The Restorative Power of the Personal Retreat

I’m not talking here about the two-day relocation of everyone in the office. I don’t mean the family vacay, enjoyable but fraught with chaos as it often is. I don’t mean a couple’s getaway, (which of course has its own unique benefits). And as much as I look forward to PrimalCon and encourage everyone to join us in April, I don’t even mean that kind of event. I’m talking about a different kind of retreat here, specifically the personal retreat, that solo venture in which one gets away on his/her own with no responsibilities but ample quiet and/or adventure. For some people this might mean a week in the wilderness. For others, it’s a few days at the spa or a meditation center. It might be the chance to enjoy anonymity playing tourist in a large city or to try out an alternative occupation for a week. It could be a solo road trip through a stretch of open country. Or maybe it’s something else entirely.

A friend of mine every year would pack up her camping gear, kayak, and sheep dog and venture out to a remote corner of the Northwest coast for two weeks. Only a few of us knew exactly where she was going and when she’d be back. Her goal was specifically to get away from everything and everyone and hunker down with just her thoughts and the barest essentials. No matter what else was going on in her life in a given year, she never missed that trip. The year her mother died, she took three weeks instead of two. It was her way of finding time to center herself in the midst of life, to perform a kind of psychic reboot.

The meaning of a retreat of course is inherent in the term itself – a withdrawal from normal life. We leave behind the daily routine, which can become mind-numbing over time. We shed the roles that rule our lives and can – in their confines – strangle even our closest relationships. In the midst of our hectic lives, it’s easy to get caught up in the details of the daily grind. At a certain point – especially at vulnerable times of our lives – they can feel like a network of ties holding us down, binding us increasingly inward. Our sense of emotional coherence and genuine connection seems to give way. We can lose our bearings as well as the mental focus and emotional resilience they give us.

A New York Times article some months ago highlighted the influence personal retreats have had for overworked professionals. (Big paychecks or not, I think the same degree of stress applies to most of us.) For the men and women mentioned, retreats were a time to entirely disconnect from a life that is oppressively connected. Giving up their smart phones and laptops, going without any communication initially instilled a distressing sense of isolation and anxiety. Nonetheless, the experience recalibrated their inclinations. As one man put it, “‘Going into a retreat is really about breaking down the constructs of ‘you.’… The whole idea is for you to take a very close look at the you you have become in your mind. The you you are in your real mind isn’t necessarily the real you.’” Distance yourself from the everyday buzz and chatter, and it’s amazing to hear what becomes audible.

Anyone who’s taken a retreat understands the restorative power here. In stripping away the roles and routines, you’re able to unearth elements of yourself long neglected, even unrecognized. You remember strengths that you have. In the best retreats, I think, you take them out for a drive again and test them. You recall the interests that you’ve had, dimensions that complexify and enrich who you are and what you have to offer. Most of all, it’s a time for opening up your sense of life – like getting outside under the big blue sky after being shut in during a week long cold snap. An undercurrent of irritation releases itself into the sudden space. A sense of calm and balance settles into its place. The personal retreat, however one designs it, is a cure for the emotional cabin fever I think we all feel at times.

For better or worse, we don’t have the leisure time our hunter-gatherer ancestors did. We can go weeks or months without enjoying a real break from an endless daily drill. (Cue the Sonny and Cher wake-up call – for all you Bill Murray fans out there.) They may not have had the climate controlled shelters, cultural and entertainment centers, or slew of possessions we do, but they had the ultimate Primal commodity: time. It was time to pursue what they wanted (however relatively limited their prospects might seem to us today), time to invest in their relationships, time to tinker and try and turn off.

We all have busy lives. We do our best to incorporate all the healthy, Primal activities we can. Nonetheless, we find times when the everyday strategies aren’t enough. Stress is building up, difficult events turn our lives upside down, and we seem at a loss to keep up. It’s time to fill the well, so to speak. A retreat in that respect underscores a point I’ve made before. The optional isn’t always optional.

Although time and resources might make getting away difficult, I’d label many things discretionary before this. From a logistical standpoint, not everyone can take an actual “trip” retreat at any given time, but there are ways to adapt the concept to fit a more modest form: camping overnight, a full day’s hike, a weekend’s worth of long evening meditation practices, an extended walk to meet the sunrise. The key is to home in on what we need at a given time. Solitude? Inspiration? Rest? Risk? What aspects of ourselves are going unstimulated in our current circumstances? What patch of our mental terrain needs tending? I think the best retreats aren’t measured by expense, novelty, or even duration. They’re gauged by growth, repose, and restoration. Answer the instinct that presents itself.

