Spirit

Six Reasons Why You Should Take a Retreat

Playing around on Google recently, I was stunned by the number of different retreats out there.

Religious ones. For writers. Yoga. Silent. Team-building. Corporate. Leadership. Health/wellness.

And they come in different types: guided, self-paced, structured, unstructured, silent, social, teams, couples, prayer…the list goes on.

I can already hear you saying: Are you seriously trying to convince me to go on a retreat? I’m already single. I get plenty of alone time!

You may get alone time, but how do you fill it? TV? Internet? Errands? Going out?

Those are all good things in themselves, but the word “retreat” comes from the Latin retrahere which literally means “to pull back.” How does it sound to take a week or weekend and just concentrate on you and what you want to do? However you want to do a retreat, I think it’s a powerful, transformative experience. Here are six reasons a retreat why a retreat may be just what you need:

  1. Shut out the outside world. One of the most obvious reasons to go is to take time away from work, family, friends, daily stress, and just be. This is strictly you It is not greedy or selfish to take a few days away from everyone and concentrate on yourself. Because if you don’t take care of yourself, your work, relationships, and other aspects of your life will suffer.
  2. Develop deeper connections. Whether it’s connecting with a higher power in a religious setting, making new friends at a writing retreat, or rekindling your inner fire at a yoga retreat, these are all very important. Be it another person, God, or your very self, foraging these connections are at the very heart of what it means to be human.
  3. Gain perspective on your problems. I am one of those people who have difficulty seeing the forest through the trees. Petty problems can bog me down that I forget the big picture. But taking time alone to think about life reminds me that running errands isn’t such a big deal. Or that I could be more patient in traffic. Or nicer to everyone I meet. The little problems just don’t seem to matter when you step back and really examine it.
  4. Declutter your mind. Just as you get to put life into focus, you can also shake the cobwebs out of your brain. Ditch thoughts of that toxic coworker. Don’t beat yourself up that you forgot a friend’s birthday. Stop worrying about the number on the scale. It just doesn’t matter on retreat. Take a long, silent walk or luxuriate in a hot bath. Journal. Do what you need to do to quiet your mind, forget your shortcomings, and just move on.
  5. Rediscover what peace is. It is in that decluttering that you can remember what it is like to be at peace with the world. As cheesy as it sounds, I think retreats make the sunset and sunrise more beautiful. Food tastes better. Life seems happier. I feel calmer and more confident. When was the last time you were able to say you felt peaceful? I mean really, truly peaceful? That is the power of retreats.
  6. Cultivate or perfect a skill. Whether you try journaling for the first time, perfect a yoga stance, read a book on a topic you’ve always wanted to explore, or learn to cook a new dish, you are adding to your skills set. You are taking time to (re)learn what makes you happy, and that added depth will stay with you, even after the retreat is over.

 I went on my first retreat—with nuns—when I was 16. I haven’t been on one in a few years, but these are all things I’ve experienced firsthand. And yes, even us single ladies deserve some alone time!

What type of retreat appeals to you? Comment below!

How to Find a Church by Yourself

There are some things in life that once you find them, you hold on to them and don’t let go: a great hairdresser, an honest mechanic, or a doctor who really listens to you.

Another staple of many peoples’ lives is a good church. But if you are single and unsure of how to find one, how do you even know where to begin? I want to give you some practical tips on how to find a church that suits you and will support you on your spiritual walk.

One thing to consider is what denomination of services you would like to attend. Some people prefer to go to the church of the religion they were raised in, which is fine. However, if that doesn’t meet your spiritual needs, consider taking this quiz to see where your leanings are. This BeliefNet quiz is for entertainment purposes, but it can give you insight if you prefer a more liberal, conservative, or middle-of-the-road church. For example, I scored highest as a Liberal Quaker, ranking far above the Catholic faith I was raised in.

