It breaks my heart when mothers tell me they do not have the time to take care of themselves, do not have the energy to find support, or do not have the freedom to drop everything once in a while and do something for themselves… But I watch these mothers. I know them. They are the same women who always have time to help a first grader with her homework, who always conjure up the energy to feed a hungry infant in the middle of the night… We don’t have a lot of time or energy to spare, but we are masters of making time, of conjuring energy, of demanding accommodation when our children need us. We have to be. But what about when we need us? Ah, then it’s a different story. Suddenly phrases like “of course” and “I’ll be right there” turn into phrases like “I wish I could” and “maybe next week.”
Ariel Gore, The Mother Trip
How do you connect to what nurtures you? This is the question that’s been helping a best friend of mine navigate the work/motherhood balance lately with a new baby in the mix. Not just what nurtures you? because the answer to that question can easily become a list of familiars: time with family, a good night’s sleep, time alone, a bath, a good meal, reading a book for pleasure, time in nature, a night out with friends… The problem with the list is that just knowing what nurtures you doesn’t necessarily make any difference to whether you actually engage in any of those nurturing activities or not. But how do you connect to what nurtures you?... now, the answer to that question is a pause, a moment of reflection, maybe even a “huh?” that pulls on your brain to stretch and think about action, to think creatively. That’s a question that can have an impact.
I would take the question a step further and ask, How do you connect to what nurtures the parts of yourself that don’t see the light of day very often? The non-mother, non-wife/partner, non-working, non-productive parts? The creative, wild, before-motherhood, “selfish,” sexy parts? What nurtures that in you? And how do you connect with it?
I have spent the past year being called to mother more actively and consciously and drawing on more inner reserves than I would have ever thought possible, and at the same time I have worked so. hard. to maintain and actually deepen, ripen, the non-mother parts of myself, which don’t exist in relation to anyone else and which demand that I resist being swallowed up whole. It is through this experience that at this point I think I have an answer to the question: How do you connect to what nurtures the part of you that is Just You, without damaging or throwing away the life you’ve built with others?
Or, since I tend to think in images: How do you dismantle the bars of the cage without getting rid of everything you love that is inside the cage with you? How do you stop merely decorating the bars and stretch out to your full wingspan without flying away and escaping?
In October I went away for an overnight program in Rhode Island. Hosted and guided by the incomparable Hannah Marcotti, it was like a women-only sweat lodge meets slumber party. And it was amazing. I shifted more of my internal shit in that time than I could’ve in six months of regular time. You can actually read a bit about the program on Hannah’s blog (try to spot me in the pictures… and my vision book!). It was gorgeous and nourishing and deep and even fun. I came back to my life feeling replenished and whole.
Since then, I have explored how to recreate this feeling in my daily life. How to connect to what nourishes you… I’ve learned that I need to prioritize having lots of solitude – blame growing up an only child or being an introvert or an HSP, but regardless, I have to be ALONE for at least a few hours every week or I start believing my children are piranhas who are trying to devour me right down to the bone. And I’ve learned that I also need to prioritize connection to community – family dinners and drinks out with friends and meeting new artists and trading notes with other parents on the playground sidelines, to strengthen me and allow me to be surprised and energized and to have my ideas checked by another perspective. I need healthy doses of both solitude and community. But despite prioritizing them both, I’ve learned that neither one gives me the deep, deep nourishment I crave. Neither one leaves me feeling as filled up as I did back in October. I need to be alone, but honestly, quite often I come out of a morning alone feeling not replenished but resentful that my time is up. I need to be with others, but often I leave a coffee date with friends feeling drained and almost hungover from the intensity of so much chattering. My exploration has brought me back to the weekend in Rhode Island. What was that specific kind of time, which really nourished and sated me? It was, in a way, Solitude + Community. Both and neither. It was Retreat.
For retreat does incorporate both, doesn’t it? Since solitude is not just time spent without others, but time away from daily life. Deep time, soul time. And community is not just time spent with others, but the lift-up and support of communion with others on the path. Listening and being listened to. Seeing and being seen. And so this is the answer, my answer, to How do you connect to what nourishes you, especially the parts of you that don’t get enough attention? RETREAT. Time outside of my daily routine, ideally outside of my home, with other women, each of us doing deep internal work and having the honest conversations that make a difference.
When I think of it in terms of the Red Tent movement – the idea that earlier in human history, a sacred space was set aside in the tribe or village for women to go to during the days of their menstruation – it makes sense that retreat could feel so necessary. Perhaps as women, we are evolutionarily predisposed to be nourished this way, and nothing else will do. Perhaps retreat time is our birthright.
The marvelous thing is that it doesn’t take going away for weeks at a time to Kripalu or Esalen, or spending five days out of the month in a tent. Retreat can fold into daily mama life more seamlessly than that. My retreat time now is an evening at Yoga Free Play, circling with women and moving in surrender and dance and meditation all at once. Or a day in the city with my besties so one of us can reclaim her wild self by getting her first-ever tattoo at 35, and then drinks at a Lower East Side dive bar, not just shooting the shit/catching up but holding space for each other to grieve our regrets and recommit to ourselves. Or an hour of art-making around a kitchen table with the women I used to take bookmaking class with – bringing our own supplies, working on whatever project we’ve got going on, but doing it next to each other, supporting each other.
And now I am so excited to have a new way to incorporate this type of time into my own life and the lives of the women in my local community! My brilliant friend/Rivertown Mamas’ founder Stephanie Hinkaty and I have developed a new program offering which starts this Friday: Random Retreat. One hour, one day a week. A peer speaker each week who will share what’s working for or inspiring her lately, to spark conversation and introspection. Time and supplies and prompts to go deep and reconnect to the parts of ourselves that are longing for more attention. Lingering time afterwards to sit with a cup of coffee and just be. The Rivertown Mamas space is cozy and beautiful; it is the room of one’s own that we all need, and it’s already here and available to us! And Random Retreat is, on purpose, crazy affordable. Because we wanted the cost for participants mainly to be choosing the time, claiming the time, making that date with ourselves. In so many ways that is the hard part, isn’t it? Carving out the time. But I truly believe that when we gift ourselves with a bit of time to dream and think and wonder and be (but not to better ourselves! we are already wonderful, thank you very much!) that intention starts to work on and ease other parts of our lives. I truly believe that, whatever else participants get out of coming to Random Retreat, the time spent retreating will serve to gently clear some of the blockages of old leaves in the stream and get things flowing anew.
If you are local, join us for Random Retreat! This Friday, or the next, or the next… Make the time. Even though it’s hard. And if you’re far away, retreat in your neck of the woods. Remember: solitude + community = retreat. It's not as antithetical as it seems. Ask yourself the question, how do I connect to what truly nourishes me? And then try to answer it. Report back here in the comments, if you feel comfortable...
For all the details on retreating with us and to sign up online, hit up the website HERE.
Far from laziness, proper idleness is the soul’s home base. Before we plan or love or decide or act or storytell, we are idle. Before we learn, we watch. Before we do, we dream. Before we play, we imagine.
Nikeala Marie Peters, Kinfolk Issue 9