Likewise, appreciate the aggregate benefits of carving out mental space if not physical distance. The men and women highlighted in the Times article felt a pull to “return” to the retreat. As one of them put it, “‘Each retreat, I go deeper…. The first one made clear to me that I needed to make gross shifts in my life. These last two have become more and more subtle in terms of seeing the issues that I face, as do all beings, in order to separate the true nature of reality from the habituations of my mind.’” The retreat in this respect becomes more than an isolated experience. It’s a continuing personal endeavor we undertake in portions. In the best scenarios, it’s a journey that runs alongside our everyday lives, intersecting at points, never fully suspended.

Thanks for reading today, everybody. Have you taken personal retreats? What was your intention, and what did you find was the ultimate benefit or crux of the experience? Whether you have or haven’t, what is your vision of the perfect solo retreat?

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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108 thoughts on “The Restorative Power of the Personal Retreat”

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  1. My wonderful husband recognized my need for a personal retreat and built me a cabin in the woods on our property. Now, any time I just need a getaway I have a spot. Sometimes I just need an hour to regroup, sometimes the day.While I would love to go on a long retreat away from home that isn’t always possible.
    I am very glad to have the “ME” space close at hand.

  2. I’ve never thought about a retreat in this sense…but have always tried to convey to my wife that I am a person that just sometimes likes to be alone…and that it has nothing to do with her. I believe she still takes it a bit personally. Anyone else experience this and overcome it?

    1. Wish I had the solution for you Dan, but I can at least offer some empathy. My husband is also very sensitive to my suggestions that I need to be alone. I try to count my blessings and realize how lucky I am to have such an amazing man who cares so much and wants to be involved in my life.

      Could you take advantage of the times she’s out (shopping trips, late night at work, girls night) and try to use those as your alone time? It’s not quite the same as a true retreat, especially if you’ve got kids!!! but if you can get in some solid meditation, or intense hobby time, it might better than nothing.

    2. Hi Dan,

      My husband is like that too. He needs alone time. He finds energy and is able to recharge that way (some may argure we all do). I am a litle bit on the other end of the spectrum. I like me “down time” with my friends. I don’t get to see or talk with them much any more but doing so is very recharging for me. It reminds me that I am connected to the world and not just accomplishing tasks everday.
      So in that way we are opposite. I have learned that he is happy and he needs that to be happy (not that I don’t make him happy) but he is a whole person and I am part of his life (not his whole life). It helped me to relize that we just recharge in different ways.
      Good luck!

      1. I wrote a blog post about this a while ago and it really struck a chord with my readers.

        Introversion or recovering from the demands of the day by being alone is hard to understand from the perspective of an extrovert who re-energize by being *with* people.

        You can perhaps read The Introvert Advantage which talks a lot about how the introverts brain is wired differently. Explains a lot!

        1. Alison, that’s a great suggestion. Most extroverts don’t understand how draining people contact can be for introverts. Whereas extroverts gain energy from people contact, Introverts gain energy from alone time. I’m lucky to be right on the I/E balance point – so I can go either way depending on circumstances. And, I need both.

        2. I’m an introvert married to an extrovert. We balance each other and understand one another. He is also the most comfortable in his own skin of any person I have ever met. He would never feel the need for a retreat because his daily life is a joy for him.

          I am enjoying semi-retirement by spending a lot of time alone, which is what I have always needed. (Well, the dog is with me!)

          You do need to know WHO you are married to.

    3. Hi, Dan,
      My husband is the same way, and it took me quite a while to adjust to it. I was initially afraid he was mad at me or didn’t enjoy my company. You probably already do this, but it really helped when he explained that if he can completely disengage for a little while, it recharges him to come back and be excited to connect with me and the kids. He still has to remind me sometimes. Maybe if you had specific alone-time routine, like a daily walk, weekly hour or two, or monthly trip, she might start to embrace it (or even look forward to it herself)?

    4. Try to explain you are just a personality type that appreciates their solitude. It took a long time for my wife to understand this, but she is beginning to get it.

    5. I’m right there with you Dan. I am married with two kids but this past year I was assigned to South Korea unaccompanied so I have spent the whole year alone. It has been phenomenal! I work 10 to 12 hour days but the sense of relaxation I experience when I get home is incredible. I have made it an absolute priority to get 7-9 hours of sleep per night, eat cleanly, exercise well, and maintain a regular meditation practice. I’m very strict with my sleep and the difference in my energy level and general feeling of well-being is completely upgraded. It’s astonishing. I’ve got to figure out how I’m going to continue this when I get back as my wife will take it as a personal affont. Obviously that’s her problem ultimately but I’d prefer to help her feel better about it. Personal retreats may be the answer. Ultimately it’s my health and well-being so I’ve got to put rules in place that support that.

