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By the time you read this, I’ll be immersed in my annual mid-winter writing retreat. Eleven days of solitary work near San Diego, California. (Think: Sunny. Balmy. Green. Oceanside. Think: Not winter in South Dakota!)

Yesterday someone asked me, “What will be the rhythm—the structure—of your days on retreat?”

I smiled and replied, “Get up. Write. Go to bed. Repeat.” That’s my idea of heaven. (One of them, anyway.)

To me, any retreat is a jar of homemade jalapeño jam: full-bodied; flavorful; simultaneously sweet and spicy. One bite, and your taste buds transport you where you’ve never been.

We tend to think of a retreat as a withdrawal from our usual lives into a set-apart time or place (like 11 days in San Diego). Obviously, it can be that. But, if we examine it closely, the word “retreat” implies that the experience can be so much more.

“Retreat” = “re-treat.” Hmmm … Let’s unpack that like a suitcase, shall we?


  1. To “re-treat” means allowing ourselves to indulge again in joy and delight.

(Notice I said “again.”)

Here, the sense of “treat” is “to provide pleasure,” as in, “I’m treating myself to a hot fudge sundae.” Yum. However, I’d suggest we try to give ourselves mindful treats that do more good than harm!

We never need an excuse to indulge in pleasure. We never have to apologize when we do indulge. By deliberately giving ourselves a boost, we empower ourselves to give boosts to others.

Joy is fuel. And joy spreads, more catching than any virus. Let’s infect ourselves!

We can re-treat ourselves again and again without ever spending a penny or leaving our home. We can re-treat alone or with companions. We can retreat by doing something out of the ordinary or by delving more deliberately into the commonplace. We can include re-treats in our daily lives or schedule them periodically.

However we might choose to re-treat, we feast more deliberately on what feeds our spirit. We partake of extra delight for our senses. We seek out, enjoy, and perhaps even create what’s exquisite or luminous. We revel in the revelatory …

Examples of this re-treat type: Make or listen to music. Take an aimless but mindful walk. Prepare a special meal. Add a green plant or fresh flowers to your space. Eat a square of 86% chocolate. Absorb some sunshine. Write a limerick for someone you love. Craft with your hands. Sniff the spices in your rack. Light an array of candles. Send a postcard to a stranger across the ocean …

How might you “re-treat” this week by indulging in joy?


  1. To “re-treat” means attending again to our body, mind, or spirit—perhaps all of these at once.

(Notice I said “again.”)

Here, the sense of “treat” is “to provide care,” as in, “I’m treating my sore back.” When we “re-treat,” we take care of ourselves again. We offer ourselves kindness, rest, remedy. We take necessary steps to promote our well-being.

Examples of such re-treats: Do nothing, for a change. Do yoga. Lift weights. Practice meditation and contemplation. Fast from foods, drinks, or activities that hinder your health. Make that medical appointment you’ve been putting off. Reevaluate the medications you’re taking. Get a massage. Experiment with essential oils. Soak in the tub. Go to a concert, a lecture, a museum. Learn a new skill …

How might you “re-treat” this week by tending your own needs?


  1. To “re-treat” means negotiating again with ourselves (or others) in order to foster conditions conducive to our well-being.

(Notice I said “again.”)

This draws upon a less common sense of “treat:” “to try to reach an agreement with someone—usually an adversary—to settle a dispute,” as in, “We’re treating with them to end the war. If successful, we’ll sign a treaty.”

We could just as well be treating with ourselves, trying to end a conflict. When we “re-treat” in this way, we choose to ponder, or work at, an issue that has been throwing us off; causing imbalance or disharmony; producing tension, anxiety, or serious disturbance.

Examples of such re-treat work: Reflect on wrongs you might need either to forgive or to seek forgiveness for. Acknowledge pain or suffering you’ve been ignoring. Open space for the expression of grief. Surrender your desire to control a certain circumstance or person. Ask whether you want to work less, or abstain from social media, or otherwise simplify your life. Consider the state of your relationships: which to invest yourself in more fully, which to let go. Decide whether or not to get involved in a challenging situation as an advocate for change …

How might you “re-treat” this week by addressing a matter that has you feeling off-kilter?

* * *

Next week, I’ll repost musings from a previous edition of Staying Power. That way, during my retreat, I’ll be able to concentrate wholeheartedly on my novel-in-progress.

Who knows? By the time I return from California, maybe you’ll have engaged in some rich re-treating, too.


Photo by Ruth Troughton on Unsplash


Phyllis Cole-Dai

Phyllis Cole-Dai has authored or edited eleven books in multiple genres, including historical fiction, spiritual nonfiction and poetry. She lives in Brookings, South Dakota, USA.

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