What to do during a personal retreat?
September 3, 2014 11:13 AM   Subscribe

I have the opportunity to take a few days alone in a wifi-free cabin in upstate NY. I'd like some help some help thinking of what to do to help me recharge.

I have a few ideas already:
--- putting together a list of journaling prompts (I'm an active journal-er and suggestions for prompts would be welcome)
---bringing inspirational books or magazines (but what?)
---bring craft supplies to make postcards or letters for friends and family
---creating a menu and cooking elaborate meals
---practicing a specific yoga movement (like headstand)

I will NOT have access to any technology (phones, internet, television) so anything like a podcast is out. I'd love some more suggestions for activities I could do while up there so I don't go stir crazy but get to take full advantage of solitude for self-improvement OR for concrete suggestions that fit into what I've already thought about doing (i.e. books to read, crafts to make).

Outdoor suggestions are welcome, but I have limited experience hiking solo. Safety tips would help. Cost isn't really an object.

Possibly relevant information: I've been sick all summer (95% better now) and that has been physically and emotionally hard. I live in NYC and my norm is the urban bustle. I have a great social life here, and am not super concerned with being too lonely while up there. I am prone to seasonal affection disorder, and will likely be bringing a light box.
posted by neematoad to Travel & Transportation (23 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
I learned to knit when I went through a major health scare this past spring and holy shit, knitting is seriously theraputic. You get all zen and focused, you get in to a flow, and then you have something to show for your work. And it felt great learning a new skill and seeing how quickly I improved. Learning new knitting skills (like doing cables, which are easy but look fancy pants) was awesome too.

If I had a retreat for a few days I would absolutely be knitting, and I can guarantee you I would come back refreshed and recharged. And probably very warm from the awesome thing I knitted during my retreat.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:16 AM on September 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

posted by JenThePro at 11:16 AM on September 3, 2014

Read the essay, Self-Reliance by Emerson.
posted by Flood at 11:20 AM on September 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

A fun source of writing prompts is The Writer's Block.
posted by scody at 11:23 AM on September 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Crossword puzzles! Find the day that works best for you (Monday is easiest and they get harder from there) and just get a few of the New York Times daily puzzle books. You'll also feel good about yourself if by the end of your vacation you can accomplish puzzles that would have been too hard for you at the beginning. I just got back from a week-long vacation without any technology (although with other people) and I brought a bunch of activities but all I really needed were crossword puzzles, my crochet stuff, and like six Agatha Christie books.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 11:23 AM on September 3, 2014

Best answer: Hmm. I'm almost inclined to suggest you not try to plan things. Like, maybe bring a few things if you think you really want to do them, but in terms of having a schedule you stick to where you write X number of pages in your journal every day and walk Y number of miles or whatever, I'd....not do that.

I find that when I'm trying to recharge and retreat, it is the absence of a set schedule that makes me feel like my time is truly mine. Telling myself I'm going to write in my journal or else and making myself do it would feel like homework, but if it's just there, and no big deal if I do it or not, then it's equally fine whether I wake up and get inspired to write, or whether I wake up and get inspired to take a walk, or wake up and get inspired to pick wildflowers or skip stones or whatever. If all I feel like doing is listening to the same album on repeat and braiding the fringe on the curtains, so be it; it's satisfied a whim and I had no one else to please but myself, and that was all that counted.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:28 AM on September 3, 2014 [16 favorites]

I'm almost inclined to suggest you not try to plan things.

This is an excellent point. Sometimes what the brain and the spirit need most is just to gaze at the water or the clouds or the stars.

We are so constantly inundated with distractions that it's easy to forget that removing all of them, for the sake of genuine peace and quiet, can be the greatest luxury of all.
posted by scody at 11:31 AM on September 3, 2014 [6 favorites]

Take fun books with little emotional weight to them and read. Stick your feet up on the porch railing and gaze out. If there's a bathtub, take a hot bath (with one of those brain-candy books).

If what you really need is recharging, don't set yourself much of an agenda, if at all. You don't have to embark on a self-improvement kick if what you are is emotionally and physically wrung out.
posted by rtha at 11:50 AM on September 3, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'm also with not planning SO much.

But, bringing some paint supplies would be fun.

A really large puzzle would be something you could bring, and even if you spent an hour a day on it, it's a good way to exercise your mind.
posted by Sara_NOT_Sarah at 11:54 AM on September 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's a long weekend? Just get down to basics. Wake up, figure out how to use the shower, how to work the stove, where to get groceries, etc. Maybe there's a local farm and it's the best time for [x fruit]; check it out and come back with some jam. Cook simple meals. Wash the dishes, go for a walk, read a book or write a bit (about whatever), shower, put on your jammies, listen to the radio, enjoy a night sky unmolested by light pollution. Next day, maybe go for a picnic by a river (don't get fancy, make yourself a sandwich). Chill out and take all of it in.