  3. I do agree that having time to yourself to think is so very important. It is not very easy with the busy schedules we keep. I try to get a few hours a week by myself. Usually through walking or short hikes. It does help my spirits.

    1. I hear you Michelle. With little kids, it’s a challenge but necessary. It’s like I come back energized, ready to handle whatever comes at me. But this is from a serene viewpoint rather than one ready for battle.

  4. I routinely take long, solo motorcycle trips to remote US detinations like UP michigan, north shore Minnesota etc. It’s a very zen-like experience that re-kindles the ‘inner dialogue’.

    1. i too love the feeling of just me and the motorbike and the remoteness of the open country it really is soothing to the soul

    2. Yep. I am trying to get in at least one moto trip a year. Gets hard with a 3 yr and 3 mo old boys, but my wife is pretty good at letting me get away. I’ve done a couple from LA to Big Sur and out to Death Valley solo and those are defining moments of my life. I love doing it!

      1. My solo motorcycle tours are the highpoints of my year. Two or three weeks just wandering, camping, no agenda, just going where the roads lead me.

        I get back a new man (for a few weeks).

    3. The Blue Ridge Parkway, Skyline Drive (Shenandoah Park), the scenic byways off of the Columbia River Highway (I-84 West) in OR, and along Arkansas highway 72 are also excellent places to ride – and to stop and photograph wild life or picnic, whatever. I haven’t been yet – but I hear that Door County, Wisconsin also has some excellent touring routes.

    4. Just learning the Primal life specifics. I am an avid motorcyclist too. Perhaps we can start the Moto-Grok Primal Motorcycle Club. Motorcycle trips to explore our earth and instead of beers at the bar, grass fed beef over a roaring fire, fresh veggies and a rousing game of ultimate frisbee.

      1. Sounds like fun :-). Might want to check first to see if such a group hasn’t already been formed. There are groups listed at the forum, for a start.

        1. ADV Rider! I think this is my boyfriend’s retreat from everyday life…that he goes on for probably an hour a day 🙂
          I like going for motorcycle rides on our dual sports in the summer…and then camping. We get to be with each other, but really you are kind of alone. Motorcycling is one of my favorite things to do for exactly the reasons Mark described…the escape you get when you ride. You can’t really talk to anyone, and although you have to pay close attention, you get to actually experience the surroundings as you drive through…cool air in a valley with a stream, warm air the next few yards ahead….and the ground going by your feet…and of course, the wind in your face. I love it 🙂

    5. I bought a motorcycle (again) in 2010 and I’ve discovered that I really love the alone time it provides me. Whether it’s a short ride across the city or out to one of the beaches near me, or like last summer, a one-week ride down to visit some friends in northwestern Kentucky (a 14 hour ride, split into two days), the time with just me and my bike is incredibly valuable to me. I’m en extroverted introvet (if that makes sense) and sometimes I need social contact beyond my work and other times I need to be alone with just me and my thoughts and maybe some music. The motorcycle can provide both types of recharge time, as well as a small dose of “danger” from car drivers who don’t look for little targets like a motorbike!

    6. Coincidentally, I found Mark’s book in my favorite motorcycling catalog “Aerostich”. Bought PB and it has changed my life for the better in so many ways.

  5. I have been longing for such a retreat for a while now. It is difficult, being swamped with school and work but spring break is coming up for me. I am hoping that the weather permits at least a full day and night of escape to somewhere, alone and personal.

  6. Marquette, Michigan (an olympic training site) is where I go for my retreat time. It is in the upper peninsula, about 8-9 hours north of Detroit. It is a magical place, full of wilderness, nestled up to Lake Superior. Marquette offers fantastic opportunities for all outdoor activities (including dog sledding), rock climbing, skiing, hiking, kayaking, and is a mountain biking mecca.

    Mark: How about a “PrimalCon North?”

    Sitting on a rock, on cliff overhanging Lake Superior, or up top on Sugarloaf overlooking all the beauty, or snoozing in the sunshine is a great way to re-charge. It is also a university town so it has a good vibe with good restaurants, and Cheers-like bars. The best part is the people. If you’re looking for a great place to retreat to, whether temporarily, or permanently, look no further.

