On a (Not Writing) Retreat: Somewhere in Perth Part 4

In the first post of this series I wrote, ‘Part of my plan is to “report”, via Elixir, my progress… to… share what challenged me… how I stayed, or failed to stay, on track…’. I can, this week, share that I’ve haven’t achieved what I set out to do. I have, however, started another utterly unexpected quest. My writing dried up, but I unwittingly began a deeply personal, psychological and spiritual investigation.

‘Retreats’ writes Jules Evans in his recent blog,

are not the chill-fests people imagine. When you remove external distractions, you come face-to-face with your inner restlessness and dissatisfaction in its rawest form. You see all the spikes of your likes and dislikes. Outside, you think you could easily be happy if it wasn’t for all the idiots around you. Inside, you begin to see the problem might be you.

Alone in the silence, bereft of ideas for my novel, let alone the motivation or inclination to work on it, I devoted myself to writing my Daily Pages. As a result I fell, like an aged and jaded Alice, into a rabbit hole of profound introspection, personal assessment, and discovery.

pexels-photo-268092Evans is right; the time, space and silence integral to a retreat invariably confront participants with the imperfect, often monstrous and usually querulous inner self…the being we hide not only from others but from ourselves. Such a confrontation is no task for the faint hearted.

I won’t go in to the grisly details of my ‘adventure’. I will say I’ve been, at times, angry, anxious, and acutely aware a change in attitude…in my attitude and my perspective… is needed.

Here’s some of what I learned in the last week:

  • The support, in the form of phone calls, text messages and emails, from several women in my life has been astonishing. While none were aware of what I was dealing with, they all contacted me at the exactly right time. I am grateful for their sensitive, generous and compassionate spirits. They each, in their own way, helped me get through the difficult days,
  • Over the last few months I’ve tried to build a regular meditation regime. During my stay in Perth I’ve explored and practiced familiar and new meditation techniques. I read a book and several articles about self-compassion and started reading a book about women in Buddhism. I am, therefore, grateful to the men and women who wrote this material. When Lynette Benton’s Brevity Essay arrived in my in-box late last week I gained a much-needed perspective on why I write, and my hopes and dreams concerning my writing.

During the difficult times I consoled myself by:

  • Listening to women jazz vocalists and exploring classical music (something I neglected in my youth). It’s a marvelous way to soothe and uplift the troubled ‘retreater’,
  • Getting out of the house even to just go shopping. My trip to Perth’s Art Gallery was an enormous boost to my troubled spirit,
  • Writing my ‘Daily Pages’ helped me explore my experience and gave me the means to express it coherently. I returned to journaling, after a long break, late last year and I approach it differently to when I was a young woman. I start each day’s journal entry with ‘what made me happy today?’. This supplies a much-needed perspective, while reading back over happy or pleasurable moments keeps me balanced,
  • Planning and writing blog posts helped me stay mindful and grounded and,
  • Reading the biography of Mary Shelley, and a novel, helped me appreciate different perspectives and allowed me to stop focusing on my problems.

I’ve always wanted to go on a ‘proper’ retreat, one run by an experienced meditation practitioner. Part of me, however, has been afraid of what I might learn about myself. Because the intended focus of this retreat, working on my novel, didn’t work out as planned, my time alone has morphed into a rich, confronting and rewarding discovery of the ‘inner woman’ who dwells in the very heart of my writing.

I can’t wait to see what next week brings.

accessory balance blur close up
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Have you ever started one task only for it to become something completely different? What prompted the change and how did it feel?

Have you been on a retreat? Do you agree or disagree with Jules Evans’ comment and why?

8 thoughts on “On a (Not Writing) Retreat: Somewhere in Perth Part 4

  1. Hi Janet,
    Hope you are well. Wanted to write a blog post & page not coming up. Not sure if overall it probs here.
    Hope you are enjoying your sanctuary.
    Hope fully I will be able to write my new post at some stage.
    I am attending a one day retreat regarding summer at a lovely, local retreat house next Saturday 🌞

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Janet,
    Spent a long time this morning commenting on & posting on this post. Can’t trace it now . I responded to the previous blog & could see my respond which said awaiting moderation. Can you please enlighten me?


  3. Though they were not specifically writing retreats, I’ve been on 12. Parts of the retreats were written assignments in which you had to be really honest with yourself. And while they were very much along the spiritual pathways of my life, the same thing happened to me. Over the years I ended up facing a lot of things about myself I’m not sure I realy wanted to know! As to starting one task only to have it become something else, that happened two weeks ago when I set out to write a story about one of Van Gogh’s pictures. When I read back through it I was totally shocked to see the anger and grief I’ve never accepted with this diagnosis of MG. Took me quite by surprise. I titled it Agnostic. So all in all I think he was right on the money! And THIS retreat was probably more productive for you than you have even realized yet! 😉


  4. That writing tightrope that we walk gets a bit saggy and wonky at times. However , you have shown such capacity to stay up in wobbly times that I’m sure you’ll keep putting one hopeful, experimental writing foot in front of the other and give us all a mighty wave from the other end.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Dear Janet,

    Thank you for your posts – I’m sorry but I have to unsubscribe as I can’t keep up with all the writing that is coming into my inbox. It is not at all personal – I have enjoyed reading in the past – I just have to streamline my life.

    With very best wishes Monica




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