Thursday, September 22, 2011

How to Prepare Yourself for a Mount Shasta Retreat

With its natural beauty and high spiritual energy, Mt. Shasta is an ideal place for a retreat.  Every summer, thousands of people come here to renew themselves in body, mind, and spirit.  Before I moved to Mt. Shasta in 2006, I came for a retreat almost every year since 1978, even crossing the country the many years I lived in Washington, DC.   I’ve also had the privilege of guiding many retreats on the mountain.  Through these experiences, I’ve developed a four-step model for maximizing the benefits of retreat time:   1) prepare for your retreat; 2) start off gently; 3) renew yourself deeply; and 4) build a bridge back to your life.

Prepare for your Retreat

            The quality of your retreat will be strongly impacted by how well you prepare yourself for this special time.  One key is to take care of any potential loose ends which could distract you from being fully present.  To the extent possible, complete projects, get current on communications, pay bills, etc.  Leave messages on your e-mail and phones indicating the dates you will be unavailable.
            Spend some time reflecting on why you are taking the retreat.   Ask yourself, “If I have a totally wonderful retreat, what blessings might I be bringing home with me?”  From this reflection, develop and write down some clear objectives for your retreat.  Aim high!  On this magical mountain, you can receive just about anything your heart truly yearns for.
            Do whatever you can to ready yourself both physically and spiritually for the retreat.  If you plan to spend time hiking up on the mountain (strongly recommended!), you may want to amp up your exercise program to prepare your heart, lungs, and legs for this challenge.  If you’ll be doing lots of meditation or some other spiritual practice on your retreat, it’s wise to do that practice regularly in the days leading up to the retreat.  You will build momentum and strengthen your focus.  You might also want to look through your collection of inspirational books and select one or two favorites to take with you.
Start Off Gently

            Start your retreat with rest and relaxation.  Particularly if you are tired and/or stressed, it is very helpful to give yourself as much time as you need to unwind and rest.  Let your body sleep as long as it needs to.  Spend some leisurely time sitting by or swimming in one of the beautiful alpine lakes close to Mt. Shasta.  Perhaps go for a gentle hike.  Take an afternoon nap if you’re tired.  Don’t put any pressure on yourself to focus spiritually.  If you feel inspired to do some inspirational reading, meditation, etc., go for it.  But, please don’t have any sense of “should” around this.

Renew Yourself Deeply

            Once you feel well rested and relaxed, you’re ready to dive into the heart of your retreat.
I find it very effective to combine intensive spiritual focus with physical activity.  Spend time meditating, praying, gazing at the summit, sitting by a mountain stream, singing, decreeing or whatever helps you connect deeply with God.  Intersperse this with hiking, swimming, biking, or other physical activity.  By alternating the spiritual practice and exercise you will better ground whatever new energies and realizations you tap into it.  While hiking or engaging in other physical activity, practice being in the present moment.  One simple way to do this is to notice your breath and to be grateful for the gift for life so freely given.  When you notice your mind going to the past or future, simply be grateful for that awareness.  Gratitude will bring you right back into the joy of the present.
If you can, spend some time up high on the mountain.  The energies of Panther Meadow, South Gate Meadow (also known locally as Squaw Meadow), and surrounding areas are exceptionally supportive of spiritual awakening.   But anywhere you go on or around Mt. Shasta, you’ll find special gifts and incredible beauty.  This is truly a sacred mountain.   
Spend as much time as you can on this phase of the retreat, but make sure to leave at least a few hours, if not a full day, for the critical third phase.

Build a Bridge Back to Your Life

            Once you’ve immersed yourself deeply in the joy of the present, take some time to look at your life from a nonjudgmental space.  Notice which areas of your life are already in alignment with the fully alive, powerful Self that’s been reawakened.  Also, note areas where there’s disharmony, struggle, stress, etc.  Write down action steps which can bring these areas more into alignment with the inspiration and clarity you’ve tapped into doing your retreat.   Make sure that some, if not all, of these action steps are simple and easy to do (i.e., making a phone call, scheduling a meeting, etc.).  
            Also, take time to reflect upon and write down the insights and realizations you’ve had during your retreat.  Ask yourself “How can I bring these realizations home with me?”  For example, you might want to consider purchasing a picture of the mountain, crystal, or special Shasta memento which you keep in your bedroom or office.    Or you may want to commit to a new daily practice or ritual that will keep the flame in your heart burning strong.
            When you arrive home, do at least one of your action steps the first day you’re back and as many as possible the first week.    Also, make sure to spend time in nature and some time doing the spiritual practices you used on the retreat.  This will help integrate the gifts from your retreat into your daily life.  Do your very best not to get so busy catching up on everything that you get overwhelmed and stressed out.   By choosing to go on retreat, you demonstrated a strong commitment to your wellbeing.  Honor this commitment and the time you invested in your retreat by truly making a new beginning in your life.

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Andrew Oser  has hiked and camped extensively on Mt. Shasta since 1978.  He deeply loves and respects the mountain and is passionate about helping visitors from around the world to discover its gifts.  Andrew is an expert in experiential learning, having created and facilitated a wide variety of programs which have served many thousands of people. 

A summa cum laude graduate of Princeton University, Andrew brings a wide range of experience to his current life coaching and retreat facilitation work, including starting and running a successful nonprofit organization, serving as a top-flight professional tennis coach and exploring many approaches to personal and spiritual growth.  He is the author of the recently released book How Alternation Can Change Your Life.  For more info, see

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