I Did A 2 Day Solitude Retreat And This Is What It Taught Me
That may sound like a scary word for some of us - unsure of what will surface in the silence, it may sound more like a prison sentence than a way to pursue wellness.
Or it can just seem like a completely foreign concept - living in a culture that encourages the hustle, creates constant noise for us to consume and offers endless distractions to fill the void in our lives.
Or maybe you’re an introvert and being solo is your sacred time to reset and find deep rest or maybe you’re a mama to little ones desperate for a moment of silence and space to be alone.
No matter where you find yourself on the solitude spectrum, after 2 days of intentionally creating space for silence, I can tell you firsthand: it was nothing short of life-changing.
And as we’re transitioning seasons yet again, this has become a practice I want to continue to pursue and want to extend an invitation for you to experience, too.
Earlier this year, I went on a solo retreat. At least, that’s what I called it at the beginning: a solo retreat. Because I was planning a little getaway. Alone. On purpose.
But as my sister likes to remind me, my life is one long lovely solo retreat. I live by myself, at the beach (and I don’t have a baby). Since her point was slightly valid, I reflected on what made these 2 days different.
It was the intention behind it. To be still. No other noises, no outside voices, no distractions. Still mind, still soul - be still and know.
So I decided to start calling it something different: A stillness retreat.
How does that word sound vs solitude? Do you feel a sense of ease and rest instead? I did. And I set my intention for stillness straight away so I was clear on how I would (and wouldn’t) spend my precious, sacred solo time.
I let those closest to me know I was taking time away and would be off my phone. I retreated away and allowed myself to just be. Nowhere to go, nothing to do.
No striving, doing, producing or expecting. No buzzing alarms, notifications, or plans to rush out the door.
Waking up with the sun and singing birds, breathing slow, swaying in a hammock, staring at the sky or the leaves dancing in the wind, letting rest take hold of my heart, giving myself permission to not be anywhere else but in this present moment.
Being fully present in each moment made the days feel so. much. longer. in the best possible way. I was only an hour down the road but felt like I was a world away. I was only gone for 2 days but felt like I had taken a 2 week holiday.
That is the beauty of stillness.
It actually expands time and space - when so often we believe that being still is a complete waste of time and will cause us to fall behind. Stillness, so often, is misunderstood, it's pushed aside instead of prioritized. When in reality, it's the very thing our being craves - to be still, to be filled. To show up for ourselves, our families, our coworkers, our communities, and the world around us more present, more rested, more full. Our productivity and creativity no longer come from a place of force or of striving or of struggling, but from a knowing, a natural overflowing.
In the stillness, during these 2 days, I discovered my senses reawakened. I could taste and see and feel and hear more clearly - noticing sounds, my surroundings and what was surfacing from within in a whole new way. The voice within is easily drowned out by distractions from louder voices vying for our attention. So until we create space for a moment of quiet, we can often miss it. Screens, scrolling, movies, music lyrics, billboards, podcasts - we’re constantly consuming and absorbing from the outside world and their endless pull for our presence.
But we are not victims to these outside voices. We can choose to tune them out and tune inwards. It just takes a bit more intention.
In our culture of consumption, comparison, anxiety and burnout, I believe stillness is the antidote.
So what if stillness seems scary or being still for more than 2 minutes makes you uneasy? Start slow. Find a place you feel safe, comfortable and free of distractions.
Can’t get away for 2 days? Here are small ways to welcome rhythms of stillness into your life.
- Morning meditation: Carve out time first thing in the morning to start your day with intention, presence and clarity. Set a timer for 5 minutes or use one of the many apps for meditation (I use this one).
- Bathroom break: For real, don’t take your phone in there. Use these few moments to focus on your breathing instead of mindlessly scrolling (which actually helps promote healthy digestion and optimal elimination!).
- Before bed: Turn your phone on airplane mode and transition to sleep with a calm, quiet mind. Inhale for 3, hold for 3, exhale for 6. Repeat until you doze off into deep, dreamy sleep.
