My Year in Retreat

By Lisa Ford 

At the turn of the year, as 2019 slid innocently into 2021, I recall several things coinciding: my Chinese friend Leah told me that 2020, the Year of the Metal Rat, would be an inauspicious year plagued by destruction, disaster, health issues and hurdles. My son Max gave me a Western astrological book for Christmas, which foreshadowed 2020 as the year of chaos and rebellion. My sister, a nurse, told me with a defeated sigh that a new virus had appeared in China. While not quite connecting all of those dots consciously at the time, I had decided that after many years of practising meditation ‘lite’ and fantasising about becoming a serious meditator, the time had finally come for me to go into retreat. A 2 week silent retreat where I wouldn’t talk to anyone, where I could just go inwards, and see what I would find. Bliss!

Being a Hills resident, I looked for a local retreat in a beautiful, natural setting. I found one in the Yarra Valley which looked simple and serene, just what I wanted. I told my family and my boss excitedly about my plans, so they could prepare to do without me for a couple of weeks. I got on the retreat’s website, checked my dates and tried to book. But the dates I wanted were booked out. Never mind, I would try the next session. It too was booked out. Looking ahead for the rest of the year, places seemed to be snapped up left right and centre. And none was available for me.

It had felt so right, I was disappointed to have been wrong about this being my year for retreat.

But come late March: the coronavirus had reached Melbourne, some people were getting sick, everyone was getting fearful, the city was heading into lockdown and my employer told me to work from home.  And here I am, 6 months later, still working from home. If I had to characterise 2020 in one word, for me, it would be retreat. Retreat from all the busyness of what used to be my life: my sons’ schools, music lessons and sport, the open-plan clamour of my workspace of 22 years, shopping for apparently unnecessary things, longs days of waking up too early to beat the traffic snarl, rushing from one thing to another, forgetting to breathe, getting angry and impatient, tired and stressed.

Instead, I now sleep in a little, starting each day gently: meditating and reflecting in my journal, then online aerobics, all in my peaceful, private home office. Sometimes I gaze through my window at trees, birds and blossoms. Lunchtime is a walk with my husband and our dog around the block, then a guided meditation online. The day is no longer so bound by the clock, but meanders where it will, for good or bad. 2020 has not turned out at all as I expected. But my year in retreat has taught me more than my planned two-week retreat ever could have. For this, I am grateful.