Personal Retreats

Ithink I need a vacation.” “I need some ‘me’ time.” “I just want to get away from it all for a while.” Chances are, you’ve said these words before, or heard them from burned-out friends and colleagues. At this time of year, the refrain often takes on a new level of irony: “I think I need a vacation from my vacation.”

For Californians, the increasingly popular remedy to such burnout is the “personal retreat”-programs that offer time for introspection, rest, and recovery. Whether they involve wrapping you in seaweed, bathing you in mud, washing your hair, cutting your toenails, teaching you to meditate, stretch, or breathe, or simply leaving you alone with your thoughts for a few days, the message is the same: “Take a break. You deserve it.”

As a California girl myself, I’m somewhat susceptible to the siren song of the deep-tissue massage, the detox, the ashram. Last year, shortly after my father died, I felt the need to get away for a little while. At the same time, I realized, “I don’t want to be in retreat from my life; I want to live it.”

A few weeks later, I ventured up the coast to California’s famed Esalen Institute, a retreat center situated on the cliffs above the Pacific Ocean, where mineral hot springs bubble into a series of outdoor pools, massage therapists work around the clock, and abundant organic meals appear like magic three times a day. I was there for a writing workshop, Into the Fire: The Alchemy of Personal Writing, and I threw myself into the experience with everything I had. I write for a living, but in devoting a weekend to writing about my own life, I made not a personal retreat, but a personal advance.

As September looms, vacations come to an end, and the urge to get away from it all comes over me, I find myself thinking about Esalen, and I remember: I love my life, and there’s nothing I need to retreat from. Then again, I wouldn’t turn down a nice mud bath.

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