Ever witnessed a good idea poorly executed, or brought into the world poorly conceived? If you are ready to turn a good idea into an enterprise, whether for-profit or not, a retreat may be the answer to help you succeed.
Back when the non-profit I founded, iguacu (igwah-soo!), was just an idea, I took it on retreat. I wanted to set up a giving service that would empower the public to donate effectively to serious humanitarian crises around the world. I knew the frustration of trying to pick a charity when searching online. After the Nepal Earthquake, there were more than 300, many making similar claims. Who has the time to work out which?
Somehow I knew I had to get away and find some peace to think the idea through. I had witnessed a lot of dysfunction in my career and was determined not to repeat it. Practically, I was able to temporarily handover my responsibilities and unplug for a week. Taking the iguacu idea on retreat was one of the most important decisions I have ever made. All of the important principles that underpin iguacu were conceived in silence in a barn overlooking the river Dart.
The great value of a retreat is the removal of all noise, distractions, tasks and responsibilities. You give yourself the chance to unwind, rest, and create space to think in a quieter mind. It’s a great opportunity to bring clarity to an idea, and deep thought as to how to best bring it into the world.
There are many different forms of retreat and they may feature mindfulness, meditation, yoga, religion, spirituality or silence. It is absolutely essential however that
1) The retreat you choose is not a daily series of lectures or teachings. That is not a retreat! The schedule must allow participants the chance to decompress, with plenty of time to themselves, and in peaceful surroundings without any noise, messaging or influences.
2) The retreat center is located in nature or in quiet countryside. A retreat in the city is not a retreat! The absence of any noise is key, and the presence of nature, especially if it’s a particularly beautiful location, is conducive to a calm and healthy mental state.
If you are asked to leave your phones at the door that is a very good sign. We don’t realize the impact they have until we lock them away. If you resist and hide your phone and use it during your retreat, you are wasting your money and reducing the retreat’s impact. The center will ordinarily give you a landline for an emergency contact you can give your family before you set out.
It’s good to reduce caffeine, alcohol and any other toxins well before a retreat, ideally to zero some days before the retreat starts. Usually there will be no coffee or alcohol served and you don’t want to spend the first few days with a mighty headache.
A week long retreat is ideal but any length of retreat is better than none. The problem with weekend retreats is if you are a very busy person, you may spend the entire weekend sleeping as your body de-stresses. You won’t be leaving much time to create the space to think clearly about your idea. If you only have a weekend, then in the week before the retreat try to reduce the normal intensity of your days, eat well and regularly, sleep regularly and meditate daily. On the retreat, you’ll be less likely to spend most of it in deep slumber.
Don’t take your partner or a friend. You will end up with less time to declutter and decompress, and less time in silent thought. You will be affected by the presence of your companion.
On my week away, after I slept excessively on the first day, I spent the week largely thinking about what was the best way to bring iguacu into the world. In the middle of silent meals, walking meditations, feeding the chickens (my retreat had chores, I pulled a long straw), sitting still under a blanket of stars, I was able to think deeply, without having to worry about anything else. Sometimes the world has to stop, and you need to get away.
As well as conceiving iguacu’s underlying principles, culture, mission and vision, I left the retreat at week’s end deeply motivated and aligned with the entire endeavor, and ready to commit the massive effort, time and money needed to bring it to fruition.
Retreats are a wonderful antidote to our fast-paced modern urban lives. You will realize just how distracting is your town or city when you return from retreat. And next time you have a big idea that deserves careful thought, you’ll recognize your need for space and nature, and the power of silence.
Katherine Davies is the founder and CEO of iguacu, an independent non-profit effective giving service for the public, focused on serious humanitarian crises. She has more than 25 years’ experience working in charities and INGOs, international banking, policy and parliamentary research, strategic communications and development.