Shortcut to Serenity

A weekend retreat helped this New York writer recharge, reset, and reconnect with herself.
Published August 1, 2016


I switched my phone to silent as soon as I boarded the bus out of Manhattan, and I vowed not to check my e-mail for four days. Even my mother didn’t have the number for where I was headed. My goal? To disconnect from my world for the first time in years, so I could reconnect with myself.

Technology keeps us tethered but it can isolate us too, and I was feeling that every day. On one hand, without texting I wouldn’t know what my friends were up to. On the other, high-tech connection makes it hard to shut down and take time to form meaningful relationships with the people right in front of you. There’s science backing up this idea: Witnessing other people’s actions on social media sites may lead to jealousy, social overload, and even feelings of misery and loneliness, according to research from Berlin’s Humboldt University. And a University of Maryland study found that participants were less likely to engage in “prosocial” activities like volunteering immediately after using their cell phones. I was unplugging to find out what was missing from my life.

Camp Towanda is tucked away in the woods of rural northeastern Pennsylvania, more than two hours (and as many psychological light years) away from New York City, and that’s where I was going for Soul Camp, a four-day retreat. It’s a lot like sleepaway camp for grown-ups: No Internet, no stress, but plenty of activities and like-minded people enjoying a full schedule that includes breath work, angel readings, dance, yoga, and Soulympics (a “color war” with teams competing in events like tug-of-war and a meditational “om-off”). One of the getaway’s aims is to “create an environment that allows attendees to step away from their day-to-day, which in turn lets them rediscover a part of themselves that they may have forgotten,” according to Alison Leipzig, a co-founder of Soul Camp.

Retreat to move forward

It turns out there are lots of opportunities to take a similar kind of break. When I was researching where I wanted to go, I discovered that there’s a retreat to fit practically every wellness interest: deep relaxation, spiritual rejuvenation, meditation, health and healing, yoga, creativity, and more. They may be structured (or not), faith-based (or not), group-based (or solo)—you name it. Some take place at remote camps like Towanda or even monasteries, others at spas and bed-and-breakfasts with every amenity.

Soul Camp was just what I wanted: The space to forget my tech, focus on myself, try new things—from plant-based eating to Fierce Fitness Boot Camp—and share parts of my story that I’ve never shared. It felt liberating to tell my fellow campers the good, bad, and ugly of my lifelong battle with weight. I stayed up late gossiping with the girls in our camp bunks and revealed even more about myself. The deep things that I find so easy to close off from others in my daily life rolled right off my tongue. When it was over, I returned home a refreshed, better-grounded version of myself. The best part? I found a new network of people who have continued to inspire and support me long after camp ended.

I know it’s never easy to get away, especially on your own. But here’s the most important lesson I learned from my retreat: You’ve already made yourself your priority just by showing up. Now embrace the opportunity to make the weekend exactly what you need.

Find your own happy place

Retreats are located everywhere, and it’s easy to find one that’s perfect for you. Retreat search sites let you scan through hundreds of possibilities, sifting them by region, state, country (why not Sweden?), cost, type, amenities, and even specifics like the kinds of foods served, and pet-friendliness. Try or