This Winter, Embrace the Solitude

This holiday season is like no other. If you’re more isolated than you wanted or planned to be at this point, or if you’re just too burnt out to even try to figure out how to get what you’re needing, why not go out on a limb and do something different: take a solo retreat.

If you’ve never done a solo retreat, the concept might need some explaining. It’s a little different than a solo vacation, and also different than a led retreat.

That is: it’s not a time to finally read all of the books you wanted, to play lots of games, to get long miles in the great outdoors, or to see all of the sites in a new beautiful place. Nor is it a hosted experience with a teacher who will guide you through deepening your meditation or yoga practice over some number of days.

It is something in between these. It also offers different rewards than either. Conveniently, it’s also the one option that is still COVID-possible for most of us even while locked down.

An example of an inviting retreat space

Solitude With a Little More Intention

In some ways, you could also think of a solo retreat as a way to bring more intention and nourishment to the difficult level of isolation many of us have found ourselves in, anyway. It could even be a way to help you finally rest, grieve, and transform some of what has been so hard about this year.

A solo retreat is the truest way I have ever found to help myself through real transformation: that is, it’s not just a “break” in order to return to wherever, whoever, or however I was, but a conscious step to look more closely at myself, my life, the world, and what I’ve experienced, and maybe touch something closer to wisdom and insight to guide wherever I’m going next — or, in some cases, just actually acknowledge where I really am.

Solo retreats can be confronting. There is no one to entertain you or distract you. If you find yourself annoyed, tired, frustrated, or happy on a solo retreat, you only have yourself to thank, and you know it.

I have become a fan of solo retreats because I’ve had an unusual set of experiences that have supported me to seek them out regularly.

Five years ago, I co-founded an alternative to divinity school called Alt*Div to support soulful community builders. Ironically, I was so burnt out from the experience of leading it that I needed to take my first “sabbatical” two years into it, which I marked by going a solo retreat in a snowy cabin. It was just four days, but that was just long enough to bring me face-to-face with all of the reasons I had gotten so far past the point of exhaustion, including a look at deeper root causes— like the impact of living in a culture of hyper-productivity and achievement, driven by definitions of success shaped by whiteness, capitalism, and my education. So, those four days quickly became the start of years of self and collective work, laying the foundation for starting to heal from all of these root factors of harm to myself and the world.

Since then, I have also spent most of the last two years organizing community between catholic women religious (“sisters”) and young movement organizers with Nuns & Nones. I have learned that many sisters actually have a written right in their community’s constitutions for each sister to take at least one solo retreat a year. Sisters understand the importance of solo retreats for keeping them grounded in their spirituality and their resilience for life in committed community.

All together, I’ve been lucky to have more support and resources than most folks who aren’t monks to take regular solo retreats. So, if you need something different this year, I wanted to share some tips and support for how you can create your own mini monastery, too, even in your own home.

Here is my personal list of secret ingredients for a nourishing solo retreat:

The six ingredients to a successful solo retreat

Enter the Wayfinder Kit

For a number of years now, Jeff & I, along with our collaborator Sarah, have been creating & selling physical toolkits to aid the reflective process. These are called Wayfinder Kits and each is a handcrafted labor of love which includes a journal with prompts, a deck of inspiration cards, and more.

Read this article in its entirety on the Wayfinder Kit website – This Winter, Go Solo – where it goes deeper into each of the six ingredients above with concrete tips, inspiring quotes, and more.

And if you're so inclined, consider purchasing a Wayfinder Kit for yourself or that person in your life that seems most in need of it this season.

Happy holidays!


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