As a busy professional juggling a LOT of work and creative projects, I decided that I needed a break from routine and scheduled a Do It Yourself Creative Retreat. Many writers go away for concentrated time to create and visual artists will participate in residencies to do the same. I thought I would share my experience for those of you looking to do something on your own, without a formal "program" but only you to rely on for self-discipline and productivity (yikes)!
I am in the midst of two writing projects and I thought a change of scenary would work for me to avoid any distractions of my regular routine. I mulled over going somewhere locally or really "getting away" to feel more immersed in my writing. I decided to go away to my friend's house in St. Simon's Island, Georgia for this first retreat during the last weekend of August. I selected this location because: a) I knew I could cut significant travel costs by staying with a friend b) the location is very scenic, right on the Atlantic Ocean, which was a definite change of scenary that I felt I needed, c) it was a place I have visited many times so I could get around without much effort or burdening my host and d) the island did not have a lot of distractions to keep me from my task.
First of all, the weather was absolutely beautiful in St. Simons Island, which made it special. The first day that I arrived which was a Saturday, I did not work on anything at all since I came in midday. I hung out with my friend and took in the rhythm of the island for the day.
I started the next day walking on at the beach with my friend and then showered and started doing some research online. We took a break to visit a local church's celebration of the National Bells Ceremony for the 400 anniversary of the first African slaves on the continent and then did a "mead" wine tasting followed by dinner. Later that evening, I continuted to do some research and ended it with watching a movie with my friend and her husband.
Monday morning, I did the beach walk alone and then finished a little more of research. I organized my electronic files for my project for reading and reflection. I did some personal blogging of one of my poems and updated both my websites. My friend took half a day off and we went to the beach where I read almost all of the contributor essays for the project. It was great being at the beach reading through information and making notes with the sound of the waves and the sand beneath my toes. After that, we headed back to the house and then back out to eat and then we went to a small bar to listen to live music and have drinks.
Tuesday was pretty much a work day....my hosts spent a full day at work so I was able to focus an entire day on my project. I started the day walking on the beach by myself. I came home, showered and headed to the local coffee shop I enjoy when I am in town for a change of scenary. I read the rest of the online versions of contributor essays. I did more online research and organized my files online. After a few hours, I quit and decided to take in the local shops of the strip shopping center, including a metaphysical store to add to my crystal collection and pick up a piece of jewelry. I had lunch and then headed back to the house. I finished up a few remaining tasks and that was it for the day.
Wednesday was travel day. After leaving SSI, I did a little work at the airport...mostly some research on putting together my second writing project and headed home. .
Lessons learned: :
-Start earlier in the day. It was important for me to exercise but I found myself leaving the house later than I wanted. I think it was because I was in a different place and it took a while to get my rhythm. By the time I got started on things, it was closer to noon which I thought was a little late for me (I am a morning person).
-Check your resources especially wi-fi when working in alternative settings, Find a way to make sure that the wi-fi is working properly. What slowed me down was that the wi-fi at the coffee shop I chose to work in was not working properly. It would be working and all of sudden it would not work.. If you are not doing web searches this is not a big deal but if you are, keep this in mind. One of my mentors suggested also investing in a "hot spot" service on your smart phone, which is something I am thinking of doing.
-Aromatherapy is important for me.....I am finding if I don't have incense or a candle going, it is a little hard for me to stay focused (weird but true). If you have rituals that you do at home, find a way to incorporate that in your alternate space.
-Stay off social media...at least for a couple of hours. I wasn't too bad with this, but it probably would have been more helpful to disengage my social media apps or turn the phone off for a few hours to concentrate on my work.
-Incorporate exercise or some movement into your day: I found walking at the ocean every morning was a great way of grounding myself for the work of the day. Spending time in nature was an added bonus. If that is something you can do and safely, make sure the location you select will allow for this.
A few other tips to consider if planning a writing or creative DIY retreat:
-Decide if you need a DIY Destination Retreat and why: For me, juggling so much with very limited time and "everyday" distractions made it easy for me to determine that I needed a break just to concentrate on my creative projects. Would going away for a time period help you focus? How long do you need for your retreat?
-Weigh the costs for location: You don't have to go on an extravagant trip to an exotic locale to do a retreat. You could actually do it home or a friend's house. If you have a day, why not visit the lobby of an artsy hotel or rent a co-working space? Why not consider working outdoors at a local park?
-What environment works best for you to work? Do you need to be totally in silence and secluded or in the middle of the hustle and bustle of a city? Beach or mountains? If you decide to go somewhere, check out spiritual retreat centers that may offer overnight accommodations within an hour or two from home, consider a house or pet sitting gig for a friend in another place, or rent a cabin in the woods to really get away. AirB&Bs and traditional Bed and Breakfast locations are nice places to hang out for a weekend or longer. For me I needed to get away from the day-to-day scenary and wanted to be in a familiar safe place near the ocean but also did not have a budget for lodging. The next retreat may be at different location based on my current needs and resources at the time.
-Set your intentions/goals before you go. Determine what you want to accomplish during this time BEFORE going.. Be realistic as well....don't push to reach goals that can't be accomplished with the time and resources you will have available. I set a goal to review all of the information I received from contributors and do some concentrated research on some topics, which I completed during my time away.
-Plan what you need ahead of time. Do you need snacks or certain things (like candles, incense, your yoga mat, books, arsenal of music, etc.) to make things comfortable? Are some of those things allowed at host site? What are the food resources near by (restaurants, groceries, etc.)? What about transportation needs? Will you need to rent a car, uber around or use public transportation? Is there reliable wi-fi and if not, what will be your back up.
