Ever since attending the Kripalu yoga retreat center in August, I have been thinking about retreats. I think about them a lot.
First of all, what distinguishes a retreat from a vacation? A vacation has always felt like a time to do something, even if that something is sitting on the beach and getting a year’s worth of Vitamin D. A retreat, on the other hand, is about being. Being with myself. Being with others. This point was driven home when people kept asking me what I did during my five days on retreat. It was a hard question to answer, because my time there was more about being than doing.
Second, the underlying intention of a vacation is different than that of a retreat. On vacations I intend to have fun, relax and see new places. On retreats, however, my intent is to reconnect to myself. Sometimes this isn’t fun at all. My first day at Kripalu was not fun. I became blue because I didn’t know what to do! I just had to be, and given the year I have had, that wasn’t comfortable. But the next morning, as I lay on the mat in savasana (corpse pose), I realized that everything that was feeling uncomfortable (from my sinuses to my anxiety about doing nothing) was a distraction from my intention. I had come to Kripalu to get some perspective on the year that had just passed and prepare (on all levels) for the year in front of me. That meant not doing anything except pluming my own depths.
The aftermath of a vacation and a retreat are quite different. I often return from vacation feeling like I need a vacation to recuperate. Even though I have slept in every day and eaten the “best” food, the stress of moving and doing leaves me exhausted. As my recent retreat experience revealed, I was more relaxed after five days of retreat than most two week vacations. I attribute this in large part to distinguishing factor number 1 – doing versus being. I didn’t sleep that much, but I rested.
Why am I bringing this up here? I feel like my retreat experience has had an odd lingering effect on my pottery. When I returned from Massachusetts in August, my relaxed being delved into doing production mode. I finished making my last pieces for the wood kiln and then glazed into the wee hours. Within a week I then spent 48 hours loading, chopping, stoking and then unloading the wood-kiln. Uh-oh, had all my being evaporated? Given the hectic nature of big glaze firings, this seemed likely.
Post-firing, I normally throw myself into more doing activity. But not this time. When I unloaded the totes of pots into the garage, I closed the door and didn’t return for two weeks. I have focused on work and writing and household tasks. Odd behavior (for me), but it felt right.
I only returned to the pots to start sorting and photographing work for various needs. This was a great couple of days that I got to spend with my pots. Learning from each one. What worked. What didn’t. I absorbed the lessons, instead of moving on to the next throwing cycle. But now, a full month after those pots were loaded, I haven’t made a single pot. And somehow that also feels right. That decision last November to have all my holiday show pots completed by early fall paid off. For the first time in years, I am getting to really enjoy fall (my favorite time of year) instead of missing it because I was doing. I know by mid-December, I will be back making my own pots, getting ready for the next wood-firing; getting back to doing. But I will do with a valuable lesson under my belt – balance the doing with the being. I imagine the effect this balancing on my next set of pots will be profound.