We are not retreating; we’re advancing in another direction.—George Smith Patton (1885–1945)
A couple of weeks ago I managed to go on a retreat. I’d been wanting to get away and thinking about it for a while, and then I just did it. The first two days I didn’t talk to anyone at all, and nobody talked to me. I was speechless. I took long walks and lay in bed and read and sat and strolled, all of it quietly. No computer, no phone, no responsibility, no expectations. It was a little like bicycle touring, when I had nowhere to go in particular and no time to be there.
I didn’t learn anything new, though I did confirm my suspicion that a monk’s life would suit me temperamentally, that I could stand not much happening outwardly. I’m not about to be a monk, but the silence and contemplation are right up my alley.
I’ve assumed that my love for solitude stems from my being an only child, but I don’t think that’s the whole story. I suppose many people would have enjoyed being outdoors a lot and would’ve derived some calming benefit from getting close to nature, unmitigated by narration though thoroughly tamed; I did. I walked early and late, but most of the time I strolled slowly, aimlessly hither and yon, and when something caught my eye, I stopped and paid attention—mostly to birds and the sky and sometimes a squirrel. I ignored the few people I saw here and there. At first I didn’t look at them, not wanting to intrude on them or to invite their intrusion on me. Eventually we said, “Good morning,” often the only words I said all day. No stop-and-chats.
The first evening was awkward. I had never been in such an environment for such an aimless purpose, and I was still buzzing from even the low-level hustle-and-bustle of life in Chico. Being used to a full life, I had a momentum that took a day to dissipate. If I lived in San Francisco, it might take a week. After just four days of doing hardly any of the things that usually occupy me, I had a full life with a lot of space, undedicated attention that I could then employ for joy, my primary objective these days. I also read three books.
I stayed long enough to forget who I’ve become and remember who I’ll always be. I relearned again that my innards are all that matters. The rest is distraction—some pleasant, some not so much—and none of it is important, which is just as well. I should write that down, so I don’t forget.