Bring, max, three books, just so you feel like you have a choice; nothing too worthy, either. Something pacey, something thoughtful, something maybe a little worthy but not deliberately difficult, and some paper/stationery, and that's it. (In that setting I personally might feel like getting into a book of short stories, which are high reward for less commitment than full on novels, or maybe some poetry, which I don't often have enough headspace to enjoy.) If you get bored and want magazines, you can go into town and have a mini-adventure, talk to locals, etc.
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:54 AM on September 3, 2014 [7 favorites]

Can you say a bit more about where? I know that for many NYC natives, "upstate" means "north of Yonkers", which could still be pretty urban, but there are many lovely areas in NY state, with a wide variety of hikes and other safe outdoor activities. Especially if you have SAD, I would recommend enjoying the outdoors.
posted by ubiquity at 12:55 PM on September 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Don't add to your stress by giving yourself self-improvement projects to complete while you're there. Just relax and catch up on sleep. If you've been ill and stressed recently, that's the best thing you can do for yourself right now.
posted by Jacqueline at 1:23 PM on September 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

You could bring a camera, and a book of amazing nature photography, and try to capture an amazing image of your getaway, which will get you thinking about things like how the sunlight dapples in the afternoon, the mists in the morning, dewdrops, insects, flowers, ice, etc and basically snap you out of "skim-reading" the environment around you, get you to slow down and smell the roses by force ;)
posted by anonymisc at 3:26 PM on September 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd bring books, old favorites and a couple that I've been dying to read. Nothing high brow, just comforting ones.

I'd perhaps walk to the village, if that's thing, buy a newspaper, get a cup of coffee and a great piece of pie. Chat with the folks at the counter.

I might not do much hiking, because I'd be afraid to get lost, but if there are well marked trails, I might give it a go.

I'd sleep in, take naps and turn in early. (I really like sleep!)

Take long hot baths.

I'd find a cat and pet it.

Have fun!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:34 PM on September 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Get up, eat breakfast if you eat breakfast, and go sit in a comfortable chair. Just keep sitting there until you have no doubt in your mind about what to do next. Don't worry, if it takes a very long time, that's a good thing (though I can pretty much guarantee it won't take past lunchtime). When in doubt about what to do next, return to the chair.
posted by bricoleur at 4:59 PM on September 3, 2014 [12 favorites]

Another vote for reading poetry.
posted by BibiRose at 6:27 PM on September 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Reading poetry is a great idea. You could also look into any other literary art that interests you -- like read a play, a literary novel, an essayist you are interested in, or (my favorite) a Victorian serial.

I'd also suggest doing a lot of walking.
posted by OrangeDisk at 6:33 PM on September 3, 2014

If you're going to the Adirondacks, the leaves have already started changing and will be awesome to look at. The trails there are very well-marked if you want to hike, and you may be able to find a group to go with if you search online or check the papers.

Reading a newspaper for a small town out of the NYC area is a cool mental escape. Even the ads and the classified section.
posted by alphanerd at 7:15 PM on September 3, 2014

EmpressCallipygos mostly right, but there's a trick to it -
Don't plan, but do Prepare.
Prepare lots! But make no plans.

Most people don't really think about the difference between the two.

Prepare food and snacks for yourself, so you don't have to go to any effort, and can eat when you want. Prepare a set of clothes and a bag with water and a snack so you can grab it and go for a long walk any time you feel like it. Prepare some music to take with you, so you can queue it up with little hassles.
Take a couple of books that look interesting (fiction, nonfiction). A journal. Pencils. A camera. Recorded meditations. Anything that might be fun. If you're wanting stuff to 'work through', Barbara Sher is good, Unconditional Self-Acceptance by Cheri Huber is a pretty intense 'audioretreat'.

And then, don't plan to do any of them. Don't expect to do even half of them. They're just there, pre-prepared little opportunities that you can take up at your leisure.

Sleeping is good though, and try and do all your activities outside if possible.
posted by Elysum at 11:24 PM on September 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

You can also take some time to really reflect on one or two things. Are you retreating from something? Is the person you are now different from the person you'd like to be on next year's retreat?

Or maybe try whittling. Have you ever whittled?
posted by jander03 at 11:34 PM on September 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Sounds like it will be dark at night. Can you take (borrow) some good binoculars or even a telescope? You could do some star-gazing.
posted by evil_esto at 2:33 AM on September 4, 2014

Response by poster: These were all great suggestions. Thanks everyone! I think not planning but bringing some activities is the way to go, and the best way to mark this time as unique from my usual life.
posted by neematoad at 6:24 AM on September 4, 2014

Do you have a camera (note: not your camera phone)? Any camera will do.

Once when I was hiking (in SoCal) I kept coming across so many lizards that I decided to a little impromptu study of them. You might do something similar. Walk in the woods and take photos of interesting leaves, or the quality of the light in the trees, or whatever might peak your interest.

The overall quality of the photos doesn't need to be great, just looking at them later after you've returned home can revive the relaxed feeling you had while walking in the woods.
posted by vignettist at 8:12 AM on September 4, 2014

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