is to take a complete break from words and verbal concepts. The first thing you notice is the incredibly energising effect of not speaking. You also become more conscious of the activity of the mind, and give the left-side of the brain a well-needed rest.
Consider your life from a slight distance. Are you living how you want to? Do you have any blind spots? Is there something troubling you? Self-reflection doesn’t need to be a neurotic act, specially when supported by meditation. Look at yourself and your life cooly and with compassion. Consider also your virtues and powers.
16. Be grateful.
The practice of conscious gratitude builds a bridge to contentment and hope. The simple act of becoming conscious of what you have to be grateful for makes you feel better about life and the future. Think of the people who love you, your home and comforts, the things that bring you joy. Be also grateful for the lessons and challenges.
17. Appreciate Yourself.
Practice self-love. What are the self-love rituals that bring you closer to yourself? Try some new ones: Like talking lovingly to yourself in the mirror, expressing how much you love you. (Sounds silly? Try it!) Do something that you specially enjoy. Consider all the ways in which you’re great. Remember the times you were praised. Meditate on your Inner Hero. Forgive yourself.
18. Do something useful.
We find any retreat is improved by the practice of Karma Yoga. To do something useful and necessary in a meditative, detached way. We do the work as a prayer, as an offering, as an act of self-knowledge. This applies to doing the dishes, cleaning the sacred space, or doing anything that is necessary to do. Consider avoiding intellectual tasks during the retreat.
19. Be in nature.
No retreat would be complete without a dose of the old mother. Schedule nature time. Even in the greyest of wintery cities there are corners of nature where you can go to be part of it all. Practice eco-sensuality: to experience nature with heightened senses. Connect with nature any way you can and this connection will expand you.
20. Practice Joy.
A retreat doesn’t have to be a solemn occasion. It can be a celebration… or yourself, or being alive, of having the possibility to give yourself such self-care. Be happy to retreat rather than approaching the retreat as medicine. Chant uplifting mantras or spirit songs. Dance. Be child-like. This attitude starts from the moment you decide to retreat, and carries you through the planning process, through the retreat itself. Psyche yourself up. Enjoy it!
The Pirate Tantrics conduct regular retreats in nature and in the city. The most powerful are the Anchor retreats: Silent, intense, concentrated dives into the science of classical Tantra (yoga, meditation and energy work). The more fun are the Compass retreats, which leave the tantric sciences just for the morning, in favour of art, play and sweet sensual connection the rest of the day.
Our next Anchor retreat is in Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin over three mornings on 24, 25 and 26 December.