However, being a Quaker isn’t terribly practical in my city of 300,000 people. They meet in a private residence once a week, and I’m not comfortable sticking out like a sore thumb for their meetings.

Another way to find a church is to ask your like-minded friends, relatives, or co-workers if they can recommend any churches. Ask them why they would recommend it, and if they think you would enjoy it. I think you will find their answers to be very telling. Ask if you can go to a service with them – there’s nothing like going to church with someone who can make introductions!

When I visit a new church, I have a list of what is most important to me:

  • Was I welcomed? I like a warm greeting. I don’t want to be a nameless face in the pew.
  • Music – Personally, I like more contemporary music.
  • Sermon – What was the central message of the sermon? Was it hellfire and brimstone, or did it teach an inspirational, gentle, and hopeful lesson?
  • Congregation– Is there diversity in the congregation? Is it all families or all older folks? Do you see unattached adults? If there is a good age spread, I take that as a good sign that the church reaches out to everyone.
  • Ministries – Many of these are highlighted in the church bulletin, which I highly recommend reading. Does the church offer anything of interest to you, like singles’ ministry, bible study, classes, or volunteer opportunities? Opportunities to get you involved will make you feel quickly at home.
  • Service time – I’m squirming after 45 minutes. If it goes past an hour, they’ve lost me.
  • Miscellaneous – Is there anything else that stands out about the church? Things I’ve noticed are coffee before or after services for fellowship, wonky parking lots, use of multimedia in the church, and the general overall church vibe. 

Of course selecting the right church for you is an intensely personal process, and you will unfortunately go to a few churches that just don’t resonate with you. But if you are brave enough to explore churches, keep in mind what is important to you in a church family, and visit the “maybe” churches more than once, I think you are well on your way to finding a worship community that’s just right for you.

If you attend church, how did you find the place you currently attend? Comment below!

Quick and Easy Meditation for Beginners

Cell phones. Car alarms. Noisy neighbors. TVs and radios blaring. Dogs barking. Kids screaming. Fire alarms when all you want to do is boil water.

No matter what your kryptonite is, I think all of us suffer from a world of excess noise and distraction. If you’re anything like me, you probably bombarded with cacophony from the minute you wake up till the moment your head hits the pillow.

Is it possible to hit the restart button and refocus your thoughts? How do you find your calm in the middle of a busy, loud day? Is it even worth taking a couple minutes to shut your brain up?

In a word…yes.

Now, I’m not going to lie: I came to hate the words meditation and silence when I was in training to be a nun. I had to go through several silent 48-hour retreats. We weren’t permitted to say a single word and were supposed to be in prayer and silence. I’ll be the first to admit I failed miserably. All I did was sleep a ton and sneak in books in order to have something to do. Because in my 20-something-year-old mind, I demanded stimulation and I didn’t want to take time away to pray.

And honestly, structured prayer isn’t my jam. But as I’ve gotten older, I see the wisdom and power of meditating. It has been proven to reduce stress, improve concentration, as well as increase happiness and self-awareness.

So how can you snatch a few minutes to calm your brain down and re-center yourself? I have to admit, as single women, we actually get more silence built into our day than wives and mothers. So why don’t we take advantage of it?

Below are a few quick ideas you can try today. Try doing any one of these for two or three minutes every day. It doesn’t require any fancy equipment. All you need is the intention of wanting to meditate.

In the Morning

  • Hold a hot cup of coffee or tea in your hands. Savoring the aroma, breathe deeply and focus on what you are grateful for in the day to come.
  • Practice three yoga sun salutations. There are many YouTube videos to get your started.
  • Sit comfortably in a chair. Concentrate on your breath. Each time you inhale, focus on a mantra or an intention you have for yourself. Suggestions for a mantra could be love, peace, joy, serenity, or a similar notion.

In the Middle of the Day

This will require you to disappear for a few minutes. If you can’t shut people out in your office or cubicle, go to your car, bathroom, break room, or even a storage closet if you won’t come across as a total weirdo.

