Retreat to Expand

wood cabin with ramp, deck and bbq, set among trees

In a couple of weeks, I’m heading out for a few days alone in a rustic cabin in a provincial campground on the luminous Lake Huron. I had ideas about what I could do there, and realized instead, I will use my time to be. I’m giving myself a retreat.

I have a long to-do list well-suited to a quiet cabin, and could easily fill the days with reading, writing, and outdoor activities – I did that with the kids at a cottage in the summer, and enjoyed the relaxation of being unplugged. I *know* though that pushing ahead is not the way for me to grow right now. I can’t ignore all the unprocessed emotions bubbling up every time I pause or hear kind words. Do you have tears close to the surface? I do, and they’re a sign. I’m crying easily and often. Some are tears of joy and connection – I’m still riding the high of those first vaccinated hugs – but I have a lot of shit to process. Old shit, newer shit, future-worry shit, all of it. The mental and emotional clutter is holding me back from the calm stillness where I can grow, expand, and refresh my spirit.

I will be alone at the cabin, but none of us are alone on this journey. I have expert guides and beloved friends who see me.

boardwalk, trees, dunes, and water in the distance
boardwalk over the dunes to the lake at the Pinery

Here are the elements of my retreat


I will welcome all thoughts and feelings, and sit in the discomfort and even pain that they bring. My guides here are Tara Brach with her book Radical Acceptance and a workshop I did with Elizabeth Gilbert where my fear wrote me a letter (and she often writes letters to Love, who writes her back – such a healing practice). I remember an online event where Jennifer Pastiloff (who wrote On Being Human) had me write a letter to my stomach, and her bounty of love carries me and my body parts forward. Also, I hear almost every yoga teacher I’ve ever had, reminding me to notice each bit of tension or ease in my body and breathe into it.

In practical terms, I’ll make space for all this bubbling up and noticing to happen through meditations, yoga, walking meditations, and letter writing. I’m sorting out a playlist of guided meditations beforehand, with some from Tara Brach, Insight Timer, and Headspace. I will also do my own silent meditations, which I call “commit to stillness”, typically outdoors, and they don’t last long, but even in just a couple of minutes I’m usually swimming in until-then neglected feelings.

mug with the word mindful against water and trees background
I’ll have a friend’s gift – my mindful mug that matches my lake.


When I’ve done this before, I find many emotions, habits or memories are simply ready to go, to leave me. They needed my acknowledgement and that’s it – poof, they’re away. Others I definitely need to sit with for more time. There are usually a few in the middle that I might try to release, and they let me know if that’s going to work out or not 😊.

One of my guides for this is HeatherAsh Amara (Warrior Goddess) with her ideas about “purifying my vessel” (to be honest, that sounds like a feminine hygiene activity, so I use my own, more pragmatic words like “decluttering” and “release” to encompass her ideas.)

My ritual for this is so very close to my heart (I’ve written about it before). I go to water – big water if possible; our local river tries its best, but just isn’t the same – and call out the thing I’m releasing. I send it out into the water, to blend in with the unfathomable volume of other memories and emotions swirling about there. I like the big water as a reminder of how tiny and small all these energies are. I’ve let them grow large inside me sometimes, but they’re each a speck engulfed by the waves. Also, waves are fleeting, existing for a moment then no longer there. They’re a lesson in impermanence and they tell me that those pieces I’m holding onto inside for a bit longer will eventually roll on out too. Mostly, I love the nurturing shushing of the water, mothering me with comforting whispers that it’s all going to be all right.

Like I said, not everything I release stays out there. I remember one habit I was trying to release that the ocean waves sent back and back and back to my feet. It simply wasn’t the right time. The right time did come, years later, for that one to go, so I do trust in the process.

Waves of Freedom (from my first ritual of release, in Victoria, BC)

Being Alone to be Better Company

So, I retreat to expand my heart. I’ll return with a clearer soul, perhaps some pain to sit with, but it won’t be trapped or repressed anymore, we’ll get some light on it and breath into it, and my spirit will be a Great Lake of calm peace. If you’re in your own place of trapped feelings or teary-ness or just drooling at the idea of being alone and off grid, know I’m sending my energy to you too. We’re all in this together. Namaste.

7 thoughts on “Retreat to Expand

  1. Hi Karen, this really resonates with me, and I love the idea of being alone at a retreat!🖤
    I’ve heard so much about the Pinery, and think I may actually do this.
    Thanks, Nadia

    1. Thanks, Nadia and if you do it, I’ll be there in spirit, wishing you the space you need for your retreat 🙂 The Pinery is a gem!! There’s only the one cabin so it’s always booked ahead – I stayed in a yurt there one time in the winter too. I’m eyeing a cabin at Inverhuron in the summer maybe … !

  2. This sounds just wonderful, Karen. I like how you’re not planning to distract yourself from what you’re feeling, but rather to allow everything to come in so you can sit with it, however uncomfortable that might be. I know so well that sense of tears just below the surface – it’s usually a sign that the small, vulnerable part of us needs some attention and caring – and you’ve created a perfect opportunity to do this. I wish you all the best on your retreat – enjoy.

    1. Thank you, Julie! I’m grateful to have the time and opportunity to do it – so often I would bury my feelings just to get through the busyness of life, but no more 😊 I hope you’re well too. ❤️

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