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An Unplugged Home Retreat

Kindness 9  12x12"  Oil on paper © 2020 Janice Mason Steeves
I scheduled a wonderful retreat week for myself the week before last. It was a quiet week with long unscheduled days, days that stretch out before you like the vastness of the prairies where I grew up. I'd wake up early, take my dog for a quick walk, have a smoothie and a cup of coffee and settle myself at my studio desk to write in my journal. My desk overlooks  a walnut tree and beyond that, a grassy area and a stand of white pines. At times I just stared off into the trees as the wind gently played in the branches. No thoughts. Other times I'd read some passages from my spiritually oriented books, closing my eyes to consider what these readings might mean for me today.

Solitude is something you choose. Loneliness is imposed on you by others." Hara Estroff Marano, Psychology Today

Kindness 8  12x12"  Oil on paper © 2020 Janice Mason Steeves

I've done digital detox weeks at home before but then I simply called them Home Retreats. I think my first retreat was in 2010. When I did a second one in 2011 and wrote a blog post about it, Alyson Stanfield interviewed me on one of her early podcasts, asking me for details.

To do a home retreat takes a bit of planning (at least in normal life it does ), so you need to schedule a  week where you have no appointments or activities. There's less planning when you're in semi-isolation anyway. I made sure to notify my family. Otherwise I just put an 'out of office' notice on my gmail. I had enough groceries, shut down my computer, didn't answer the phone (who phones anymore anyway?) and I hunkered down for a quiet week.

Kindness 3  12x12"  Oil on paper ©2020 Janice Mason Steeves

I loved this retreat. Since I hadn't done an unplugged retreat for a few years, and being much more addicted now to social media and emails, I thought that I would have an agonizing time giving it up. Not so. It was no problem at all. In fact, I was reluctant to have this unplugged retreat end.

As Ester Bucholz wrote in her book, The Call of Solitude, "the need for genuine and constructive aloneness has gotten utterly lost, and, in the process, so have we." Although written in the late 90s, Bucholz's book is even more relevant now as it was then.

"Now, more than ever", she writes, "we need our solitude. Being alone gives us the power to regulate and adjust our lives. It can teach us fortitude and the ability to satisfy our own needs. A restorer of energy, the stillness of alone experiences provides us with much-needed rest. It brings forth our longing to explore, our curiosity about the unknown, our will to be an individual, our hopes for freedom. Alone time is fuel for life."

Kindness 5  12x12"  Oil on paper ©2020 Janice Mason Steeves

In May, I did an online zoom class with Deb Matlock who runs a program called Wild Rhythms. Deb held a one-day class called Deep Connections: Exploring Wild Nature in Your Neighbourhood where the participants were encouraged, after our initial online conversation, to go out in nature, and connect with the land. One of the suggestions she made was to make a deep connection with a  single being: a rock, tree, flower, creek, ant, etc. It was a powerful exercise which I continued during my retreat week.

Kindness 2  12x12"  Oil on paper © 2020 Janice Mason Steeves
I allowed myself long open-ended days of painting, working quickly and intuitively. The work felt soft and gentle, much the way I felt during this nurturing time. I was searching for some combination of strength and vulnerability. A strong but quiet voice. Simplicity. There were many pieces that didn't turn out and had to be thrown away because I worked so quickly. I accepted that would happen and carried on, without judgment. It was part of the process. Accepting and letting go.

"I am my silence. I am not the busyness of my thoughts or the daily rhythm of my actions.  I am not the stuff that constitutes my world. I am not my talk. I am not my actions. I am my silence. I am the consciousness that perceives all these things. When I go to my consciousness, to that great pool of silence that observes the intricacies of my life, I am aware that I am me. I take a little time each day to sit in silence so that I can move outward in balance into the great clamour of living."  Richard Wagamese from the book, Embers.


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