- Practice sabbath: Set aside one day a week for prioritizing rest above all else. This ancient practice is proven to actually promote productivity and is essential to restore a sense of balance for busy lives (and minds). What brings you joy? What encourages rest? Do those things without guilt - trusting that the next day you’ll show up more present and productive ready to tackle tasks with greater energy.
- Silent commute: Make the most of your commute and give yourself permission to savor the silence instead of a podcast.
- Spa facial: Schedule a Holistic Skin Treatment and soak in uninterrupted time all to yourself in a space specifically curated to invite stillness in the mind, body and, of course, skin.
- Epsom salts: Soak as long as you’d like and be still in the bathtub - detoxifying your body and negative mindsets.
Stillness isn’t about turning your mind off or shutting it down, it’s simply allowing your mind to rest, to be at ease. Being still disrupts the status quo and is like a pause button for your soul. Here are a few practical ideas to infuse into your day-to-day to help cultivate a calm mind and a sense of stillness:
- Deep breathing: Set a reminder on your phone to check in with yourself and return to your conscious breath to bring you back to center. Extend and elongate your exhale to engage your parasympathetic nervous system, start to relieve stress and savor every second of stillness.
- Facial massage: Rather than simply slapping on skincare products or rushing through your skincare routine, take a few extra moments to massage a tight jaw, a tense forehead or a stiff neck. This helps optimize product penetration and signals your mind it's time to slow down.
- Legs up the wall: Lay on your back with your legs up against the wall - place one hand over your heart and the other over your stomach and practice your breathing exercises for intentional stillness in body, mind and soul.
- Stare at nature: Let your gaze linger on a tree, a field, the sky, the sea. Nature is proven to soothe the nervous system and serves as a beautiful reminder that we are a small part of a much bigger picture and maybe our stresses aren’t as heavy as they once seemed.
- Brew herbal tea: The aroma, the warmth and the herbs offer feelings of calm and comfort. Sip mindfully, receiving the healing benefits for your body, skin, mind and mood.
- Free writing: Whatever is swirling around in your mind, put a pen to paper and start to release and relax. No matter what words reveal themselves on the page, it’s simply the act of writing that is cathartic and creates space for a calm, still mind.
Ready to embark on your own stillness retreat? Whether it’s 24 hours, 2 days or even longer, here are a few helpful tips to prep for stillness:
- Journal/notebook you love for free writing and reflection that stillness can evoke.
- Fav beverage to stay hydrated (lemon + mint water, herbal tea, collagen latte - or make them all if you’re taking a longer time for stillness).
- Turn your phone on airplane mode or at least on do not disturb (remember to let your family/friends know they won’t be able to reach you for a specific amount of time!).
- Prep simple, nourishing foods if you’re doing an extended period of time - make sure your meals support peace within so you feel your best at rest.
- Pack an open heart for whatever may surface from within.
Note: I want to encourage you to courageously seek professional support or connect with a therapist if you feel whatever surfaces in the stillness needs more dedicated attention and you want to dive deeper into those places.
Although I started this story with the word “solitude” (confession: I did that mainly for shock factor), stillness is truly what my soul was seeking. And this is why I’m drawn to the word stillness, instead of solitude, silence or solo.
We can be still even when it’s not silent.
We can be still even when we’re not alone.
We can be still even when circumstances are less than ideal.
Stillness is cultivated, it’s a practice and overtime becomes a part of who we are and overflows into every area of life.
I emerged from this experience feeling lighter, like my soul had come alive again and I was given a new vantage point, clearer vision. It was as if I was given a new pair of lenses to look through and could reconnect with the world around me, and within me - letting the Voice within be my source. And although this was a stillness retreat, I had more to hear than I ever thought possible.
That’s what stillness does. Be still and know.
Above all, that is the real reason I retreated away. Because there’s a still, small voice within that’s just waiting for us to be still long enough to listen.