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How About Leaving the World? (often)


I just came back from and R&R weekend at Menla, a retreat center in the Catskills. I wanted to share with you some of my insights while there. The place was serene, with superb nature all around. And that silence! A presence in itself and a real balm for my delicate (i.e.vata) nervous system. All in all the perfect conditions were gathered to help me disconnect from worldly affairs. And disconnect I did. It sure helped there was hardly any internet connection! I slept 9 hours on both nights, meditated long and deep, hardly uttered a word and came back feeling rejuvenated. That’s what happens when you stay long enough in an environment conducive to relaxation. You just relax.

While I highly recommend going away on a retreat occasionally to recharge your batteries, the reality is that most of our recharging is gonna have to happen at home. Where we live, work, play. And where many other human beings do the same! All of us swimming in a sea of hyper connected-ness. Or is it hyper-connected-MESS!?

I have written and spoken a good amount about the necessity of daily self-care to remain sane in body and mind. It is a central element to my wellness coaching approach. But today I’d like us to consider a full day of self-care. Not as a substitute to the daily kind, but rather as a supplement, an opportunity to unplug longer and re-connect to our essential Being-ness in a way that 20 or 30 minutes wouldn’t allow.

Before I tell you more about this day of unplugging, let me share with you how I discovered the regenerative power of this practice.

My Sacred Sundays

Throughout my 20’s I taught a lot of yoga classes all over town. I’d also spend a good chunk of time answering my student’s health and yoga-related questions. But came Sunday I was OFF. At the time this was not so much a conscious decision as much as a necessity. After teaching up to 20 classes a week and shlepping myself uptown, downtown, crosstown again and again, there was nothing more I wanted to do than to stick around my neighborhood and enjoy lots of quiet. So on most week-ends, from Saturday afternoon until Sunday evening I avoided riding the subway, enjoyed leisurely walks in Central Park and hardly spoke. It felt awesome. Came Monday morning I was ready to go!

In retrospect I realized that my Saturday to Sunday mini-retreats were infused with the spirit of shabbat. One of my clients is a rabbi with whom I often enjoy rich, philosophical conversations. While he tells me about jewish wisdom, I tell him about yogic wisdom. It turns out the two have a lot in common. When he explained to me the deeper significance of shabbat, “an island in time, a day when one doesn’t create anything, doesn’t boss others and is not bossed, all with the intention to reconnect with the mystery of life.” I knew exactly what he was talking about. I realized I had been observing my kind of shabbat without knowing it. (OK, on the wrong day)
And while I don’t commute all over town so much anymore, I still spend many hours doing healing work and my need to pull back from the world regularly is stronger than ever. For me…

Everyone Needs a Day of Unplugging

But don’t be mistaken. You do not need to be working like a mad-woman to be needing a time-out from the world. Everyone does. For that day is not just an invitation to rest physically.

It is a time for introspection and contemplation.
It is a sacred space for realizations, releasing and renewal.
It is the deepest nourishment you can give yourself.

All your “doing” will then be fueled with a stronger connection to being. Whether your “doing” is holding a job, raising a family, re-decorating your apartment or training for a marathon, all your actions will arise from a calm, clear and connected place within you, and as such have more impact.

How to Create Your “Island in Time”

Perhaps you’re thinking this business of a mini weekly at-home retreat sounds lovely but how in the world can I find the time!? As always, start where you are.

• Figure out when. 

Maybe a full 24-hours a week of unplugging is not doable for you at this time. How about a 5-hour chunk? Or perhaps a full day every 2-3 weeks? Look at your schedule. Can you find a few hours that are not occupied? How about not looking for something to occupy them with? Filling every one of our waking hours with “something to do” is one of our modern-day ills. In big cities like New York temptations to “do something” abound. That’s probably what led to the emergence of this as yet unofficial disorder: FOMO, or the “fear of missing out”. So telling of where we’re at as a society: unable to stop. That is precisely why we must.

“I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least – and it is commonly more than that – sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements.”  – Henry David Thoreau – Walking.

• It’s about BEING, not doing.

OK, so you set aside time for deep unplugging. What next? Well, not much friend, that’s the point. You’re welcome to stick to your usual self-care routine of course. Perhaps it’s dry-skin brushing followed with oil massage and a bubble bath. Meditation. Journaling. Inspirational reading. All are fine. But watch out. I am not suggesting you set aside a few hours every week, only to fill them with more “doing”, however spiritual it may all seem. At that point I could digress into what it means to be spiritual anyway. But I won’t, because I already did in this series of post on how to spiritualize your life. What I’m inviting you to experiment with instead is to get comfortable without much and mostly with yourself. How about getting very quiet? And just listen…to your breath, your heart, the thoughts in your head. Dispassionately.

• Relax into not knowing.

If the thought of not doing much and being in silence with yourself for several hours at the time is causing you some anxiety, it’s normal. Maybe you’ve never known what that would look or feel like. Fantastic! Relax into not knowing. Open up to the mystery of life! Maybe you don’t even open that book from that spiritual teacher. Not to undermine the power of their words. But where do you think they found their inspiration in the first place? How about getting to the source of it yourself? In an age where deep esoteric teachings are available for purchase on amazon, it is easy to fill our minds with concepts about spirituality, then delude ourselves into thinking (all very unconsciously) that we know what it means to live a spiritual life. Things like doing yoga, meditating, being a peaceful, loving, patient, pet-loving vegetarian.. blah blah blah…right?? Sure that could mean that. Or not. How are you to know what is YOUR truth? There’s a fine line between knowing about spirituality and direct knowing. When we let concepts crowd our minds, they keep us from a genuine and direct experience of Spirit.

That is why I am inviting you to go bare for a few hours every week. (in every way you want for that matter!)

“Without uncertainty and the unknown, life is just the stale repetition of outworn memories.”  Deepak Chopra – The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success

Happy experimenting loves.

And please share about your aha’s! and oho’s! in the comment section below. I’m here to support you on your inward journey.

Sylvie BARTHELEMY

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