  • Sit comfortably and focus on one good thing that has happened so far today. Replay it in your mind and thank the universe for it.
  • Close your eyes. Concentrate on your heartbeat and your breath. Be really present in the moment and think about how strong your body is, how alive you are, and how amazing it is to simply be today.

At Night

  • Lie down in corpse pose (arms away from body, hands up, feet shoulder-width apart). Breathing slowly, focus on your one-word mantra. Reflect on how it played a role in your life today.
  • Look up a quote on a site like dailyzen.com or http://www.beliefnet.com/faiths/buddhism/daily-buddhist-quote.aspx. Sit in your favorite chair. Soak in that quote and let it flow over you.

What do you do to hit the “restart” button in your mind during a busy day? Comment below!

How the Convent Trained Me for Life as a Single Woman

How the ConvvLife as a Single Woman

Maria von Trapp. The Flying Nun. Sister Mary Clarence (Sister Act). Me.

Yes, yours truly was a nun for a year before I was booted out. Even though I wrote a book about it, I really don’t talk much about my time in the convent.

But the longer I blog about life as a curvy single woman, the more I realize that my time in the convent was excellent preparation for living as a single woman in my 30s.

I was 27 when I entered the convent. I came fresh out of grad school and I had never lived really, truly on my own before. The lessons learned during that short year stay with me to this day:

  1. I learned how to do things for myself. I had to learn how to change a tire, cook for six hungry people in 30 minutes, basic household repairs, and how to make $100 (our monthly allowance) last for an entire month for entertainment, clothes, and toiletries.
  1. You will not get along with everyone you meet. Contrary to what movies or TV might show, some nuns are actually notoriously difficult to get along with. They can be crabby, long-winded, or just plain unpleasant to be around. But in the spirit of community, you do your best to put on a cheerful face, act like an adult, and tolerate their company as best you can.
  1. Treasure your own company. I hated the retreats where we to be silent for 48 hours. But in the everyday hustle and bustle, I came to appreciate the hour of quiet I had in daily prayer. That was me time, and that allowed me to recharge my batteries after taking care of others for so many hours.
  1. Everything changes, yet everything stays the same. It seemed the nuns were moving all the time, changing jobs, or starting new ventures. But the older nuns were calm, serene, a little sassy, and were always just there. They had seen and lived through so much, that nothing ever seemed to faze them. I envy their serenity, and I hope as the years pass, less will bother me and change will not weird me out as much.
  1. Giving up control is not a bad thing. I can be a control freak. I hate getting lost, not having an itinerary, or being at a social event where I don’t know anyone. But I had to live in the convent without Google maps and I was often at events where I didn’t know a soul. But I learned to rely on my sense of direction and I actually started trusting myself things would be OK if I got helplessly lost or if I had to make awkward small talk. And I was actually fine!
  1. The deepest joys do not require a lot of money. I didn’t care if I didn’t have the latest fashions or gadgets. I was happier playing cards at home or going for walks out in the neighborhood.
  1. An open spirit can lead to unimaginable blessings. I got thrown into so many situations I did not sign up for (volunteering at a women’s shelter, rebuilding blighted houses, renovating the motherhouse), but those were some of the biggest joys I experienced in my time with the sisters.
  1. I am stronger than I think I am. I am braver than I give myself credit for. I thought my life was over after I left was kicked out of the convent. I really thought that was what God wanted me to do, but it wasn’t. Contrary to what I thought, my life wasn’t over. I had a broken heart for a while, but I learned to heal and get on with my life. I really did have everything I needed in me, and while I may have bent, I didn’t break.

I sometimes still get asked if I would ever consider entering the convent again. The answer is a resounding N-O. I tried that life, and it is not a good fit for me.

