I lived for three days in a Victorian-era house in a historic neighborhood of Detroit. It is a creaky old joint, with drafty windows, wobbly wood banisters, and enough chipped plaster and gouged floor boards to tell a thousand stories.
I handed over my life, or maybe I reclaimed it, in this place.
I opened up my head and my heart. It was boring. It was painful. It was fabulous.
When I arrived on Wednesday with a small overnight bag and a pillow, I buzzed with anxiety and dread. I’d taken on this retreat on as a personal challenge. It was no pampering spa weekend in the woods. Letting go of all that I control (or think I control) was tough. Dismissing the idea that I could have any vanity or ego while doing this was even tougher. No showers, plenty of hard work and sweating, and very little privacy or down time. I’d have to face a group of people, some who know me and some who do not, without props or facades.
There would be no radio, TV, Internet, cell phone, books, or even pen and paper to jot down thoughts. There would be vast expanses of silence and lots of work. When I found my room, bare except for a futon, night stand, and a lone lamp with a low-watt bulb, If started to feel like I’d checked myself into a prison of sorts.
But once I let go of it all, and just lived with what each moment handed me, I began to really feel light and joyful. There is a certain peace in dedicating each moment to one task. Eat at eating time. Sleep at sleeping time. Work at working time. Clean at cleaning time. There were times to be serious and focus. There were times to laugh and get crazy.
I realized I have it pretty good, in spite of some hardships and challenges. I have a great husband and wonderful children. I realize I need to eat better, get more rest, and unplug from the electronics a little more often. Most of all, I need to stop clock-watching and multi-tasking.
By the last day, when our bags were packed and the chores were done, we declared the retreat over by sitting in a circle on the kitchen floor surrounding a pan of freshly baked brownies and cups of hot tea. We joked, told stories, asked questions of each other, and just basked in the collective peace we’d built together. I didn’t want to leave.
Did I miss the Internet, TV, phone, radio, and my iPod? Yes and no.
I missed being able to cater to my whims. I didn’t miss the chaos that comes with answering too many whims at once, mine as well as those of my children, my spouse, and the world at large. I tested myself and came out better than I ever could have imagined. How long will it last? What is the next challenge?