I’ve talked a lot in various blog entries about finding brain space, not taking on too much and trying not to put myself under too much pressure with my writing. But last week, I had an entirely new experience of taking a complete break from everything.
I went on a retreat at The Sharpham Trust down in Devon, called “Creating Space - a Mindfulness and Creative Enquiry Retreat”. Based on a cursory perusal of the information on the website, I originally booked it back in December because I thought it would combine meditation and mindfulness activities with opportunities to work on my creative projects in a restful setting.
As the time for the retreat approached, however, I started reading more about it and realised it wasn’t going to be what I thought. The pre-travel guidance talked about letting go of all the obligations of normal life, switching off entirely from the outside world and focusing on being rather than doing. I was apprehensive going in, but decided to adhere as much as I could to the spirit of the endeavour.
I duly finished off any projects that would create a sense of pressure during that week, and also got to a good breaking off point with both novels. I deleted all my calendar reminders for the week and decided to try keeping my phone switched off the whole time (I didn’t succeed at this, but only checked it for five minutes once a day to clear my email and I didn’t go on the internet at all).
So, instead of having a plan of all the things I was going to do and all the things I wanted to achieve, I spent four days without a to-do list and with no expectations of myself other than engaging with the scheduled activities.
And it was wonderful!
My inner critic (hi, Winston!) popped up on the first day, to let me know how unproductive he felt we were being and how much precious potential writing time we were wasting. But I calmly acknowledged his concerns and then dismissed them.
I did yoga, I meditated, I was led around the garden with my eyes closed, I danced with a bamboo stick, I drew freeform pictures with crayons, I went on long walks without any digital entertainment, I spent about 40 hours in complete silence, I ate amazing vegetarian food, and I connected on an unexpected level with both myself and the other people in the group.
I filled almost an entire exercise book with reflective thoughts on my experience, but I didn’t work on any of my writing projects, and it felt great. If I’d known when I booked the retreat exactly what it would entail, I never would have gone, but I’m so glad I did it and I enjoyed every minute.
I’ve struggled a bit this week with being back in London, having to go to work, and trying to get back into a proper writing schedule. But I’m doing a good job of maintaining a greater sense of inner calm and trying not to be too focused on timings, goals and productivity all the time. There’s definitely a balance - obviously, there are things I want to achieve with my time and they require effort, attention and planning. But creating more space in my daily life for being rather than doing, and adding reflective and meditative activities to my schedule more, has had a profound effect on my sense of personal contentment.
I hope I’ll be able to maintain this new attitude in the long term. And, if I find I can’t, I can always go on another Sharpham retreat to remind myself of the benefits!