Why do we take retreats?
I have gone down the path of taking retreats to both escape and learn about other cultures. I thought they were both one and the same thing, but they are not.
We (my wife and I) left Chicago during the Covid-19 pandemic for Austin.
It was strictly to escape brutal winters and get more sun. The scenes of everyday life were no longer desired. You start daydreaming about what life could be on the other side. The idea of leaving ordinary life for something more exciting occupied my mind. There was no longer a desire to live a mundane life.
In Austin, it was remarkably easy to talk to strangers, locals, and other nomads. But this doesn't naturally happen when I am in Chicago. It takes a lot more effort to those same things.
I was open-minded about ideas, food, making new friends and exploring new things while I was in Austin, but the same things come with friction in Chicago. Understandably, time was a luxury in Austin because I was not occupied with social obligations.
Life was more exciting and free of obligations with a lot of sun and tacos.
Until we became parents. We wanted to escape again after our son was born. This retreat lasted for 18 months before we moved back to Chicago.
Winter is upon me in Chicago and I find myself asking if this is our permanent base. Or will I entertain escaping again because of never ending mundane life during harsh winters?
This time I am taking on a fatherly view because I have a 1-year-old on hand and the implications are beyond me including my son's grandparents. This was the reason we moved back to Chicago.
Giving a thought to this matter is making me appreciate my current base. I no longer desire to run away from things because it is much easier to create excuses than trying to work with the environment you are in.
Retreats stretch the horizon of our imaginations, but embracing the base we are in now is as valuable. It is joyful, but not flawless. And life also operates in similar fashion.
Escaping your base to renew your soul somewhere else is not sufficient in my view. It can be great, but it does not address the core.
We seek retreats by the mountains and beaches to escape our base. But no matter where you go, you take the same soul with you. I am the culprit of it because I am constantly escaping out to the mountains. But romanticizing escapism won't help me find peace or calm.
You have to find your base wherever you are.
Recognizing this is important otherwise you'll keep running away. I did for some time.
I have now changed my perspective on how I want to live in Chicago. I am not seeking sunshine. I am much more adaptable to seasons of life, different walks of people, and new ideas. What I did in Austin can be done here in Chicago. And this is the mindset I want to embrace.
All I needed was clarity and realization to convince my mind that any base can be beautiful as long as I wanted it to be. My gratitude for Chicago illuminates brighter than it ever has.
Marcus Aurelius in his text Meditations, “People seek retreats for themselves in the country, by the sea, or in the mountains. You are very much in the habit of yearnings for those same things. But this is entirely the trait of a base person, when you can, at any moment, finding such a retreat in yourself. For nowhere can you find a more peaceful and less busy retreat than in your own soul—especially if on close inspection it is filled with ease, which I say is nothing more than being well-ordered. Treat yourself often to this retreat and be renewed.”
I will continue to seek retreats, but not to escape, but to learn while loving my base. Next time I plan my retreat, it will be much more intentional.
To summarize all this—your soul is where the retreat is.