        1. Yes, and rarebird I’m working my way over to the forum. Thanks for the guidance.

      1. Ya, You Betcha! Brockway Mountain drive is so awesome. I love Eagle Harbor as well.

    1. And, then again – with reference to my comment below about relocating to the PNW – maybe we should spend some time in Marquette before making that decision. Sounds like our kind of place :-).

      How possible is it to have a functioning homestead – small livestock, ect. – in that area?

      1. I believe very possible–lots of space. Even though Marquette is a great place for ALL age groups, it was recently voted, I think by Forbes Magazine, as a top place to retire to.

        1. Fantastic! I really enjoy MIchigan – but wanted to get to a bit less humid climate. Was thinking of the area around Spokane, WA. However, its several years off before he retires, unless he changes his mind – and Marquette sounds mighty tempting! Plenty of time for me to check things out further in MI.

    2. I’ve lived in Michigan nearly my entire life (almost 24 years now) but have never been to Marquette. It definitely sounds like a go to retreat spot for me!

  7. Amen.

    I am truly blessed to have a lifestyle that incorporates the best of both worlds. I spend about half the year in a location in MI that gives me access to high speed broadband, cable TV, wifi for my smart phone and much more – on a daily basis. I use that time to mine the Internet and TV for information and resources.

    The other half of the year I join my husband in our long term home in a forested, rural area of the South. Our small acreage is located in an area so sheltered and technologically remote that we don’t get cell service, no cable TV or any form of Internet beyond an ancient, slow dial up – which we don’t bother to use.

    We didn’t even have access to water service for many years when we first moved there. We only keep basic, local telephone service and screen all calls through the answering machine. We don’t pick up unless we want to.

    We watch DVD’s and some local TV via an antennae on top of the house. But, mostly we don’t watch TV.

    When we are home from work – I am home all the time now, but my husband still has his demanding job – we regard our home as our retreat. We have common areas and also each have our own quiet area of the house for private time – reading, meditation, music making. However, we have also constructed out buildings for even further retreat, like my art studio. We also periodically set up a sweat lodge.

    Even so, we both love to get away when we can to camp in remote areas – together or alone. We both love mountains and mountain lakes.

    We are now envisioning moving – after he retires – to a third location somewhere in the Pacific NW region. We want to set up a functioning homestead near to “civilization” – but not too near. My idea is to build a large, common area with kitchen, dinning, etc – and to surround it with smaller, connected satellite buildings for bed & bath with private space for solitary pursuits. We both have construction skills so will do at least most of the work ourselves.

      1. Hey, Toad :-). Warren. Where are you in MI? How’s the pup, btw?

  8. What a nice post, Mark. Thank you!

    I think it is so important to be alone sometimes. I’ve noticed that when I try to “unplug” with a group, sometimes the group just recreates the world I am trying to unplug from, with talk about money, and work, and television, and professional sports, etc. I think that when we’re alone we are better able to let the mind be free, open, observant, honest, and relaxed.

    For me, meditation and yoga are daily retreats. The more I practice these disciplines, the more I realize that it is possible to help the mind be relaxed and uncluttered even in the middle of everyday life. But I still love to recharge with solo hikes!

  9. Several times a year I will load up my backpack and head for a backcountry area near where I live. Sometimes it’s only for an overnighter, sometimes several days, but I always return refreshed and recentered. I’ll camp and hike, and almost never do I meet anyone else on the trails. My wife completely understands and will actually suggest that I get away when she notices the stress starting to get to me.

    1. Speaking as a wife, sometimes we like to have the house to ourselves, too :-).

  10. I began my solo vacations in 1997 and discovered that treasure of no responsibilities and self-centeredness. Every summer I engage in this activity in northern Michigan and last summer in the UP. I was at Lake Gogebic, Marquette and Pictured Rocks. It is reenergizing and always a happy time for me.

    1. Oh and I always tent camp. Cheap and easy way to travel which allows extra trips to enjoy.

    2. Ah, another fellow U.P. lover. When I do my retreating to Marquette (and places on the way up there) I go alone. You are so right about the decadence of this self-centered retreat time. This is a vacation with no compromises. I do love socializing with the locals on these “solos” though.

  11. Whenever I go on vacation I always see people sitting around the pool talking on their phones trying to conduct work while they’re on vacation. It defeats the whole purpose of vacation if you don’t clear your head completely. Maybe a total retreat would work better.

