Attention, please put your own oxygen mask on before attempting to help others.
Next weekend I am going away on a women’s retreat. I always stress and feel like I need to justify leaving for a whole weekend to just focus on me. I’m a wife and a mother and it is difficult for me to drop all my responsibilities without feeling guilty. For instance, I’m missing my daughter’s last cross-country meet of the season. My husband and I were invited to go listen to live music on Friday night, but I won’t be there and to put the icing on the guilt sundae, one of my kids is sick, which means the others will follow. It would be easy for me to say I’m not going and cancel but I’m not going to. Here’s why:
It is so rare in this crazy loud connected world we live in to actually get silence. The retreat is an hour and a half drive for me and I usually spend it in silence. It is the strangest sound in the world to be able to hear my wheels against the pavement. My car is usually a boxing ring for arguing children, so to have that much silence is like a soft blanket around my ears. If I get my fill, I can always turn on the radio but I usually don’t. I like to just be in the quiet, to notice what is around me on the drive, and to sometimes even daydream.
I have a running should and have to list that never ends in my normal day to day life. Groceries, showering, phone calls, appointments, laundry, work, bills, etc. There is so much adulting to do! It is always beyond weird to me to arrive at the retreat house around dinner time, unpack and then go eat a dinner someone else cooked for me. No dishes, no cutting anyone else’s food or getting up four times to get other people things before I get to take a bite of my dinner. After that I can follow the retreat itinerary or not, no one hunts me down and makes sure I attend everything. Sometimes I take a nap between events or a long walk around the property and it feels so good. It is a welcome change of pace to only have to worry about myself and my needs for a weekend.
Learn Something New
There is always a theme to the retreat and the retreat master holds classes to speak on the theme and give you tools to use in your own life to hopefully improve it or change it in some way. I don’t know what the theme is before I get there and sometimes when I see the theme I think that it is something I already know about or do in my life. I have never walked away from a retreat without learning something. I love to learn and grow and am open to seeing things in a new way. It can be uncomfortable to challenge your thinking or your comfort zone but you can grow and change and I find that exciting.
Connect With Others
Every time I go to a retreat I am nervous because I don’t think I’ll know anyone. Sometimes I get there and there are several people I know and other times I really don’t know anyone. The first few hours I can be guarded but by the time they bust out the snacks on the first night, I’m ready to talk and open up. What I’ve learned is that there is comfort and familiarity in being around people who are there looking for the same thing you are. Our lives may be very different but we have a common goal, to learn something new and to take good care of ourselves. Connection with other women is so good for me, it reminds me how we can lean on each other.
Challenge Perspectives and Judgement
I am as guilty as the next person of making snap judgements when I meet new people. The retreat situation challenges it every time. When I went last time I had to go past a woman at the front and walk through her cloud of cigarette smoke to get in the door. She turned out to be in the bed across from me in the dorm and when I was unpacking I heard her telling someone else that she had lost her license and was on probation. I was instantly judging her as someone I would maybe want to avoid. I ended up at the dinner table with her and she told me about how her father had died suddenly and it sent her into a tailspin of drinking. She was losing everything and just wanted to feel okay again. At the end of that dinner, I saw her in a different light, with compassion. She looked sad and tired and scared but also strong and determined and hopeful. I try not to judge because I’ve learned that things are never as simple as they seem.
Fill Up Your Tank
Taking time away for myself, letting myself be pampered and supported by others, and to just rest without other obligations fills up my tank. I return to my family a better person than when I left. It is necessary to focus on myself and to get some perspective on my life-apart from my family sometimes. I need to reconnect with who I am underneath all my titles and jobs-just me the person. Every time I do it I realize that it is good for me and good for my family too. I’m teaching my children that it is okay to take care of yourself so that you are able to care for others. You cannot give and give and give and expect to have anything left in the end. It is good self-care to take a time out once in a while and fill up. It is like they say on the airplane safety demonstration, you should put your oxygen mask on before assisting others.
I know I will still argue with myself about going next weekend, but I will go, and that’s all that counts in the end.
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