Every summer I gift myself a solo retreat at Chautauqua Park in Boulder, Colorado. This annual hermitage has been one of the best rituals I’ve created for myself and I’d like to tell you a little about it. For a change of pace, I’m going to tell this story as if you were interviewing me on this topic. Ready to play?
You: What exactly is a solo retreat?
Me: For me, a solo retreat is an opportunity to get away by myself where I can spend some uninterrupted reflection about both my personal life and work life in a meaningful way.
You: Why do you have to get away to do that?
Me: This kind of experience is much more powerful when there is an intentionality to it. Because I’m getting away for the sole purpose of self-reflection, it’s much easier to focus on what I came there to do. It also helps going to a place where there are not a lot of distractions.
You: Is that why you like Chautauqua Park?
Me: Chautauqua Park is a community of cabins nestled against the Flatiron mountains. For a retreat location, it is ideal. The cabins have no TVs or radios and the community itself is very low key and peaceful. It’s easy and comfortable to be alone, whether sitting on the porch or hiking the Flatirons.
You: How long are your solo retreats?
Me: I usually go for three or four days, but I mix in hikes and trips into town to add some variety.
You: That’s a lot of time to be alone.
Me: That’s the whole idea. I do my best thinking when I’m alone, relaxed, and not under a time crunch.
You: Tell me what do you do on these solo retreats?
Me: From a big picture perspective, I assess both my personal and work life over the past six months. I look at what worked, what didn’t work, and what I need to change.
You: How do you do that?
Me: I divide the retreat into three parts. The first part is simply reading my journal entries over the last six months. I’m a writer, so it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that I journal.
You: What do you learn from reading your journal?
Me: Reading my journal provides a context for the past six months. It allows me to revisit all the highlights, lowlights, challenges, changes, and insights that I experienced from January to June. Without that part, I’d forget a lot of the things that happened, especially earlier in the year.
You: Okay, so what do you do next?
Me: Prior to the solo retreat, I create thought-provoking questions that I want to reflect on and address while at the retreat. This is the second part of the retreat and the most important. Typically, half of the questions are personal, and half are work related.
You: Can you give an example of some of these questions?
Me: Sure. Here are a few from the most recent retreat:
- What scares me the most about retiring early? What do I need to do to make that transition go as smoothly as possible?
- What personal relationships have meant the most to me over the past six months and why?
- What do I want my last six months at DU to be like? How do I make that happen?
- What were the moments over the past six months where I really felt alive? How do I create more of those going forward?
- What were the biggest challenges I faced recently, and what did I learn about myself in the process?
You: How many questions do you typically have to answer?
Me: I usually have about 15-to-20 total.
You: Okay, so you’ve read your journal and answered all of your questions. Then what?
Me: Then I’m ready for the third part, which is creating goals and an action plan for the next six months.
You: Why only 6 months?
Me: I think a year is too long. Too many things can change during a 12-month span.
You: Do you do another solo retreat in January?
Me: Sort of. I do a mini-version of this retreat around New Year’s to update my goals and action items. I don’t go on an actual retreat, per se, but I read my journal and answer open-ended questions at that time as well. It’s just not as extensive as the summer solo retreat.
You: Does it have to be a solo retreat? I could see a benefit to doing this in tandem with a friend, spouse, or even business partner.
Me: It’s possible to do this process with someone else, but you probably wouldn’t get as much out of it. It’s just adding another distraction, in my opinion. The whole idea of a solo retreat is to be alone and free of distractions. That’s when the powerful insights happen.
You: Speaking about insights, have you had any “aha” moments from past retreats?
Me: I have them every year. Many have changed my life.
You: Can you share a recent one?
Me: During my 2017 solo retreat, I had an aha moment that it was time to move out of my home of 27 years. The thought of selling my house and moving was not even on my radar before the retreat. That was a big decision that I never saw coming.
You: Do you think you would have come to that decision eventually, without the retreat?
Me: I don’t know. What I can tell you is that the retreat gave me the time to really think through a difficult situation that had occurred a couple months before. And because I had that quality time to reflect, the aha moment presented itself.
You: So, would you recommend these solo retreats to everyone?
Me: Yes, I would. There is tremendous benefit in getting away, having quality time alone, and doing self-reflection work. The retreat format can certainly be tweaked to accommodate each person, as long as those three components are present.
You: Any final thoughts?
Me: I just want to emphasize that a solo retreat is not a selfish endeavor. As I mentioned at the very beginning, the whole purpose of going on these retreats is for self-improvement. I always leave these retreats with a revitalized perspective, attitude, and focus. This not only benefits me, but all the people I come into contact with, personally or professionally. Everyone benefits! That’s why the investment in time and money is worth every cent!
*This story comes from Geese’s book, It’s All About Me: Stories and Insights from the Geese.