This is the fifth post in my blog series about recharging and resetting your life, what I call retreating.
The first house I owned was a bungalow with two bedrooms on the main floor and one large room upstairs. Housemates occupied the bedrooms downstairs while mine was the upstairs room. I sectioned it into four distinct areas: work space with desk, sleeping and dressing area, storage space for miscellaneous stuff, and sitting area—my personal retreat space. The latter had an old vinyl easy chair, which was ugly as sin and comfortable as heaven. Next to it was a small end table. It wasn’t the prettiest of spaces, but it was my sanctuary where lots of personal revelations took place and life-changing decisions made.
If you want to go on a retreat, to recharge and reset, but leaving home isn’t feasible, you can create your own personal retreat space in your house. Although getting away from home and its distractions can make for a more focused experience, you don’t have to leave home to get the benefits.
In previous posts I touched on reasons why you might need some retreat time: a health or financial crisis, a major life change, or a desire to push your life in a different direction, to name a few. Even if none of these situations describes you, getting some me time is essential. Retreating helps us slow down, center, and remember to enjoy life. Retreating can calm nerves, reduce anxiety, promote emotional and physical health, open pathways to different thinking, and help us make decisions, large or small.
I’m working on a DIY home retreat kit, which I’ll roll out in the coming months. In the meantime, here are some ideas for creating a home-based retreat space.
Create your retreat space
The space that you choose doesn’t have to be large but it should be where you’ll feel at ease and comfortable. It can be a whole room, a sectioned off part of a room, or even in the garden shed. You’ll want enough room for a comfortable seat, such as a chair or floor pillows, and possibly a small table, desk, or other surface for setting things on. If you have the space, you could even do a little yoga or stretching there.
The key is to select a spot where no other activity takes place. Avoid using the room where you watch TV, the home office, or where others in your household are likely to hang out (and possibly pester you or kick you out so they can watch TV). Avoid using your bedroom so you aren’t tempted to fall asleep during your retreat time. By the way, it’s not a good idea to meditate in bed either because chances are you’ll fall asleep instead.
If your bedroom—or another activity room—is the only suitable space, section off a small area for retreating with a physical partition, even if it’s just partitioned during your retreat time. For partitioning, consider buying a hinged panel screen, which you can find at a thrift store, online sales platform, home goods store, or garage sale. I use my local Freecycle.org group to find (and give away) all kinds of things. A physical barrier will also train your mind to know that the space is not for any other activity but retreating.
Pro tip for the budget-conscious: Buy used sheets or curtains from the thrift store and tack them to the ceiling as a partition or drape them over something. Or, create your own panel screens out of recycled cardboard and duct tape or scrap wood.
Personalize your retreat space with things that bring comfort and pleasure, such as a cozy blanket, candles, and rocks, shells, or other nature objects (the latter are good for grounding and calming). You might have a few framed pictures or posters on the wall. Be sure the subjects aren’t overly stimulating. For example, instead of pictures of you and friends partying, choose a nature scene or family portrait. Maybe it’s a picture of a beloved saint or guru, or cards with colorful designs or inspiring words.
Keep it sacred
When you do retreat to that special space in your house, don’t do any other activity except retreat. Use that space only for your self-care. Meditate, do centering prayer, sit silently, read inspirational materials, listen to inspirational recordings, or write in a journal. Maybe you and a friend retreat together for a few hours.
Do not talk on the phone, watch TV, listen to recordings or read works that have nothing to do with self-care, do work of any kind, make to-do lists, plan your week, or worry. If you have a worry, and coming up with a solution is your retreating goal, try envisioning the situation as if you were a third-party observer, rather than fretting over it. If you worry in your retreat space, you won’t want to go back there because you’ll associate that space with anxiety.
Remember, this is your space for your self-care, so keep it sacred every time you are there for the whole time you are there. This will create the habit of self-care, which requires your persistence and vigilance.
You can also do personal one-off retreats somewhere other than your house. I once spent an entire afternoon sitting under a huge ponderosa pine tree in the canyon near my home. It was called the Knowledge Tree because it was so old. I needed a deep mind and emotional cleanse to let go of some things from my past and envision my future. I listened to nature, took some photographs of the tree, wrote in my journal, prayed, and practiced being present. It was a sacred and rejuvenating four hours.
Public spaces can make great retreat areas too: an art museum, a botanical garden, arboretum, or quiet park. You may encounter others, but if the area is naturally soothing (think gardens), it won’t matter because people will respect your right to peaceful enjoyment. That’s why they’re there too. I’m lucky enough to live near several large art museums that have many nooks with comfy seating. I also live near several parks and public gardens, a couple of which are my go-tos for contemplative walks or sitting on a sun-drenched bench.
Don’t overlook these public spaces. Even if you have to share them with others, they can provide an hour’s worth, or more, of valuable retreat time. Another idea is to visit a local house of worship (yours, if you belong to a spiritual community) outside of their worship hours. Ask their permission to sit in their sanctuary or some other peaceful spot.
You deserve self-care, and taking the time to retreat can help fulfill that need. Next week we’ll look at ideas for creating your own group retreat locally.
For links to retreats and other resources, visit my Resources page.
Read my memoir about a two-year retreat I took in Scotland.