Shortly before the holidays I spent a magical week on retreat. I stayed in a cozy cabin nestled in 300 acres of virgin forest. A beautiful fresh water lake equipped with canoe was a brief stroll from my door and the Atlantic Ocean a casual twenty-minute walk away. I shared the grounds with other like-minded people who were also there to disconnect from the world while deepening their inner personal connections. And that’s exactly what we did.
I was off the grid and spent zero energy on emails, texts, Instagram or Facebook. And there wasn’t a tweet in sight. Instead, I relaxed, meditated, and shared in simple and engaging ways.
When you take time off to go on retreat—not to an amazing spa, which can be rejuvenating, or to a yoga intensive, which can be fun if you’re, you know, good at yoga—your priorities shift. Some of what mattered in your life pre-retreat doesn’t mean quite as much to you post-retreat. What does matter, what is truly important, becomes strikingly obvious. This information, possibly hidden or masquerading as something else in your daily life, becomes so clear that it is nearly all you see.
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In the process of discovering what truly matters to you, your intuition is heightened, and your experience of connectivity goes off the charts. The part of your ego that can run around a bit crazed, calms down and you feel at peace. You walk more slowly, breathe more deeply, think and feel more clearly. It becomes effortless to be still, to listen and to hear. You are fed and nurtured on the deepest levels.
These benefits would be enough to make even the most demanding person happy, but there were even more.
On the whole, the city version of me is quite centered and grounded, but on retreat I discovered how both qualities could be enhanced.
I was reminded that the more open and expansive I feel, the more grounded and centered I actually am. That might sound counterintuitive, but when you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Whenever we close ourselves off as a result of stress, anger or fear, we become less fluid and more brittle. As we become more brittle, our sense of vulnerability rises and the chances of our feeling centered and grounded plummet.
City life tells us to hold-grip-squeeze tightly and keep our defenses up. The symbiotic relationship between nature and spirit, found so effortlessly on retreat, teaches us to open and expand, listen to our intuition, follow our natural healthy impulses, let go, and regain a sense of flight.
At the end of the week, I got on a plane and returned to Los Angeles. During my first weeks back I didn’t feel totally here, which was nice since parts of me were still on retreat. I was engaged in my life and soaring at the same time. More time in L.A. has altered the height and breadth of my sense of soaring, but I still have quite a bit of lift. Feeling expansive is what makes that possible. As this is true for me, it’s likely true for you since we’re all people living in the modern world.
If expansiveness is what will alter your daily experience (and it is), you’ll want to discover what expands you. For me, although not necessarily for you, it’s having a spiritual motivation for my thoughts and actions. In other words, I try to live more from my heart than from my head. This includes driving—hear me, O fellow motorists!
Living from our heart instead of our head can sound like a very good idea, but the reality is we’re faced with a multitude of responsibilities every day that can stretch us to our limit. With our get-it-all-done agendas, we’re prone to tackle everything from the mental perspective and reserve our heart-view for more selective situations. We’ll run to the store short on time, hit some traffic, have to wait for parking, and by the time we set foot in the store we’re far from happy. Maybe we’ll still muster some kindness to express to the people we encounter as we shop. And maybe we won’t. It depends on the day. But on a less than good day we might be short tempered or overly demanding. Yet, when we get home, we’re nice to the cat.
We should be nice to the cat; it’s a sentient being. Of course, so were the people we encountered when we were out in the world. They deserve the same sort of heart consideration as our pets. When we stroke our cat or dog, or kiss the beak of our parakeet, we’re living from our heart. We want to practice this same easy generosity when we’re interacting with people.
We’re not unloving or heart-shunning at our core, we’re just accustomed to doing things the way we’ve always done them, which is the non-expansive, head-centric way. Who among us was told growing up to open up, experience life expansively and allow our spirit to soar? Most of us were given a “color between the lines” approach to life and those who weren’t, were likely given a “color outside the lines, but not TOO far outside the lines” approach. I’m suggesting getting rid of the lines altogether.
For me to expand I have to remain open, be certain I’m fully connected to my heart regardless of what I’m doing, and remember that expanding—soaring, if you will—is of primary importance to me. Without a sense of personal expansion—which remember, also grounds and centers us—we’re simply going through subtle variations of the same basic routines day after day after day.
For the most part, it isn’t what we’re doing that’s the issue; it’s how we go about doing all of it.
The most mundane task can evolve into an expansive experience if we approach it openly and with love. When we do this, we begin to expand and transform. It’s really that simple.
You might be thinking, “OK, but how do I do this in my life?” Good question. You may not feel you’re an expert on the heart and love, and you don’t have to be. That comes with practice and experimentation. Start with what you know, which is how to be kind. You’re already kind to the people and animals in your life that you feel close to, and since kindness is an expression of love it automatically moves you from your head into your heart.
Focus on yourself first. Yes, I’m saying be kind, compassionate and thoughtful to yourself. This may not be the easiest thing you’ve ever tried, but it will be one of the smartest and most productive. Then move on to other people. First, the ones you love, then, the ones you like, and finally, the ones you’d rather not have anything to do with. Somewhere in there book yourself on a retreat and see what magic happens.