Stay-Cation Spiritual Retreat!
If you're anything like me, then you've looked longingly at all those amazing spiritual retreats that are offered at this time of the year, often for specific deities, studies, sabbats, or purposes, and felt a twinge of sadness or jealousy at not being able to attend (for myself it was the Morrigan's Call retreat offered by Stephanie Woodfield, and it's financially out of my league right now). It's not always possible to do everything we want to do spiritually, and sometimes the retreats we have our eyes on are too far away, too expensive, or don't match up with our vacation time. When a retreat from the world for spiritual purposes is what you're craving, but your time, area, or budget limitations say no, then it's time to get creative and come up with your own retreat, at home, or keeping it local!
Step 1: Choose your time and location: If you can't go far away to an especially lead retreat, then you need to choose a time and location that will work for you. Whether you choose your own backyard, a local campground, a hotel or bed and breakfast, or another special location, it needs to be decided upon before you begin your retreat. Make sure the timing of it works with your schedule too. Can't take a whole week off? How about a weekend? Your weekends too busy for you to take the whole thing off? What about just one day? Make sure you write it down in your calendar, planner, or phone and BOOK IT OFF. This time is your retreat, not your catch-up-on-housework day, or grocery shopping time.
Step 2: Set up the atmosphere and notify friends: If you are going away to a local place make sure that at least one other person knows where you'll be, and can look in on houseplants, pets, or drive-by to make sure your home is secure. If you're staying home, make sure your loved ones know this a special time for you and you're not to be disturbed. You need to set this time up with the same type of atmosphere you would for going away to a retreat lead by another person - this is a sacred time for yourself, and you're not accepting visitors, phone calls, text messages, or work projects during this block of time. Set yourself up for success too by getting all the groceries and supplies you'll need if you're staying at home, so you don't have to go anywhere during this time. Turn off your phone, close curtains if desired/needed, and shut yourself off from the world.
Step 3: Create a retreat-like environment, no matter where you are: Whether you're staying at your house, camping, or just spending your time in a friend or family member's empty house, you need to set up your space to feel like a retreat. Even your sleeping space should have a retreat-like feel if you can help it. Make your bed up with special sheets and blankets, place crystals, candles, and incense around the area, bless and cleanse it, choose special pajama's if you wear them, and make the place where you'll spend the most time feel like a sacred, safe area to retreat to. If you're going camping or out into the natural environment for your retreat make sure that where your "home base" is stays organized and welcoming, and that when you climb into your tent or camper, that you feel like you're stepping into a cocoon, or a cozy, sacred environment. Remember, you're foregoing a professional retreat for one you're putting on for yourself, so go all out and spoil yourself in whatever ways you can!
Step 4: Design a schedule, plan a menu: All professional retreats have a schedule and a menu, and you should too! Plan and purchase the food you're going to eat that will suit the environment you're staying in and will support the activities you'll be doing. If you're going to be outside, moving around and hiking and in the elements all day you'll want a higher protein diet than if you're going to be inside a lot, or sitting in silence and meditation for most of your time. Schedule your eating times so that you'll feel dedicated to the activities you've planned for yourself, and not be distracted as much. Shop for all your food and beverages ahead of time, and try to have things prepped as much as possible before your retreat starts as well, that way when it comes time to cook your meals you are ready to go and not wasting your retreat time on meal prep (unless that is a spiritual activity for you, in which case, ignore what I just said!) and cooking. Plan your activities with a realistic, but an ambitious attitude! If you know you can't meditate for 2 hours straight, then don't plan to during your retreat! Instead, if you want meditation to be a big focus, break it up into more manageable chunks of time that will still push you, but not way beyond your abilities or comfort zone. A retreat is designed to facilitate deep, spiritual experiences, but also restore and invigorate you, so make sure it's balanced with nourishing food and activities, and you won't be sedentary the entire time if you can help it.
Step 5: Document Your Progress: If you're an avid journaler then this step will probably go without saying, but if you're not someone who typically documents or writes down how they feel about situations, then this is going to be vital for a retreat, self-created or not. This is not the time to test your memory skills or wait until after you've experienced everything. Get a journal if you don't have one (a cheap dollar store one will do just fine!) and a pen, and get writing! After each ritual, meditation or exercise take some time to record your experience, thoughts, feelings, and any major spiritual experiences or messages if you had them. You can pre-design some reflection questions or sheets if you think you'll miss something in the midst of your experience, and make sure to print them out beforehand. Remember, the idea of a retreat is to take a break from technology and distractions, so get your materials ready before your retreat starts, and keep them in a handy and easy to remember spot, especially if you know you'll end up in trance state at some point during the retreat. You can take pictures during your retreat if you wish, but if you're going to use your cellphone for this, I recommend putting it on "airplane mode" so that there will no cell signal or wi-fi, and you won't be tempted to post your images all over social when you're in the midst of your retreat. Remember that all of that can wait until AFTER you've "returned" from your retreat. Even better, if you have a digital camera, just use that instead, and keep the phone put away for emergencies.
Step 6: These are the things to leave behind and not worry about: During any professional retreat you may be asked to leave some things behind you, to ensure that your focus is where it needs to be - on the activities of the retreat. Cell phones, computers, television, mp3 players, and any modern technological devices that require us to "plug in" should be put to the side and left alone. If you are going to need music for rituals or parts of your retreat, prepare your playlists ahead of time, and keep your use of those devices to a minimum. Clothing should also be something that is carefully considered, and even packed or set aside ahead of time. Retreats are the perfect time to either relax when it comes to your fashion, and skip the makeup and accessories, or it's a time to step-up your sense of fashion by dressing up for rituals or ceremonies. Only you can make this call, however, so think about your decision carefully, and set everything you'll need for the retreat aside, or even pack it if you want, and enjoy having minimal choices! Lastly, junk food is best left to after the retreat. I know the idea of a retreat is to pamper yourself a little bit, but junk food should not be on this list! Eat in a healthy and delicious way, sure, but leave the chips, chocolate, candy, and sodium-bombs for another time. Try to eat fresh and clean as much as possible, as it will support your body's functions during spiritual experiences better than ramen noodles and candy bars will. Healthy digestion improves nutrient absorption and makes for a lack of distressing bodily functions during your retreat time. You may even want to consider eating clean for a week or two before the retreat starts if you're worried about needing ot shed some junk from your system first, so any issues are worked out of your body in time for you to sit for long periods of time.
Step 7: Consider making yourself a memento: A lot of retreats will give you some kind of memento or goodie bag as a way of commemorating your participation in the retreat. Consider what you're trying to accomplish on this retreat and either pre-purchase or make something for yourself that you can give to yourself once you've finished your retreat, or get the supplies to make it during the retreat if you want that to be part of your experience. It doesn't have to be anything huge, a simple necklace, bracelet, amulet or charm bag could serve, as could a more intricate one like making your own wand or staff, a strand of prayer beads, or whatever comes to mind! Like in previous steps, if you're going to make it during your time, gather all the supplies you'll need before it begins so you won't have to leave your retreat and break the mindset and feeling or have to put it off until you get back home! If you'll be away from home, remember to pack an extra light of some kind in case the natural light you're working with won't be enough and don't forget to always bring extra glue, scissors, and repair materials or tools if there's an off-chance you'll need them!
The most important thing when planning a retreat for yourself is to have fun! It's true that you may be confronted with some shadow aspects and unexpected dark things during your retreat time, but on the whole, the experience should be one that you'd like to repeat, not one of dread! Be gentle with yourself, and remember that mistakes happen, so roll with the punches and go with the flow, and learn from your errors! You can always make the next retreat better!