Leave the Kitchen Sink at Home

“Solo retreats? Interesting topic…” mused a woman sitting next to me at a writers’ meeting. “Can I bring my dog?”

I’m not a dog person. They sniff my crotch, jump on me, lick my hands just after I’ve washed them, beg for my food, make me sneeze, and generally need lots of attention and care that I don’t feel like giving after raising three kids. I’m done with diapers; I don’t need to pick up dog poop daily. My cats have a pet door to the great outdoors and automatic feeders so they don’t have to bother me; they can survive easily for a week without me. 

I said gently that if her dog was one who required lots of attention and would interfere with things she wanted to do, then she might consider leaving it behind. She was a dog person. I backed off.

Her next question was, “How about a stack of books?” Here we connected. I have to drive to my cabin 1100 miles away; I need all that trunk space for books.

What should you bring on a solo retreat? You may have special requirements depending on your retreat goal. For a writing retreat I bring a notebook, a laptop, and lots of tea. I try to limit that stack of books to force myself to output more than I input.

For any retreat, these are my essential categories:

Something to learn: My rather nerdy list these days includes wading through Vergil in Latin, memorizing Playford’s country dance tunes, and reading all of Dickens’ novels. One summer I reread my French textbook; German is next.

Something to make: My sister is a gifted fabric artist; at home she designs quilts and even makes her own natural dyes. Her cabin project, which she only works on there, is an elaborate Baltimore quilt that will take her many summers to complete. It will be a record of her time there. The cabin is filled with crocheted afghans, quilts, paintings, children’s craft projects, and my father’s photographs. I’ve turned to contributing crocheted blankets and hats to Project Linus, since I really don’t need any more in my house.

Something for health: A retreat is a great time to stick to those resolutions to exercise and eat healthy food every day. Bring good walking shoes and other essentials for hiking, depending on the weather and the landscape. I like to bring yoga and tai chi videos.  Our cabin is forty minutes from the grocery store, and the road is unpaved half the way. That helps me stick to the menus I plan and avoid dashing out for ice cream or pizza. (The fry bread tacos at the Red Box Car in Red Lodge are definitely worth the drive and the calories, though.)

Something spiritual: Yoga, music, and mindful walking are my spiritual passions; I also enjoy reading meditative poetry and essays. Last summer I read a bit of Thoreau’s Walden every day.  My photography tends to be spiritual as well, looking for effects of light, reflections, or small bits of beauty and life returning to the burned forest.

Something fun: Trashy novels, cards, puzzles, classic movies…a retreat doesn’t have to be serious every moment.

The categories overlap, of course. For me, reading Vergil in Latin is delightful. Yesterday I rejoiced as Venus interrupted Aeneas in the middle of his doleful rehashing of his recent misfortunes:  losing his city and most of his ships and being shipwrecked on the shore of Libya. “You’re still alive, aren’t you? Then the gods don’t hate you. Quite complaining and go meet the queen. You’ll like her.” Now that’s a healthy spiritual lesson.

Whatever you’ve been dying to find time to do, to be, to learn, take time for yourself to do it. And yes, you can bring your dog.

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