Last month, I went on a five-day personal retreat. I wanted to live off the grid in quasi silence for a few days and take time to meditate, reflect, read, write, and contemplate in nature. I opted for the DIY option and a friend (thank you Thierry for letting me stay at your mansion in your absence) offered me his beautiful, sea-facing house in northern Brittany. All I needed was to buy a train ticket and to pack warm clothes, good books, walking shoes, and a notebook.
After recording an unapologetic out-of-office message, I settled down in my luxurious cave and spent the next five days in silence only interrupted by short, functional exchanges to resupply at the bakery (excellent tarte aux pommes), the Tuesday market in Trebeurden (organic fruits and vegetables for about one-tenth of the price in Singapore), the wine merchant (this is a retreat, not a rehab), or the local crêperie. For hours on end, I would contemplate the tide and the beach, the wind and the waves, the birds and the rocks, the clouds and the rain, the sun and the stars.
The symbol of the retreat is powerful. We leave the external world and its busyness, noise, urgency, and deadlines. We leave friends and family behind to enter our inner space. Emails, calls, and messages become irrelevant when we listen to the call of the soul. We reconnect with nature, synchronize with the sun, smell the rain, walk barefoot on the grass, eat only when hungry, and sleep when tired. We tune in to our body. We observe and become familiar with our mind. We distinguish signal from noise. The retreat is not a withdrawal. It is more a return to an abode of belonging, of acceptance; to the place we were before we decided to wear our stage costumes and start performing.
Armed with infinite time and silence, we can reflect on the questions of our life, the questions that we never have time to think about because there is always a meeting to attend, a call to return, a client to appease, a picture to post, a family member to please. Do I find satisfaction and fulfillment in what I do? What am I pursuing – money, status, power? Am I living to my full potential and what am I neglecting? What relationships do I need to nurture? Who do I need to say thank you or I love you? What am I most afraid of? What am I most attached to? What weight am I carrying? Who am I trying to impress? As I go deeper into my soul, what is unfolding right now?
Sometimes, we have known the answers for a long time, but never wanted to accept them. Sometimes still, we must peel through layers and layers of conditioning and habitual patterns to have a glimpse at the truth inside.
I spent five days walking along the rugged coast, watching sunsets on the beach, eating slowly, meditating, practicing yoga, and journaling. I took the train with mixed feelings, happy to return home and sad to leave such a beautiful place behind. And on the plane back to Singapore, I responded to emails and realized that the world had not stopped in my absence.