But the passing of years has brought wisdom and grace. I have grown a lot since I was 27, and the lessons I learned with the nuns were wonderful training for the woman I am today. I followed my heart, and even though my convent experience blew up in my face, I am stronger and wiser for the time I spent with the nuns. I am that much more able to handle life as a strong, single woman.

What life experience has had the biggest effect on you? Comment below!

10 Ways to Grieve When You Have to Do It Alone

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Grief is the price we pay for love.—Queen Elizabeth II

You get a phone call or open an email and you finally get the news you’ve been dreading.

Someone you love has passed away.

There are few things in life that are as profoundly sad or difficult as losing a loved one, be it a friend or family member. Whether it was after a lengthy illness or completely unexpected, it can be enough to knock the wind out of you. You can literally feel your heart break. You wonder whether you’ll ever be happy again.

Facing grief is difficult even if you have people to lean on. But living alone, single women have a difficult time of it. Here are some things to remember when facing the death of a loved one. They won’t make the heartache go away, but they will help anchor your emotions and permit you to grieve at your own pace:

  1. Allow yourself to lean in to your emotions. You might be like me and cry at the drop of the hat. Or you may be stoic when you first hear the news. Whatever you are feeling, the most important thing to remember is that you are entitled to your emotions.
  1. Don’t let anyone tell you how to feel. Western culture has a warped, awkward view of death. We think people should “snap out of it” after a week or two and then carry on with a stiff upper lip. That is quite possibly the worst advice you can give anyone who’s mourning. Tune out all that noise.
  1. Be gentle with yourself. As I mentioned, I’ve been known to cry anywhere and everywhere. Bus stops, grocery shopping, at my desk, coffee shops—I can’t help it. That’s how I deal with it. And that’s OK. Anger, depression, tears…don’t apologize for how you feel and don’t beat yourself up for having those feelings. It shows you are vibrant, caring, and human because you can express what that person meant to you. Even if it means slobbery, messy tears and tons of wadded-up tissues.
  1. Remember grief has no timetable. Every person is irreplaceable and there will never be anyone like the one you lost. You may not feel your loss until days, weeks, or even months after the funeral. And that’s fine. There is no schedule to grieving, and that should never be forgotten.
  1. Reach out to your support network—even if they don’t know who passed away. People who truly love you will let you cry on the phone, over Skype, or in person. Be it your mom, your best friend, your counselor, or a pastor—let yourself be vulnerable and talk about your grief.
  1. Find solace in nature. I am about as far from an outdoorsy person as you can get. But going for walks or even sitting on the porch, watching a sunset help me center me and allow my thoughts to wander. I can pause and remember the beauty in the world, even if it’s just for a couple minutes.
  1. Be there for others who mourn the loss. I absolutely hate wakes and funerals. There, I said it. But I know it’s not all about me. I draw a lot of comfort in seeing friends and family at these services. It is also a sign of respect to the person’s family that you are enough to come. Don’t run away from wakes/funerals, even if you hate them as much as I do.
  1. Think about what your loved one wants for you. The timing of this is probably more after the funeral. But if you have a special connection with the deceased, you know they want you to be happy. Remember this when you reach for your eighth box of tissue or feel like you will never smile again. They would want you to smile. And eventually laugh. It may take time, but you know they want the very best for you.
  1. Do something to honor your loved one’s memory. Develop a good habit or ditch an old one. Do something you’ve always wanted to but never had the courage to. Just do something different to remember. And honor your loved one when you actually do it.
  1. Remember the ties that bind. I see lots of Facebook messages of “Praying for you…let us know if you need anything,” after someone passes away. Follow through when you say those words, and not just with a casserole or a card. If you are in a position to do so, call, visit, or email the family of the person who died. They will be in great need of comfort in the weeks, months, and years afterwards. Loneliness is a crippling emotion, and if you can do something to alleviate it, you are honoring the departed.