  12. I have been think about this a lot lately.

    The harsh weather and dark days of winter on a remote Alaskan island are starting to grate on my nerves (not to mention the people I work/live with.) I can’t leave for several more months, but for now just planning my retreat is comforting.

  13. I used to do this a lot when I was single years ago. With a soon to be 1 year old I think it could be a little more difficult to do this. A couple of hours instead of a couple of days sounds more like what I would be capable of. I haven’t even had that in a while, since we are moving overseas in less than a month there is just far too much on my plate.

    Thank you though for the wonderful read, really makes me think perhaps I do need to take a time out for myself now and again and recharge, and maybe only a few hours could be beneficial.

    1. Mothering a little one is full on. Maybe at the moment get your retreats whilst looking into the babies eyes, touching the tiny hands, try to enjoy every moment. Your time will come.

  14. I don’t know if it counts as a retreat but I do find great benefit in a minor form of retreat and recharge when working in my garden. Besides the physical activity and the growing of beautiful flowers and tasty food, I get a spiritual connection to the earth and often pause in my work to sit, enjoy and absorb the moment and the place.

    1. I count my garden time – especially the garden at my suburban home – as retreat time. I prefer to be alone there and immerse myself. Grounding.

      1. I enjoy gardening however we have some sub-zero temperatures (or i guess sub-32F temperature) currently and I am not a fan of the cold! Perhaps later today i can rug up and take a walk in the forest for 20 minutes or so.

        1. I also consider the time snuggled up with the dogs in front of the fireplace as a retreat time :-). I tend an indoor garden in the winter – unless I am in my southern home where we garden through the winter. Hey, its all good.

  15. I’m a big believer in taking breaks. I got mine earlier this year by spending mine at home while the rest of the family went away. It was very cool. Especially as I decided to live without most modern conveniences for 5 days including artificial light, a car, computers, and clocks. Very interesting experiment.

    I read, wrote, cleared the house of clutter, worked on framing photos. Totally relaxing.

  16. “I think the best retreats aren’t measured by expense, novelty, or even duration. They’re gauged by growth, repose, and restoration. Answer the instinct that presents itself.”

    Well said Mark. This is one of my favorite blog posts on MDA now!

    We all need to take solo retreats. I feel we all want it but think we can’t.

    Like you said, even a long hike that takes an entire day is worthwhile. We can all do something like this.

    You gave me an urge to take a 2-3 day retreat that involves nothing. Just me and nature.

    1. I second that thought about Mark’s quote. To me, this subject is at the heart of what living primal is all about. One of the things that I like best about the primal diet is how much more deeply I “repose and restore” everyday. Also, the simplicity of my now single meal of the day allows more time for other restorative activities.

  17. I often find myself searching for the nearest forest or patch of greenery. I lack the time or the money to really get away. The beach with the sun is my favourite but I haven’t seen one of those for nearly 3 years now. Sometimes when I can’t find a getaway I’ll have to make do with something more urban, but then not being able to get what I know I really need often makes it worse than just trying to push through.

  18. Perfect timing on this article Mark.

    I’m tacking a solo 3 day trip on to the end of my business trip to Spain next week. 3 days alone in Barcelona seemed daunting to me a while back, but it’s starting seem more like an adventure now and your article has helped me see it as more of an opportunity.


  19. ….of course the ultimate retreat in many ways is to take what many aboriginal cultures call a vision quest. Fasting and about three days alone on a hilltop, rock or spiritual place of your choosing, making the space for insights and visions, even a personal spirit animal may suggest itself. Often a rite of passage for adolescents in Native American tribes, its never too late!

    1. :-). Spiritual review aka “inventory taking” is good at any stage of life, too.

  20. Last year I spent 4 amazing weeks on the coast of Pembrokehire, Wales. It was absolutely magical. Immediately after returning to the US I flew to Michigan to spend the thanksgiving holidays with my parents. Their inability to comprehend my decision to take that time for myself and their reaction to it literally drove a wedge between us, I’m sorry to say. But I had to finally tell them that I don’t need to justify my actions and my life choices to them or anybody else. I feel freer than I have in a long, long time and plan to have more magical getaways like that one.

  21. I work a lot and rarely get more than 1 day off a week, but when I can take my canoe out to a small lake with nobody else on it and fish for a few hours and drink some good iced tea it is really relaxing and recharging. I think what I like most about fishing is that it’s a hobby with no rules, no expectations, no stress, and takes place in nature, and also I’ve been doing it with my dad since I was 4 years old.