-Down time. As much as you may get into the zone, think about what kind of "down" time you want to incorporate and what resources are available for it. For me it was exercise in the morning and activities with my friend during the evenings. It may look like Nexflix binging or reading a unrelated book, hiking or checking out a concert or museum depending on where you are. A break from your work will help you stay fresh when you return to it.
There really is no "right" or "wrong" way to plan and implement a creative retreat. It is really just about being clear on what you want to accomplish, how much you are willing to spend and what environment works best for you and your productivity. Have you ever planned a solo DIY creative retreat? What did you find worked best for you?
We enjoy art and creative activities for a number of reasons. Whether it is dancing, cooking, drawing, playing an instrument, we pursue these activities either as hobbies, professions or somewhere in between. Humans have an innate need for self-expression and exercising our creativity is a way to do just that. However, did you ever wonder if there was any specific health benefits of a creative practice?
Science does support the notion that creative activities is healthy and can benefit us in a number of ways. The article: What are the health benefits of being creative? in MedicalNewsToday.com, author Maria Cohaut identifies three major areas that creative activities helps us with – Mental Health, Improvement to Brain Functioning and Physical Benefits.
Mental Health – According to Cohaut, visual art such as drawing, painting or sculpture has been scientifically proven to help people with trauma. The author states that “in a comprehensive article on The Connection between Art, Healing, and Public Health, Heather L. Stuckey and Jeremy Nobel say that "[a]rt helps people express experiences that are too difficult to put into words, such as a diagnosis of cancer." She also adds that Stuckey and Nobel note that "[A]rtistic self-expression might contribute to maintenance or reconstruction of a positive identity."
Writing such as morning pages or a regular journaling practice also has mental health benefits. There are a number of studies that exist that support the positive impact of expressive writing which requires participants to “narrate an event and explain how it affected” in assisting people in overcoming trauma and managing negative emotions. “In much the same way as visual expression, this type of writing allows people to take negative situations that cannot be changed and integrate them into their life's story, creating meaning for events that left indelible marks — such as a medical diagnosis, a loved one's death, or a violent experience, “ states Cohaut.
I can share an example from my own life in regards to the power of expressive writing…this summer an idea came to me to create a chapbook of poems and prose I had been writing since early last year in response to a situation with someone I still hold very dear. The situation ended up being devastating, leaving me with a lot of confused emotions and feelings. Unlike other conflicts or endings, this one was very unique due to the history of my relationship with this person. Instead of closure, I found myself the feeling the effects of this more and more intensely, partly due to the fact that the individual in question refused to communicate about seeking resolution.
I found myself writing more and more and feeling more in control of my emotions. I did not see this coming into a formal “project” like a chapbook, but I became more enamored with writing and using words to convey my confusion in a systematic way. I started sharing a little of the poetry in open mics which received good responses. I also started writing more often….recalling scenes, words, emotions, like from a movie or play that left a profound effect on me. After sharing my thoughts with a few trusted friends, I was encouraged to write the material as collection of poems. In this way, I could get what I felt out on paper, share it with the world and take control of the narrative for closure for myself, whether or not the individual in question ever sees or acknowledges it.
Brain Power: It appears that music training, acting and writing (once again!) can provide benefits in the area of brain power. Research has shown that in the area of writing, actually writing with a pen a paper versus typing can enhance learning and memorization. It actually can help us learn at a faster rate as well.
Cohaut shared that a review published in 2014 ”suggests that individuals with musical training — such as those who learned how to play an instrument — have improved connectivity between the two hemispheres of their brains.”
Did you know that play acting can actually help improve psychological well-being if pursued on a regular basis? Cohaut shared that a study from 2004 “found that older individuals who were encouraged to participate in theater performances had improved psychological well-being after 4 weeks. They also exhibited better cognitive functioning. In particular, the participants experienced better word and listening recall, as well as improved problem-solving abilities.”
Physical Benefits: According to the author, the researchers Stuckey and Nobel stated that, "studies have shown that [...] individuals who have written about their own traumatic experiences exhibit statistically significant improvements in various measures of physical health, reductions in visits to physicians, and better immune system functioning.” Once again writing is a very effective method of reducing physical illness as well as mental health and enhanced brain functioning.
If you are like me, listening to music can put the mind at ease. And there is scientific proof of that ability. Cohaut shared that “music affects our brains in complex ways, stimulating the limbic system and moderating our response to stressful stimuli.” In addition, listening to music "may help to restore effective functioning in the immune system partly via the actions of the amygdala and hypothalamus." These brain regions are implicated in mood regulation and hormonal processes, as well as in the body's inflammatory response” according to researchers Stuckey and Nobel.
As we know, creative expression can also be very physical, such as dancing which has demonstrated benefits that can last a life time. Cohaut shared that a study focusing on breast cancer survivors found that dancing “helped to improve shoulder function in participants, and that it had a positive impact on their body image.” The ever popular Zumba dance based exercise routines have been shown in recent studies to improve blood pressure and triglyceride levels, “while previous studies linked aerobic dance with better weight management.”
As you consider keeping up with pursuing your chosen creative practice, remember that it cannot only serve as self-care, but it has many health benefits as well, supported by science.
Have you experienced health benefits from pursuing the arts or creative activities? Share in the comments below!