I remember a colleague once saying that he no longer went on “retreats” but preferred to go on “advances.”
I like that. A retreat should always lead to an advance. And recently, I experienced a retreat that might very well advance me into a good place in the future.
It all started with a casual conversation with my physical therapist. Agnes was working on some kinks in my neck due to a motorcycle accident, or perhaps age, or perhaps just a genetic predisposition to kinks in my neck. She asked what I did for a living and when I told her about my work as a speaker and author, she said, “Would you ever want to run a wellness retreat with me?”
Being somewhat apprehensive about taking on the job of co-facilitating a retreat but thinking it probably would never really happen (people routinely propose these kinds of things to me), I said, “Sure.”
Well, two years later, I found myself deep in the rain forest on the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica co-facilitating a wellness retreat. Go figure. I pondered whether I might have had a kink in my mind. But then I considered that perhaps this was an opportunity to venture outside my comfort zone and learn some things that would serve me well. I went with the latter.
The purpose of a retreat is to get away from our normal routine for a time of reflection, planning, and relationship building. And while many people might refer to their workplace as “a jungle”, there aren’t many places better suited for reflection than in an actual jungle. So that’s what we did.
Specifically, our retreat was located at Luna Lodge, a beautiful eco resort near Costa Rica’s Corcovado National Park. Our daily schedule included yoga, mindfulness exercises, mediation, personal development classes, and wonderfully healthy meals prepared by the staff at the resort. Additionally, there was time to explore the jungle and take part in offsite excursions.
Of all the activities, I think the yoga and the mindfulness exercises had the greatest influence on me so I’ll share some of my insights in hopes that they may have a positive impact on your own goals and personal development.
Yoga is a practice that combines breathing, mental focus, and physical poses, and it originated in India thousands of years ago. The word yoga is Sanskrit for “union.” So, at a basic level, one could consider it as the union of body and mind. Most instructors will take you through a series of poses that stretch and exercise specific areas of the body. During the poses, the participants, or yogurts as I like to call them, assume the positions while focusing on their breathing as well as the sensations within their bodies while in the poses.
When I was ten years old, I was hit by a car and the impact broke my femur. As a result of the accident and now, my age, my muscles are very tight and I no longer have the flexibility I had when I was young. I used to be able to put both of my feet on top of my thighs in the Lotus Position. Now, I’m lucky to put both of my feet into my shoes without straining. The problem is that I have very tight hamstrings. And if you know anything about yoga, the hamstrings are a favorite area of focus.
So, it may come as no surprise that when I was in the hamstrung-focused pose called Downward Facing Dog, my mind was focused on nothing more than how much I hate the way my hamstrings feel while doing the Downward Facing Dog. And this, of course, is where the learning occurs.
When I asked Agnes how I could improve the flexibility of my hamstrings, she suggested that I do more Downward Facing Dogs.
I’m thinking, “Oh great. Pain helps reduce the pain. Fantastic.”
But in reality, this is a big part of the awareness process—it’s about understanding how the thinking in our mind leads to the experiences we have. For instance, I tend to give up when my body feels uncomfortable. So, I avoid the discomfort by stopping the activities. Heck, I regularly force myself to go back to sleep at night to avoid the energy it takes to get up and go to the bathroom. But what Agnes was pointing out to me was that the physical benefit comes from simply being physical. It’s not too complicated. We need to move, to sweat, to feel the burn, and to “just do it”—until we’re downward dog tired.
So my first lesson on the retreat was this: Do what needs to be done.
The mindfulness part of the retreat was a reinforcement of what I’ve been studying for the past year. It’s about being present and not missing the current moment by spending too much time in our heads. Again, Agnes had a great way of demonstrating this principle. Whenever someone questioned something during the retreat such as a schedule change or a timing conflict between an activity and an excursion, Agnes would always say, “It’s all good.”
Now, one could argue that everything is not all good. We know that there is violence, illness, and tragedy in our world and surely those are not “all good.” But Agnes was encouraging us to be flexible and to be in the moment rather than worrying about changes that, in the big scheme of things, were not that critical. This carried over to those times when I’d recognize that I was listening to the wrong message from my mind.
For instance, sometimes while on the retreat, I felt that I should be doing something instead of reading or just sitting in a rocking chair looking at the beautiful foliage. But what I came to realize is that being is just as important as doing. In fact, if I had been “busy” every minute of every day, I would have missed spider monkeys, toucans, and macaws that regularly appeared in the trees around the resort. Seeing these animals was an amazing experience. It was as if nature was reminding me, “If you just pay attention, I’ll show you something that will blow your mind.”
We had these experiences all week long and they reinforced the value of being present and not creating an alternate reality in our heads by thinking, worrying, or feeling that we should be doing something else.
So the second lesson I learned on the retreat was this: Always be present because that’s where we are and that’s where we’re meant to be.
There were many other valuable experiences I had on this retreat. I may even share some of them in future blogs. In the meantime, please consider the value of a retreat from your daily routine. When we take a break and evaluate where our time, our bodies, and our minds are focused, we realize that we may have developed some pretty bad habits that distract us from truly being present. When we break that cycle, we can make an adjustment here or there and create new healthier habits.
So, if you want to advance in your life and career, you just may need to retreat for a bit. Because, it is a jungle out there.
I also have right hamstrings and also hate downward facing dog. I had a yoga instructor who would torture us by instructing us to “…relax into downward facing dog.“ I never quite understood where the relaxation part came in …