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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.

"How do I define spiritual? To become spiritual is to choose to do only those things that contribute meaning and healing to one's life."

Jennifer Louden, The Woman's Retreat Book, Part 3

Living the archetype allowed me to step out of ordinary time, off the gerbil wheel of endless responsibilities, away from the shoulds and have-tos I burden myself with and into what T. S. Eliot called "the moment in and out of time."

Once again, my psyche drew me to write about what I most needed to learn. Through practicing tiny daily retreats centered around listening, through mini-retreats of a weekend morning and a few weekends, my consciousness has shifted. I am more and more able to live Alice Walker's words:

People have to realize they are really just fine, they are really just fine the way they are. The beauty and the joy is to be more that, to be more of that self. It is unique, it is you, it is a fine expression for this moment, for this time.

And through this, I'm moving into more authentic relationships with those I love. The myth is, when you focus on yourself you are being selfish. The reality is, if you don't know your true self and cultivate an ongoing relationship with her, you can't truly be with or give to anyone else.

A retreat, like each act of self-nurturing, is a radical leap into self-love. You retreat because you are yearning for something. That something may be ineffable, impossible to name, a whisper tickling your imagination. It might be a desire to know your true self, to be at peace, to find an answer, to bask in self-kindness. It might feel like a desire to touch something you can't quite name, a yearning to be held by something larger than yourself. No matter how half formed any reason for retreating can seem, each has a spiritual core.

How do I define spiritual? To become spiritual is to choose to do only those things that contribute meaning and healing to one's life.

I have no record of who uttered this wisdom, but to me it perfectly defines a spirituality that is life affirming and self-loving. How can you know what will contribute meaning and healing to your life? Through retreat, you contact and embrace what is most you. This is the prerequisite to embracing both what is within you and what is infinitely vaster and unknowable. I hope you will come to agree with one of the women I interviewed, Cynthia Gale, a ceremonial artist and retreat leader living in Cleveland. "I can't imagine life without retreat. These chances to reconnect when we've disconnected not only get us back on track and functioning, but ideally move us to higher places."

I hope the stories and practices you find here will enable you to make that leap into having faith in yourself and, by doing so, to reconnect with your authentic self and to connect authentically with those you love and with the Divine as you know it. Living with self-trust and self-love is a lifelong process. Just as in any relationship, there are times when we realize with a sickening pang that we haven't sat down and truly looked at our beloved for a very long time. And, thank God, there are those heady times when we fall in love all over again. Retreating, along with other tools of self-care like women's groups, therapy, meditation, and writing, brings on those heady days of love for ourselves and enables each of us to take another step along the spiral to wholeness. It is my prayer that with this book in hand you will regain what is most valuable to you, the treasure of your own wisdom and beauty, as part of your ongoing quest to know and honor your beloved self.


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