Death is never easy to talk about. But by allowing yourself the time and space to grieve, honoring your loved one’s memory, and by being there for others, you are giving yourself the tools you need to cope with your grief. And in your sadness and heartache, you will find comfort and strength in yourself and in others.

What has brought you the most comfort when you’ve grieved? Comment below!

How to Defeat Limiting Beliefs Once and for All: Find Your True Voice

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“I feel fat.”

“I need to be a size 8.”

“I’m a failure as a girlfriend/daughter/niece/worker/student.”

“I just suck.”

Have you ever said anything like that to yourself? I know I have, and it reached its peak in 2011. I thought I was a failure as a friend, a teacher, and as a human being in general. I was surrounded by limiting beliefs, and they haunted every conversation I had with myself.

What are limiting beliefs? They are statements that corner us and prevent us from flourishing. They are statements that you heard so often growing up, that eventually you start to believe them. Statements like:

“I can’t look good at a size 20.”

“I will never find the man of my dreams.”

“It’s easier to be seen than be heard.”

“This job pays the bills. Even if I don’t love it, it’s security.”

But believe it or not, you don’t have to let limiting beliefs ruin your life like they did mine. In fact, you can actually reverse your limiting beliefs and use your inner dialogue as a source of strength and courage.

A couple weeks ago, I finished reading the excellent book Finding Your Voice: Sort Through the Clutter and Discover Clarity, Confidence, and Direction by longtime life coach Joel Boggess. I’ve known Joel for a few years and even though this book was written in 2013, I’ve only gotten around to purchasing and working through it just now.

The book brings up a lot of great points on how to tap into your passions and find how to make it work for you, but my favorite chapter was how to work through your limiting beliefs. Boggess does a fantastic job in the book of identifying, analyzing, and breaking yourself free of limiting beliefs.

Step One: Identify your beliefs. The first thing you have to do is realize your limiting beliefs pop up in the first place. This is kinda hard, but once I realized I was doing it, I was shocked how often I was saying them.

“I look bad as a size 20/22. I have never been this heavy in my life before. I just look gross.” That is one I have been struggling with lately.

Step Two: Challenge your beliefs. Play devil’s advocate. Where is that belief coming from? In my case, it is the echo of my high school bully and the constant media messages we are bombarded with daily to be prettier, thinner, sexier, and just all-round better. Do I really feel gross every day? Is it 100% true I would be happier if I was better perfect? Hell to the N-O, for both questions.

Step Three: Find the antidote. I know my antidote is in my closet. I may be the biggest size I have ever been, but I have assembled a beautiful wardrobe of clothes I know I look good in and am very proud to wear. Also, I know my body still allows me to walk and do yoga, even if running isn’t in the cards right now. It’s up to you to dig deep and find the antidote to your own limiting beliefs.

Step Four: What antidote will you choose to believe in? This is where you begin to plug in more useful, uplifting messages instead of all the negativity.

Ex-belief: “I feel fat and gross at this size 20/22.”

New belief: “I choose now to believe that no matter what my size, I know how to dress in a way that celebrates my body and makes me feel damn good.”

Step Five: Speak the truth. This is probably the hardest part. But you say things over and over to yourself so that the new belief takes root and banishes the old belief. I say it when I look in the mirror, rifle through my closet, and after I exercise. The repetition takes a time and practice, but your brain will get the message.

Let me say that again: Your brain will get the message.

Even though this book didn’t exist when I was at my ultra-low point in 2011, I started learning when I was smack-talking myself. I started cramming my head so full of positive podcasts that in less than a year, I had automatic answers to every single limiting belief that popped into my head. I was my own antidote.

I gained enough strength to rewrite my inner monologue and that is when I was able to blossom. I found a new job, moved, and meaningfully reconnect with my friends and family.

You don’t have to live with your limiting beliefs. Take this five-step formula and try it for one of your most persistent negative beliefs today. It takes training, but the results can only set you up for success!

What are limiting beliefs you’ve run into in the course of your life? Comment below!