  22. I am starting a new job that will require a weekly commute for about 4 months. I am opting to camp alone during the week rather than get a hotel. Either option is paid for by my employer, but I am choosing the camping for some of the very reasons listed here. I can’t wait!

  23. Great post Mark! Much needed in today’s 24-7-365 world. I think that to truly “retreat” you also have to disconnect. Smart phones and technology are now so pervasive that you can log onto facebook from a mountain top. I was actually inspired to discuss this in a post “The Art of Recreation” on my site a few months ago after spending some time on vacation with my family and their smart phones!

  24. Reference to Groundhog Day – whoot! One of my all-time favorite films, Groundhog Day’s message is that you can get more than you ever imagined out of any ordinary day in your life. If you can tap into that. If you can open yourself to that. If you can live like that there is less reason to “go” off on a retreat to find yourself.

    Contrarily, many people walk through life not truly relating to themselves or those around them. What would a retreat do but reinforce that alone-ness.

  25. My personal retreats have always been to go camping alone in nature.

    I have hiked and camped for months at a time through the mountains of New Hampshire, and you’re right that it was some of the most restorative and clarifying periods of my life.

    It was also profoundly informative and educational. Being in nature for that long greatly sharpens your intuition.

  26. I took a solo retreat (two actually) to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Two 3-month summers alone on the trail. I guarded my solitude and didn’t join any groups. I only hiked with other people a total of 6 days that entire time. I much preferred the ability to do everything my way and make all my own decisions. Sometimes I went days without seeing another person and didn’t even realize it until I saw a person.

    I had really hoped to do a lot of thinking and try to figure out what to do with my life while on these two trips. But for some reason, hiking all day long every day is so jam-packed with other things to think about, I never actually had any time to think about my problems. I mean, there were sounds and smells and footprints and people and animals and insects and funny stories to remember to write down later and quirky passages from the guide book to stick in my head and earworms to drive me insane and hunger and hills to climb and streams to wash my feet in and wildflowers. Oh my god the wildflowers! If I could be paid in wildflowers I would consider myself the richest woman in the world!

    Since then I have tried to get at least one good 4 or 5-day solo backpack trip in each summer and as many overnighters or weekends as I can that are with my partner or others. I encourage him to take longer solo trips, too. I like having the house to myself. In fact, every evening when I come home from work I get about 15 minutes of solitude before my partner comes home, and I relish that little bit every day.

    1. Wow, Diane, I am in awe. Were you scared of bears or crazy people on your own like that? I think it’s cool that in your relationship you give each other the space to be alone. That’s rare now, I think people feel threatened if you say you don’t want to be with them 24/7.

  27. I paint. It ends up being me and the colors. It really helps me breake from the rest of the world.
    Other times I like to visit a new city and walk the whole day taking pictures. Have a coffee breake, study the people, the area and then walk again.

  28. One of these days, I plan on packing up some things, and taking off on my motorcycle. Not sure where I’ll end up – I’ll let you know when I get there!

    After losing both my parents before I reached the age of 27, going on that personal retreat is a driving thing. I’ve been wanting to do it for years, and haven’t yet. The human psyche wants to do it, yearns for it, CRAVES it. It knows how to heal you the best way possible.

    It’s still in the back of my mind. I still plan on doing it.

  29. I garden, I’m out in the sun, or partial sun (I do live in Maine) Communing with nature, the dirt the bugs, my plants. No one wants to bother me because they are afraid I’ll put them to work 🙂
    I’m definitely an introvert and need time away from people. This is why I don’t do facebook and my cell phone is a pre paid that is truly ONLY for emergencies. I’m not always available and my family mostly understands. One week a year my SO takes a motorcycle trip to NY and I stay home. I enjoy having that time to myself.

  30. ha! i’m from the u.p.

    never figured i’d start reading posts about copper harbor on MDA, i guess the world is smaller than i thought.

    a primalcon north would be great.

  31. Shortly after my Mom passed away, i was working my ass off 24/7 just to hide the pain and not think about it. Then one day I just lost it. I shortly realized after that I needed a personal retreat. I went to Colorado and spent four days camping by myself at Lake George. Then I spent two days in Red River NM and went horseback riding and hiking. I have to say it brought me closer personally to God and helped me take a huge step into finding peace within myself. Connecting with nature can do wonders

  32. Never really thought of them as retreats, more as escapes, but solo camping, solo canoeing in the Everglades, solo motorcycle trips, and SCUBA diving are regular staples fit me. It’s amazing how “restored” I can be even after only a couple 45 minute dives on a good reef. It’s like REM sleep.

