Greetings from the farm 2 – thoughts on annual retreats

“Would you think about coming back here?” Kristine asked me as we bent under some blueberry bushes.

“I don’t know.” Pause. “Would you?”

“Maybe. There’s something about returning to the same place, year after year.” We continue down the row. Hills rise above us on both sides, endless sky streaked with clouds, berries blushing faint purple clustered on drooping tree branches.

Hm. There’s something to that – an annual getaway, a regular detox from the stress and chronic busyness of daily life. A time for reflection and rejuvenation; your relationship to land and place more intimate and rich with each passing year. For working the land with your hands – weeding, planting, watering, harvesting – is both meditative and calming, an act of self-reliance for the body and self-preservation for the soul.

Funny how it often takes me a week of vacation just to realize how much I needed the time off. Luckily this time around I have the blessing of two weeks on the farm: one to actually unwind, and the second to enjoy feeling relaxed. It wasn’t until Thursday or Friday that I actually felt my muscles loosen and the breaths come more deeply and naturally, as though I’d been unconsciously holding my breath this entire time, day in and day out.

Once this happens, I find it much easier to examine myself with greater clarity and perspective. To question. Reorient. Start asking some of the bigger questions -where would I like to dedicate my energy and attention, what paths to explore, how I can improve myself as a friend, daughter, sister, lover, community member, creator, student, dreamer. All those Someday Thoughts and Important Things that hover invisibly on our to do lists, implied but never stated, and often crowded out of our consciousness by the chronic anxieties of other obligations. When daily concerns blare like trumpets, it is difficult to hear the child within whispering her questions or suggestions.

I strive for a mindful life. I’m far from perfect, but over the past few years I’ve started to sort through my priorities and goals in life. I’ve pared down some hobbies and picked up new ones that are closer to my values, I try to do things that are meaningful and enjoyable and bow out of time commitments that detract from the quality of life. But still I find myself dragged down by the insistent noise of obligation, expectation, and all those Coulds Shoulds Wants Needs that crowd in despite my efforts. The clutter wears me out. Out here among vast fields or shadowy woodlands, it is easier to hear myself think.

And so, my dear Kristine, perhaps you are right – perhaps we should embrace annual retreats. It need not be to rural America as we did this time, nor necessarily to organic farms to commune with nature. But to remove ourselves from physical, emotional and even temporal routine in a quiet and reflective way, even for a week or two – why, it may just make the other 50 or so in the year that much more worthwhile.

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