Anatomy of my Solo Retreat

There’s been a lot of curiosity by private message and email about my recent retreat. What did I do? What was my approach? Did I do yoga and meditate all day? Did I spend my days at a spa? How did I plan my time?

So I thought I’d share how my time away flowed. Because mostly, it did flow. Except for the day when it didn’t. That day had some funky moments, ridiculous at times, and in hindsight, hilarious. I viewed those moments as metaphors for my process and my inner landscape.

I’m not a group person, so no, I did not go away with a group and do whatever groups do on retreats. I went to be with and listen to my s/Self.

A simple insight

One of the things I realized was that I don’t have a spiritual home in Europe. Yet. Someday I will. 

I have always had a spiritual home or two in the US. Reversing Falls in Perry, Maine, was an annual pilgrimage for many years. Taos, New Mexico, was another special place to retreat and go within. I have been there at least 12-15 times over the years. And Sauvie Island in Portland, Oregon was a special place for me as well, though not quite a spiritual home – more like a little 3-hour refreshing getaway. 

I believe my spiritual home will show up at some point. I’m not focused on chasing it down; that would bring the wrong energy to the endeavor. I’ve simply acknowledged the void, opened the door and invited the place to make itself known.

Arrival and settling in

When I arrived in Viana do Castelo, I centered my focus and intention. My first evening, I worked with my dear friend Bruce Frazier, and received an annual ‘throwing the bones’ reading, a divination system that he was taught by Malidoma Somé. I wanted insights into what was alive in my field as I contemplated and welcomed change. I shared my thoughts about seeking to evolve some things in my business and my life.

The truth is, I have too damn much on my plate. I’m 65, but not ready to retire. I am ready for greater ease and flow. My intention has to do with evolving from excessive doing into delicious being. The reading set the stage and centered my conscious and unconscious awareness for the energy and information I was accessing.

The afternoon that never happened

I had some ideas for my first full day away. After a lazy, relaxing morning, I headed out to do some exploring. Viana do Castelo has a sanctuary on the top of a hill that overlooks the city. I’ve tried twice in the last two years to drive there, and both times, my GPS has been completely confounded. 

The first time, the GPS guided me to just beneath the sanctuary, but it couldn’t finish the job. We left after circling around looking for the entrance for quite some time.

This time, my GPS guided me into an unending series of apartment complexes. I spent at least 20 minutes driving through parking lots attempting to find my way out and up to the sanctuary. I gave up. 

Metaphor: The place is a sanctuary, but it’s not MY sanctuary. Mine is within me.

I reset my GPS for a nearby beach so I could catch the sunset on the ocean. I followed the directions and landed at a beach on the river, not the ocean. I could see the ocean nearby, but it was too far to walk. 

I reset the GPS, and never made it to the ocean! Driving up and down, back and forth, I repeatedly traversed a series of dead end streets, with my GPS giving crisp directions to turn left or right. 

It finally directed me onto a narrow, muddy, rutted dirt road that I traveled for a couple of miles (5 kilometers), until it unceremoniously dropped me into a busy rotary at rush hour. Nowhere near the beach. Sunset done and dusted. 

Metaphor: Drop your agenda, surrender to flow. I was pushing for what I wanted instead of listening to what was calling me.

Since I’m at the Coast, I’ll go to the mountains

Once I moved out of agenda, there were many moments of magic – nothing huge and climactic – just little moments of ‘call and response’ as I cultivated and retreated into quiet. 

Being a coastal town (it’s a city, but it’s really tiny), I had imagined I’d spend a lot of time at the beach, walking the boardwalk, breathing the sea air. I’m very much at home near water. 

That didn’t happen. Instead, I felt pulled to the mountains. So I went. I drove for a couple of hours to spend the day in the woods, enjoying the elevation, the vistas, and the rustic stone fountains pouring clean, clear water from the mountaintops. 

It was exactly where I needed to be. Just not at all what I’d imagined or planned. 

The response to an intentional ‘ask’ can be very simple

I sat by one of the rustic stone fountains for a while, letting my mind wander as I anchored into presence. As I moved into deep, conscious communion with the place, I attuned to the energies that were present. As I acknowledged this connection and presence, a breeze touched my cheek. The air was completely still, there was no breeze at all. Except on my cheek. Ahhh…acknowledgement of connection, thank you.

My meditation was simple, putting into the conscious field what I’m seeking and needing. Returning from my ‘ask’, listening to the water pouring from the fountain, I looked up through the small gap in the tree canopy and saw a beautiful hawk flying directly above my head. Ahhh…message received, thank you.

As I left the park, a group of joyous bathers in a thermal pool, waved to me, and showed me their backends, laughing and shouting with good nature as I drove by. Ahhh…playfulness and lightness, joy, thank you.

On the return drive to my guest house, ideas formed, choices and decisions were made.

Returning home

At the end of my time on retreat, I felt contained, and ready to come home. I pointed the car’s nose south, and began the drive. I was picking my partner up at the airport, and I had a few hours until his plane landed, so I decided to visit Esposende, another little coastal enclave.

I parked my car along the riverfront, and took a walk along the river, aware of my inner peace and stillness, and how it was reflected so beautifully by the water. The picture that accompanies the post was taken on my walk.


I left for my retreat with a bunch of stress and a series of questions. I came home with some answers, and a heart full of gratitude. And yet…

Re-entry wasn’t smooth and simple. Nothing was wrong or awful. I simply needed time to land. To bring my s/Self Home. Arriving home on Thursday, I finally landed on Saturday.

What’s next?

I have already begun to make a few of the changes that emerged from my woods wandering. There’s more that will unfold as I take action on what I have already chosen. Whatever remains unresolved is in my field of potentiality. 

I know that the way forward always emerges as I attend to the path I’m on. My feet on the Earth, my heart in my center, my intention placed on what I’m creating. 

And yes, I’m already dreaming up my next retreat.

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