Last fall, amid the pandemic, I found myself wanting to find a way to have a retreat experience outside of the home. At the time there was still not a COVID vaccine available, and we were publicly being told to shelter in place and not gather with relatives living outside of our home during the holidays. The meditation communities across the country and world had suspended in-person retreats and had shifted their offerings on-line. If I wanted to go on retreat outside of my home, I would have to get a bit creative.
I was eyeing a couple of five-day retreats that Spirit Rock was offering and found one the week before Thanksgiving that got my attention. It was the Spirit Rock November Insight Retreat. One of the teachers I had been in retreat with before: Kiara Jewel Lingo. Another teacher, Matthew Brensilver I had worked with through Mindful Schools. Wes Nisker was a teacher I was also familiar with because I had planned to be on retreat with him and Vinny Ferrero at Spirit Rock in May 2020. And then teacher Beth Sternlieb who I really didn’t know anything about and was curious to meet. This retreat also offered daily morning yoga sessions. The format felt like it would be supportive to my practice and meet my goal of a solo retreat.
Next I turned to where I could go for four night and five days. My first choice was somewhere in nature. Somewhere close by. The first ideas I had led me to Nebraska State Parks with cabin access. At this time last year, state park facilities were not open and if they were they had a short maximum stay of two days in Nebraska. The retreat I was looking at was in November, a time that most cabins in Nebraska were closed for the winter season. Just before I felt like finding a cabin might prove difficult, I thought of a state park in Iowa that I had visited over the years since a teen. Only a 30-minute drive from my house, Hitchcock Nature Center near Honey Creek, IA had in the last several years added small cabins to the property. Hopping onto the Iowa parks website, I found that their park restrictions were much more lax during the pandemic than Nebraska. They also kept their cabins open all year round. Now, I just needed to lock in the dates, which I did with great success.
The cabin was one-room. It had everything I needed. A bed, electricity, heat, microwave, small refrigerator, table and chairs and even a couch. They even had free internet which would allow me to join the talks, group sits and yoga from my cabin. Fifty feet or so away was an outhouse that was clean and newer. The shower house and indoor restrooms had been closed for the winter season. This didn’t bother me at all. I brought soup and snacks and my own water. And my tea kettle!
Each day I started with meditation, then yoga, breakfast, guided meditation, lunch, afternoon free for more meditation, hiking in the woods and then an evening dharma talk and meditation. It was the perfect balance of checking in on the computer and being able to add solo meditation and mindful hikes in between the online offerings.
I had created a daily schedule for myself once they sent out the retreat outline. The times worked well as they were happening in the West Coast time zone. I found a pre-planned schedule helpful to keep me focused and grounded. Not many people were around. I was in one of four cabins. Each night except the last, someone was staying in a cabin which I knew only by a car parked outside of a cabin. The weather was brisk, rainy one day and I believe I saw the first light snow of the season one afternoon.
I would definitely reserve another cabin at Hitchcock and do a solo retreat even without the structure of online teachers. Although, I probably wouldn’t do it during the height of summer and summer travel. I had booked a solo retreat in SW Colorado for this past August for a week and was steered away from that experience by the universe. I plan on trying another one in the next year. My biggest challenge in this first solo retreat was the technology. While it was wonderful to connect with a community and wonderful teachers there was something about the dependency of technology for my experience that felt off. I am looking forward to a true solo retreat experience where I focus just on meditation and not have to log on.
I hope I have inspired the reader to think about retreats in a different way as well as give or spark an idea of how you might do your own solo retreat closer to home or further away. If I can answer any questions or be of further assistance, don’t hesitate to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Anne Savery