This time two weeks ago I was relaxing at the beach, reveling in gratitude for the spiritual retreat I had just led with six inspiring women. We gathered on Friday evening, all day Saturday and for several hours on Sunday. The theme of the retreat was self-love, and as the weekend unfolded we shed layers of habits and doubts and should’s and must do’s – and to each of us, a brilliant inner core of magnificence was revealed. It was profound and wonderful and genuinely transformative. It was also, dare I say, fun.

And very, very real.

Let me say that another way: we were living in reality.

I’ve noticed that many people have a strong tendency, after having experienced something like a retreat or a deeply nourishing vacation, to view it as somehow apart from reality. How many times have you heard yourself or others say, as the vacation winds down and it’s time to go home, “Now it’s back to reality!”

Somehow we’ve come to associate “reality” with work and responsibility and obligation and struggle, oddly ignoring or marginalizing the moments of our lives when we experience joy, contentment, peace or delight. We haven’t yet fully grasped that reality is what we make it, and we’re “making it” every moment of our lives with our intention, our energy and our attention. Every bit of our experience is real, and we have a lot of creative power to experience reality in fresh ways that empower and uplift us rather than through past conditioning that disempowers and diminishes us.

When we dare to step away from that old conditioning and immerse ourselves for a day or a weekend or a week with a clear intention for self-connection, we aren’t stepping away from reality. We’re actually plunging ourselves into it. The sparkling, funny, inspired, creative, bold and brilliant self we discover in moments of profound awareness is who we really are – it is our most authentic Self. And giving that Self a little air time is amazingly refreshing. It rights our perspective and reveals our intuitive knowing about how we want to live our lives. It reminds us of our talent and creativity and absolute worthiness to live a life we love. It helps us remember that it is only through loving ourselves that we can grow into our magnificence.

And once we’ve awakened to this truth of who we really are, we can take that expanded awareness back into our day-to-day lives. We can choose to set aside time to remember those moments of profound self-connection – and bring them into the present moment through our loving attention to those memories. We can include in our daily lives the practices we learned at the retreat, simple things such as meditation and journaling and chanting that connect us with our magnificent, authentic Self. We can set a clear and firm intention to live true to that Self, and let that intention guide our moment-to-moment choices.

And that’s really what it’s all about. Stepping away from our usual habits of thinking and doing, with the express intention for connecting with our deepest truth, opens our eyes to the many subtle – and not so subtle – ways we may be diminishing or even betraying ourselves in daily life. With that newfound awareness, along with a strengthened connection to the brilliant inner core of our being, we can declare a renewed intention to live true to ourselves. And from that intention will arise new choices – in everything from how we think to what we prioritize to what we let go of – that will change our lives.

In other words, we can bring the reality of the retreat – an expanded awareness of who we really are – into the reality of our day-to-day lives. And in doing so, we create a whole new reality.

That’s why I’m a huge fan of retreats, both the extended kind and the mini-retreats we create by giving ourselves time out each day for quiet self-connection. They are absolutely essential to a deeply fulfilled life, for it is only through profound self-connection that we come to know ourselves, and it is only through knowing ourselves that we can fulfill our unique potential…and it is only through fulfilling our unique potential that we can live in joy.

During our closing ceremony at the retreat, we spoke aloud the following poem by Raymond Carver. May it inspire you to retreat into the reality of your true, beloved Self.

Late Fragments

And did you get what you wanted in this life, even so?

I did.

And what did you want?

To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.

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