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home : features : featurestory April 28, 2016

Ahhh ... a personal retreat
"To begin, go to that place deep inside yourself where you keep the treasure that is called by your name."
-Virginia Satir, from "Meditations and Inspirations"

by Norma Smith Olson

From time to time-perhaps even daily-each of us needs a time apart to refocus and renew. Whether you are able to take a few days away, a whole day or even just 20 minutes, here are some practices to consider for your personal retreat.

Choosing a location
Minnesota has many fine retreat centers that offer opportunities for personal retreats-many with instruction or guidance, if desired. Whether going to a retreat center or visiting a lake, park, or garden-find an environment that resonates with you.

Conscious breathing
Most of us breathe unconsciously over 17,000 times a day. But focusing on your breath-and how you breathe-can help you feel centered and calm. Try this. Sit in a chair or on the ground, your back straight, shoulders relaxed, eyes slightly closed, breathe in deeply through your nose. Then, slowly release the breath, using your abdomen muscles to push the air back out. Continue for several minutes. By paying attention to the in and out of your breath you will find yourself letting go of mind clutter and tension.

Awareness walking
The simple act of walking can be a meditative practice that helps release tensions you may be carrying. Step out at a normal pace. Start your body awareness at the foot level. Notice how you step, heel to toe. Work your mind from the ground up, paying attention to each part of your body, simply being aware of tensions, aches or strength in your ankles, your shins, knees, thighs, hips, belly, chest, back, shoulders. Notice your arms-upper arms, elbows, forearms, wrists, hands, fingers. Become aware of your neck, the angle of your head, your chin, your jaw, your face. Look ahead of yourself with "soft" eyes, being aware of your surroundings, but not focusing on them.

Then turn your attention to your thoughts and emotions. Again, just for awareness purposes, not for problem solving. Is your mind busy, cluttered, content? Is there a specific concern that keeps creeping in or a jumbo of thoughts or feelings? Notice and set aside each thought or emotion as you walk. What you're intending in a walking meditation is a sense of calm and balance as you pay attention to your inner world.


Reflective journaling
Writing can be a reflective practice to help clear your head or to access your inner wisdom. Julia Cameron suggests in her book, "The Artist's Way," that we begin each day with handwriting three pages in a journal-whatever comes to mind. This "morning pages" practice is a tool of creative recovery, meant to clear out your thoughts and open passageways to clearer thinking.

Timed writing or "seed thought" writing are ways to get at a specific question or subject. Set a timer for 10 or 20 minutes and just write on a singular topic or question.

Some prefer to journal at the end of the day, reviewing and reflecting on the experiences of the day. Some keep a "dream journal" by their bedside to capture dream images in the night.

Whether focusing on your breathing, walking in the woods or on a public labyrinth, filling a journal with random or deep thoughts, it's important to find personal ways to retreat. The hope is that you'll find yourself more relaxed and renewed, centered and focused, when you return to the world after a few days or 20 minutes away.

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