  33. My solace arrives every year from Sept 15 through Jan 1. That is deer season in my state. Not only do I do my best thinking 15 feet high in a tree, it’s a very relaxing way to release the stress from my chosen profession. (emergency medicine) My work schedule (nights) allows for lots of time in the woods, and now that I am primal, the venison I harvest takes on a whole new value. Eating wild venison regularly beats even grass fed beef in the primal catagory. I live for that time of the year and look forward to it with anxious anticipation. Going primal has saved my life and I will be 50 in a few months, so look for the before and after pics on an upcoming Friday. A HUGE thanks to Mark for writing The Primal Blueprint.

  34. Mark,

    I’m a big believer in regular personal retreats. In fact, some of my favorite ones are stay-cations where I don’t go anywhere at all – just stay home, relax, and unwind for a few days.


  35. As an avid deer hunter I get to spend countless hours in the woods alone. It is a wonderful time to collect one’s thoughts. Tracking deer and climbing trees, sitting still in the tree and the woods come to life. It is also quite rewarding to track down and harvest with my bow the elusive gray ghost, and quite tasty to.

  36. An array of memories floods back…being in my folding chair by a campfire in the Ochoco NF, steak cooking. Tossing my fly into Mill Creek in the last light…a dozen separate evenings. Mountain biking alone on Grey Butte (the trailside rattlesnake coiled too close to my ankle!), the Rogue Umpqua Divide (more hike than bike). Fishing the Crooked River. And the Metolious River. and the upper Rogue. Picking huckleberries. Picking chanterelles. Me and my GPS and my shotgun, hunting. Saying bye to one climbing partner and spending two nights on my own, fishing and mtn biking, then falling asleep exhausted in a thunderstorm, only to wake to the next round of climbing buddies knocking on the car window! Plus Utah, Colorado, Nevada, California. Loooonnng road trips. Sleeping in the bed of my pickup under the stars…or in the back seat when it was sketch. Wake up, jump in the driver’s seat and go. Bacon and eggs in strange little towns. Dancing to a Dead show on the XM radio in a dusty cow camp just me on a summer night. Doing whatever the heck I pleased, including singing badly. BIG SIGH. I need some solitude and sunshine pretty badly right now.

  37. Wow, this is such an awesome post. Really hit home. Boom.

    I’m blown away by all the people who do solo retreats/hikes/getaways. I’m quite an introvert and have struggled with this all my married life. With two kids, I didn’t feel “right” going away alone, felt it was selfish. My parents never did anything solo, and DH didn’t support it at all either. Luckily he works a lot and has to travel so I did get time alone (but not totally – I still had the kids and all that responsibility). A couple of years ago I did a 2-week trek in Corsica with a group of friends – but it was an each-one-at-his-own-pace kind of thing and I spent a lot of time hiking alone. It was the best vacation I’ve ever had. It was such a relief to just be me and lose the role of mom/wife. Mark really hit it on the head here :
    “We shed the roles that rule our lives and can – in their confines – strangle even our closest relationships.”

    My one worry is that hiking as a lone female might be dangerous in some areas. Maybe I should just take some self defense and then hit the trail.

  38. This was just what I needed to read right now! I’ve been so stressed with everything going on around me that I’ve lost touch with my own needs. Time to personally reconnect with myself!

  39. I’m a bit of an introvert. I love socializing but too much and I find it stressful. I really need my alone time. My retreats are simple. Sitting in a private corner somewhere with a cup of tea and reading for hours at a time, and gardening.

  40. Two years ago, as I approached my 50th birthday, I decided that I needed an “alone” adventure. My husband was already planning his 50th year 3 week long motorcycle trip to the Artic, so I decided that I would do a similar solo adventure. I fulfilled a long-held dream and went to Antigua Guatemala for 3 weeks and took a Spanish Language school. I lived with a local family, traveled alone for the first time in my 50 years, and left behind all the multiple roles that I live at home. I can clearly remember sitting on my bed one afternoon after lunch and realizing that I had absolutely no obligations to anyone or anything at that moment. No mom, wife, family organizer, health professional, church official, volunteer – nothing but me. It was liberating. It was also rejuvenating – I came home a better person and ready to pick up all those roles again with a fresh perspective. I’d recommend it to anyone.

  41. Thanks. You just reminded me to book my backpacking trip with me, myself, and my dog.

  42. For those of you really, really needing time away from everyone, even family members, you would do well to read


    Ms. Rufus speaks of being a “loner” in a non-loner world. She explains there is nothing wrong with being a loner. Being a loner is not a sickness; we are not serial killers nor are we mentally retarded. Some people need people to get charged up, we loners need isolation to get charged up.

