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Excerpted from The Woman's Retreat Book by Jennifer Louden. Copyright 1997 by Jennifer Louden. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc..  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the Publisher.  HTML and web pages copyright by SpiritSite.com.

"I spiraled farther away from my natural self till it felt like every word out of my mouth was a whine."

Jennifer Louden, The Woman's Retreat Book, Part 2

It will come as no surprise, then, that writing this book on retreats was very difficult for me. After months of painful stumbling in the dark, unable to find the focus of the book, my psyche guided me by giving me one clue: a woman's retreat springs from and is guided by her inner knowing. Well, to be guided by your inner knowing, you have to stop moving, stop doing, and sit still, listen to, and trust yourself. Unfortunately, I found this to be a difficult process. Unable to make the leap of faith that what I was feeling was okay simply because I was feeling it, I found it difficult to hear or believe my inner wisdom. But, thankfully, from my research the remedy emerged: do it anyway and use a map.

"Do it anyway" is best summed up by my friend, the writer and feminist theorist Kay Hagan, in her brilliant book Fugitive Information:

A counselor specializing in mid-life transitions for women startled me a few years ago when she confided that she had stopped telling her clients to love themselves. "That was absolutely the wrong advice," she told me. When I recovered from my surprise enough to ask what she was suggesting to women instead, she said, "I tell them to act like they love themselves. I realized if a women waits until she actually loves herself to act that way, it may never happen."

I leaped into retreating by pretending to trust myself, praying that with time, by emulating self-trust, I would someday soon truly believe it.

What also made the leap possible was expanding my definition of what constitutes a retreat. When I believed I needed to travel to distant realms (for me that always meant the wilderness) and be gone for at least a week (preferably longer) to locate my true self, I didn't have a chance. With a career and a young child, long trips simply weren't possible anymore. So I got straitjacketed into tight shoulder muscles, confused thinking, and my own litany of when-thens ("When Lily is older, then I will retreat. When there is more money, then I will. . . ."). I spiraled farther away from my natural self till it felt like every word out of my mouth was a whine. But in reading about women on retreat, in talking to women who retreat and women who do not, I discovered what makes a retreat a restorative healing encounter. It is not where you go or for how long you go. You don't have to go anywhere. It is all in your intention and commitment.

In finding and evoking the archetypal pattern of retreat, I could take a Saturday morning and render it regenerative by connecting with my authenticity. I could disengage from my externally referenced mind ("What should I be doing? What are others thinking of me?") and from my web of connections and commitment to others, and I could sit down for a cup of tea with this extraordinarily interesting, quirky woman who had always been inside me, biding her time. I would be, at turns, gleeful, philosophical, enraged ("Why had this break with her happened?"), and sad ("Why had it taken me so long to claim her?"). Slowly I would gain more peace and perspective. Images of whole loaves of fresh bread, mountain hikes, and the smell of clean sweat kept coming to me in this place of grace. 

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