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Unlocking the Transformative Power of Going on Retreat

Updated: Dec 2, 2023

Afternoon shadow of a woman alone in the woods
Self discovery through alone time

My calling to host transformative retreats started with a low murmur in the fall of 2018. This was on the heels of attending my first retreat; a weekend-long experience that served as a conduit to an awakening of Self). The retreat transformed my life as I knew it. Leading up to that first experience, without even really knowing what it meant, I thought “going on retreat” as something that sounded oh-so luxurious but out of reach for people like me — who lived paycheck-to-paycheck, worked full time, parented a small child and were married to a spouse that also worked full time. I mean, only people with an abundance of cash and the luxury of time can go on retreat. Only women with very supportive spouses and who possess heroine-like abilities to stave off that nasty affliction we call “mom guilt” can do such things, right?

These were my beliefs until I actually went on retreat.

Leading up to that first retreat I found it easy to come up with reasons why I couldn’t or shouldn’t go including concerns about how selfish it might look to others when I took off solo, leaving my family behind.

But, there’s nothing like a milestone birthday to incite a person to treat themselves to something nice every once in a while (or every five or 10 years). I had been approaching my fortieth birthday and our daughter was three and a half years old at the time. Since her birth she has had very disruptive sleep. Being “Mom” (a.k.a., the first responder) this meant I too was sleep-deprived. VERY SLEEP DEPRIVED. And let’s not forget about the ten or so months of prenatal insomnia.

Yep, I was “cooked.”

Nevertheless, I leveraged that milestone birthday justification and listened to the encroaching sense that I would “crack” if I didn’t give myself a break. So, I scrounged some money, found a yoga retreat with hot springs and told my husband that he didn’t need to worry about hosting a big hurrah for my fortieth because I would be giving myself exactly what I wanted:

  • a break from daily life; work, housekeeping drudgery and momming

  • to enjoy “more than a moment” to myself

  • an opportunity to soak my weary bones in hot springs

  • to turn the volume down on life so I could actually hear my own thoughts

Other than possessing a touch of envy and having a mild case of FOMO, my spouse was pleased I knew what I needed and that I gave myself permission to go. Of course the moment I registered for the retreat my emotional and psychological sojourn through the marshlands of Mom Guilt began but I persevered. I kissed my family goodbye and hit the interstate for the three plus hour drive. As I headed east with the setting sun in my rear view mirror, I drove towards the greatest homecoming to Self I didn’t know I needed. All I knew at the time was that I was severely past-due for a break and was on my way somewhere I could just “be.” And with each mile I drove, my shoulders melted away from my ears, my stomach relaxed into a comfortable state and my breath softened. The tense always-on-guard always-ready-to-respond energy slowly started to dissipate and my brain shifted from a state of tension to one of calm, peace and spaciousness.

Nobody needed me. And for those moments, I was free.

Outside of the programmed activities of the retreat, I ate uninterrupted, engaged in lively discourse with other adults and enjoyed nourishing food without lifting a finger. I went to bed when I wanted to. All of my baseline hopes for that first retreat were met in spades.

  • Alone time - CHECK!

  • Food provided - CHECK!

  • Quiet time - CHECK!

  • Soaking in hot springs - CHECK!

  • A break from the daily grind - CHECK!

What I hadn’t anticipated was the deep self-realization that came from the activities planned for our group. I was not prepared for the transformative experience I was about to have, although boy did I need it like I needed air to breathe! The retreat leader expertly created a safe space for us to show up vulnerably in and delivered activities that supported us with moving our bodies, quieting our minds and opening our hearts. Our energy was flowing and we were able to collectively heal ourselves.

I experienced levels of self awareness I didn’t know were possible, as they were masked by exhaustion and being stuck in survival mode; work demands, mom demands, school demands, housekeeping demands, grocery shopping, food prep, pet care, Dr. appointments, family commitments and on and on and on.

Selfie of Suzanna Mannion alone in the woods on retreat
A solo foray into the woods.

When I had departed to the retreat I was drained and haggard; a shell of who I truly am inside. By the end of it, I had a reinvigorated sense of Self, meaningful feelings of connection with others, a new friend, my body and spirit rested and my mind recentered. I drove home 20 miles per hour under the speed limit just to savor the sweet taste of BLISS a little longer before walking straight into my bustling (yet beautiful and loving) home life. While my spouse may have been strained a little without my help, I returned with my cup brimming over with joy, love and extra bandwidth to share with him and our daughter. It really is so simple; take a break, tend to your needs, identify and create the balance you need in your life. Yet, in our work-obsessed-mom-guilt-reaffirming culture, it can be so damned hard to do just that. SO DAMNED HARD!

Needless to say that was not the last retreat I went on. Each experience I had since the first was so profound and spiritually transformative. I knew something deep down had shifted within me that fall of 2018 but it wouldn’t become evident how my life would transmute over the following years.

I’ve since gone on four more retreats including two 8-9 day wilderness embodiment backpacking retreats and one 11-day out-of-state retreat. Each time I experienced the transformative power of going on a retreat and celebrated my spouse for his support and my strength to push away the “shoulds,” guilt and excuses, knowing that going on retreat and taking care of myself is no longer a want, but a need. I now full believe that when I give myself time and space to heal, rest and recenter, even if it’s as simple as taking off for an hour to go for a walk, I reaffirm my love of self and acknowledge my needs. I have faith that when I put my oxygen mask on first, I become a kinder, more loving, forgiving and resilient human being who is better able to tend to the beloveds in my life.

photo: View from Sierraville Hot Springs outside of Truckee, California.
View from Sierraville Hot Springs outside of Truckee, California.


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