5:45AM. You’re out the door.
Alone, you walk into the stillness of the morning. For a city of several million, few people are outside. It’s as though the city takes a deep breath before the rush of activity to come.
Soon you reach the lake and turn south, toward downtown. Your walk begins.
water wants to move
but constrained behind a dam
pressure slowly builds
Stress. You’d been working hard lately. But the work wasn’t enjoyable. You were spinning your wheels. Creating became a struggle. You lost your sense of gratitude.
Such days arrive from time to time, and you have push through them. But when those days stretch to weeks – when each day is not an isolated struggle – they wear you out. They drain your energy.
Frustrated, you sought the advice of a close friend. They suggested you take a day off for a retreat.
“What? Then I wouldn’t get anything done,” you protested.
But as you considered the idea, you recalled the wisdom in taking care of yourself – in ensuring you have a solid platform to serve from. A retreat is not a bad idea, you conceded.
So you scheduled a weekday off. Looking at a map, you found an area of town to spend the day. Parks to sit in the sun? Check. Near the lake? Check. A nice coffee shop? Check. You were ready to go.
tread beside the lake
where inbound waves never cease
to sound their laughter
You stroll down the lake-front. A trail is near, but you opt to walk across the field. There’s something freeing about walking on the grass. You feel alive and ponder that fact. You see anew that you have much cause for gratefulness.
A robin breaks your thought with her song. You look around for her. But the search takes your eyes off the path ahead, and you run into a bush. You laugh at yourself. You laugh away the tension.
the birds’ wakeful songs
lullabies of peacefulness
make you fall asleep
By the bird sanctuary, you find a bench. It’s comfortable. Leafy trees provide a canopy of shade – a roof over your resting place. Birds sing their sweet lullabies. Sleep creeps up on you.
Sometime later, one never knows how much time passes during such naps, you wake. Refreshed, you’re ready to go again.
water flows freely
from the fountain in the park
as ink from a pen
You sit beside the fountain in the park and begin to write. Your pen glides over the pages of your notebook as you evaluate your current situation. Questions arise more frequently than answers.
Why is the work such a struggle? What went wrong? Why is it so tiring? What parts of it are still worthwhile? What parts of the work excites you?
Getting closer. You have few answers yet, but finding the right questions is half the effort.
steam swirls in a mist
returning you to hollowed grounds
in your coffee cup
Steam rises from the mug beside you. You sit in at a table in a coffee shop, savoring each sip. While you drink, you write. You reflect on what’s sacred to you. You recall your values. You remember why you started working in the first place.
Thoughts string together quicker than you can write them down. You lay out ideas for future projects. You find ways to improve your work. You draft plans to serve more deeply.
waves rush to the shore
washing o’er the rocky edge
dashing hidden fears
On the edge of the shore you stand and watch the waves. They crash with strength against the rocks. So much power. So far beyond you.
You embrace your fear – the fear that always accompanies a worthwhile adventure. It’s real. But in the face of the waves, it seems less important. You can overcome it.
single droplets fall
from the sky to ground below
to make a river
Evening arrives, and you make your way home. As you retracing your steps from the morning, you reflect on the day. You make plans for what to do next. You’ve recaptured your vision.
When you have little energy… When you feel burned out by your work… When you struggle to find gratitude in what you’re doing… When you loose focus on what matters to you… Consider taking a retreat day.
Shut off whatever distractions you can. No email. No internet. Phone on silent. Each incoming message draws you back to the reactionary side of your work – limiting the power of the retreat.
Go somewhere you don’t normally go – a place away from your day to day routine. New environments stimulate a feeling of freshness. They become a place to see your world differently.
Focus on the world around you. While this is not a bad habit to weave into your life, it has a particular power during a retreat. Noticing beauty in your surroundings puts you in a frame of mind to see what’s beautiful in your work and life.
Naps are OK.
Incorporate physical activity into the day. It gets the blood flowing and makes you more alert. Walking, biking, swimming, and running are a few examples.
Connect with what you find sacred. Find depth there.
You reach home. Tomorrow is another day for work. You’re energized. You’re excited. You’re grateful.
PHOTO: Let the waves wash over you.
PS: If you’re not a morning person, feel free to start your day later than 5:45AM.
PPS: This is the final week of our first mission (on seeing the people around us). What have you noticed so far? Leave a comment over here.