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Why take a "retreat"?

Retreats are a way to escape the demands of everyday life and to focus on one thing, for the most part. I recall going to religious retreats when I was a teenager. Too old for Vacation Bible School, the youth group at my little church would gather together for a night or two for worship and praise, and a heaping dose of fun thrown in for good measure. But there were tidbits of knowledge and understanding that managed to get into my brain and I’ve carried them with me throughout my life.

One exercise in particular made a big impression on me. A police sketch artist came in and we talked about what people looked like in the area where Jesus grew up. As we talked, the artist sketched and before we knew it, a face was staring at us from his sketch pad. It looked nothing like the dirty-blonde blue-eyed man we were used to seeing. This “Jesus” was a bit more scruffy, with weathered skin and dark eyes. Instead of having long hair, “our” Jesus had short hair. Instead of pale skin, he had a more ruddy appearance. Instead of being thin and fragile, he was more masculine and strong.

In my 16 years on this Earth, I had always accepted the standard image of Jesus. I had never stopped to think that he may have looked different from the image we had been exposed to all our lives. And thinking is what a retreat is for. It allows us the time away from our normal life to really think about things more in-depth.

When I was engaged, I went to a marriage retreat. It was again, time for us to turn off the demands of our lives and focus on one another. We learned about budget, conflict resolution, and unconditional love. Here we are, 38 years later, so I guess what we learned that weekend was effective.

I’ve since gone to leadership retreats, choir retreats, and Chamber of Commerce board of director retreats. Blocking out the noise of the real world in order to focus on one subject is a great way to get things done. It’s also a great way to bond with the others attending the retreat. Everyone is on the same path, and that creates a sense of camaraderie, as often happens when people share common experiences.

Today, retreats are fairly commonplace, with themes such as wellness, yoga or even retreats where people can learn new skills, such as computer programming, knitting, or healthy cooking.

Since I started writing seriously eight years ago, I’ve attended writing workshops, conferences and seminars. But last weekend I attended my first ever writers retreat. Ten writers from across the state (and Memphis) gathered at the Homestead Education Center in Starkville to focus solely on writing. There were folks who had published novels and how-to books, accomplished bloggers and short story authors, songwriters and memoirists. Some had more experience on their writing journey than others, but that’s what made the retreat even better. Everyone really listened to each other, and gently offered critique, advice, and shared their knowledge of resources and craft.

In the down times--and there was plenty of down time--the writers all worked silently, accomplishing more in that nurturing environment than they can anywhere else. The main room at the Center has large picture windows that overlook a huge lawn filled with trees, gardens, chickens, bee hives, and a lake that shimmered in the fall sun. A cold snap really made it feel like fall, which I think made everyone want to cozy up with a cup of hot tea and write. The environment there seemed to invite each person to open up and let the words flow.

Folks wrote on notepads and loose leaf paper, as well as on laptop computers. Some sat at tables while others settled into comfy arm chairs or even their own bed. And when we gathered together in the main room each evening after dinner, one-by-one the writers read what they had written, and around the room, people commented on the work. The suggestions were always insightful and helpful, and the writers used what they said to go back and tweak what they had written.

Goals were set, Facebook groups formed, and promises to stay in touch and keep each other on track. Even though I attended the retreat as a mentor, I accomplished quite a bit, learned even more and added more members to my “writing tribe.” I look forward with great anticipation to next year’s retreat.

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