From my second floor bedroom, I look out at a massive 150 year-old eucalyptus tree that almost overpowers the expanse of the Pacific and the Channel Islands. Starlings, crows, doves, and woodpeckers dart among the withered arms of ancient oaks. My window opens with a rusted hand crank and a hand-hewed teak starburst looks down from the ceiling. Started in 1920 from stone quarried in nearby San Ysidro Creek, this graceful house has seen citrus growers, Wall Street investors, famous musicians, and novices preparing to enter the religious life. Today, the Immaculate Heart Community Center for Spiritual Renewal is the main house for a 27-acre retreat facility known as La Case De Marie. It is a nourishing place of peace for people of all faiths and persuasions. For 15 years now, this has been where I come to begin each year: to think, to write, to read, and to hike the steep trail of El Camino de Cielo that zigs and zags four miles from sea level to the top of the mountain. For so many of us, the decade that has just passed has been filled with 9/11 horrors, wars on too many fronts, natural disasters, job losses, bankruptcies and stalwart companies crushed by anything from years of inept leadership to downright thievery. Foolishly, many of us expected that years of bad decisions could be turned around in one year, rescued by hope and a “we can” mantra. Don’t we love the quick fix, the instant gratification, the miracle move? Time to get real. I’ve come here to learn what is in my sphere of influence. What actions can I take to help myself and others move forward as a community inhabiting one tiny planet? How do I refocus on what matters most for me rather than on the “most” that media thinks matters? As a teacher and student of leadership, where does one begin to reclaim that which feels lost? Retreat. Come away. Really away. Away from electronics that call out for attention. Few decisions come clear when surrounded by ding of IMs, the ring of cells, the buzz of meetings and the blasts of bombastic politicians and preachers. It has only taken me 15 years to realize there’s a five-step process to retreating so that you might return, ready to advance:
No talking. No television. How can I speak with my mind and my heart if I have no time to figure out what either is saying? The great discoveries of the ages were not done with jabbering but with gathering one’s thoughts.
Don’t take your best beloved or your dear friend with you. A step into self-mastery and self-leadership is the ability to be alone but not lonely.
Sounds like the white flag that follows retreat on a battlefield. Not so, this is the surrender of courage-the surrender that faces reality rather than exerting effort wishing life was not as it is. To surrender is actually a move in aikido, the martial art in which one accepts and moves with whatever energy an opponent offers. It is a place of fluid strength.
When I stop fighting against reality, when I listen in silence and marshal my intentions, there’s a peacefulness that comes. It’s not an easy step and one I too frequently fail. Think of the Dali Lama. Despite the oppression, grave concern, and weight of his people on his shoulders, his face radiates a serenity and joy. Of course, he’s spent a lifetime cultivating it. I’m a beginner.
When seemingly unrelated events and/or people occur to bring about a desired result, some call it “a miracle”. Carl Jung called it synchronicity. When I leave this place of retreat, if I have been faithful in my quiet and alone time, surrendering to what is currently in my work and life and prepared to state my intentions aloud to myself (and later to trusted others) I know that all manner of unforeseen incidents and material assistance will rise. I can advance. And so can you. As Goethe wrote, “Whatever you do or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.” © The Resiliency Group. Publication rights granted to all venues so long as article and by-line are reprinted intact and all links are made live.