    This book isn’t a psycho-babble self-help book. The woman merely explains her desire to be alone.

  43. Added note:

    I am NOT talking about being an introvert. That’s a whole ‘nother subject.

  44. Great instead of calling it traveling alone. I am going to do a ‘personal retreat’ and play tourist in a city that i want to visit this year. Or maybe the Grand Canyon.

  45. As a mom with a young child I enjoy my “mini” retreats – an hour or two by myself first thing in the morning before the chaos of the day starts. Just me ‘n my coffee. Ahhhhhhh!

  46. Sometimes I pick up my fiddle, close my eyes, and just make music for a while all by myself. Everything else fades away.

  47. I think the break from the daily grind is what hit me the most. Even on the weekends, when I’m home from work and supposed to be recharging for the next week of work, I can begin to feel overwhelmed by everything that needs doing. And when I do nothing, I feel guilty. But sometimes, doing nothing is more beneficial than doing everything.

  48. Great article. I think I’m going to go on a long Sunday hike. Creative people especially need solitude and space to breath in this hyper productive, time engulfing culture.

    Not to be prickish, but there’s a small typo: “The key is to HOME in on what we need”.

  49. I am currently looking forward to a Special Training next year. Basically I go to my organizations Dojo in Santa Barbara to live breath and eat Karate for 4 days and nights. While this is around people (even some friends) exhaustion and ample free time (aside from the 4 2 hour training sessions) is availible. Meditation and personal reflection are highly encouraged.

  50. I was a police dispatcher for over 25yrs. I have since moved on but it was a stressful job. I would try to get away once a year, and about every 2 to 3 years I would go someplace where there was a jungle lol… yes, that was my need. Go for a trek in a tropical jungle to take my mind off of absolutely everything but the incredible wildlife and the amazing forest in front of me. I went to places by myself that none of my friends or family would ever go to…just me and my backpack. It challenged me. It made me be brave. I proved to myself ( and others) that I was made of so much more than I ( or they) thought. It was good for my soul. Africa, Borneo, Australia, New Zealand, Costa Rica and just backpacking in Britain by myself many many times. The transformation was always amazing. I miss it. I think its time again…

  51. I spend 99.9% of my time alone. I love people and can spend a little while interacting but start feeling “itchy” . I retreat to my solitude gratefully. I read, walk, play with my dog or just meditate. The eastern parts of the US totally stress me because of all those people breathing the same air!
    I have opportunities to socialize, especially since I’ve lost 42 lbs, but must force myself to get out.
    I am curious, though. How does one go about making activity friends. How does one know where to go to have fun? I love the symphony, ballet, folk festivals, historical lectures and camping but can never find 1-2 people to go with me. 20 people say they’d love to go, then the the rest of the group changes the destination. What’s with that? Anyway, I soon remember why I do everything alone. Any suggestions?

  52. I find when a personal retreat is needed, i can take one in a good book. With that said I like to take small retreats once a day before bed. It isn’t big but it helps in my hectic daily life…

  53. I love this idea and I will invest more time for myself to treat my mind, body, and soul. thank you I really reading this.

    Twitter: @Church_Johnson

  54. Wow, what great timing–and nice to hear all the MI comments…time to head out of Chicago and have some quiet.

  55. If you live in Northern California there is a great place called Harbin Hot Springs. I have been going to this retreat for over a decade. Its just north of Calistoga in Lake County. They have about 1,500 acres of pristine land that you can camp on or rent a room. They have hot springs that are volcanic fed so they don’t smell like sulfur, a great restaurant that serves mostly organic foods, daily free classes like yoga or meditation, Kirtan chanting and breath work. Its truly my space to recharge and replenish my soul and spirit. The best part is that its clothing optional so you can really get back to your primal self. There are no cell phones or laptops allowed and since cell service is spotty anyway it truly gives you a chance to disconnect and reflect as you watch wild turkeys and deer saunter past on their way to another meal. SO peaceful.

  56. Last November, I treated myself to a 3night retreat at an ayurvedic spa. It changed my life. Now I want to go for a week, but the cost is huge and my husband says I am being selfish. I am a teacher and have significant health problems. Any thoughts?

  57. Going on a retreat seems like a great idea. I love the face that, like you said, you can retreat from a life that is completely connected all of the time. Getting away from the stresses of life like that would do me and my family a world of good, I think.