Friday, January 15, 2010

Annual retreat weekend

I’m leaving town in a few hours and I feel so lucky. There is no one I’d rather be than me right now. Well, there are a lot of days on which I’d say there’s no one I’d rather be than me, but today I am feeling particularly gleeful with my good fortune. Every year since 2005, on the third weekend in January, I’ve joined a group of women from our church who go on a yearly weekend-long retreat, and I feel so fortunate to be able to go.

Year after year, it surprises and delights me that this group of women – there are usually a little more than 20 of us – are willing to be so self-indulgent. Though a few are retired, many still maintain busy careers , do significant community work and are raising children, and yet they commit to this getaway year after year. I’ve been to other retreats, but all the other retreats I’ve gone on have agendas, and what always amazes me about this one is that there’s no agenda other than to not have an agenda. There’s a written three-page document that we call our agenda, but what it really is is a schedule: a list of what time meals and yoga sessions and group art projects will take place. By agenda, I mean there’s nothing we as a group are intent on accomplishing together. I’ve been on writing retreats, in which the goal is to get a certain amount of writing done, and I’ve been on professional retreats, in which the goals are always both intimidating and soul-crushing: to come up with a new marketing strategy, to do a point-by-point analysis of the competition. Once my friend Anjali and I went on a spa retreat, which was wonderful in its own way but still had designated events: facial, massage, exercise class.

On this retreat, there are organized opportunities for those who want them, and many do. We usually have a group icebreaker on Friday after dinner, a poetry or writing session Saturday morning, an art project Saturday afternoon, a movie Saturday night, a worship service Sunday morning, plus abundant meals and cocktail hours. But no one is required to attend anything, and I usually don’t. Although I could very happily spend the weekend doing the planned activities and visiting with the other women, I always try to stay focused on my top priorities, which tend to be getting lots of writing done as well as some reading and some exercise.

This year, I have fewer specific writing projects I need to work on but do want to sketch out a few essay ideas; in terms of reading, I'm packing a novel I’d love to finish and a memoir I’m looking forward to beginning. I’m also bringing along a packet of four dozen photos from 2009 to file in an album, and I want to go for long runs both mornings. Although I’m usually the only runner there, the women in this group love to walk, and there are always plenty of opportunities to join other people for a good visit while on foot, so I’m hoping for a long walk or two as well.

But still: no agenda. Nothing that has to get accomplished, nothing that we as a group need to design or resolve in order to make the weekend a success. No one expects to structure a new campaign or lose five pounds. We’re going just for the sake of going, just because it’s a group that values devoting 48 hours a year to their own relaxation in convivial company. I feel so lucky to be included and so fortunate to be going once again.

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