3 Things I Discovered While On Retreat

penuel ridge

Penuel Ridge Retreat Center Ashland City, Tennessee

With my 33rd birthday looming over me, along with my boss going out of the country for two weeks, I knew I needed a quick, cheap getaway.  After all of the travel, work, and chaos the past year has brought me, I didn’t want to travel far or sight-see.  I wanted peace, quiet, and writing time.  I found Penuel Ridge Retreat Center on AirBnB in nearby Ashland City, TN.  Just 30 minutes from where I lived… perfect!  I was set to stay in a private cabin on the property, but that kind of went to hell with the dropping temperatures.  The cabin is only heated by a space heater, and the coordinator warned me it would be too cold.  I was stubborn and wanted to stay in the adorable cabin.  I lasted all of 3 hours before the constant shivering was all I could take.
I moved into the main house, which I have to say is just as serene.  There are plenty of beds to accomodate groups and a large dining area, but my favorite room is the spring room–its energy is constantly flowing and evoking something new within me.  Downstairs was a small apartment, which was my space.  While I did sleep down there, I found upstairs to be much more open and inspirational during the day.  I practically had the entire property to myself aside from a volunteer who was in silence in the spring room on one of the days.
Here is what I learned in 3 days at Penuel Ridge.
1. Every being needs to stop and rest.
We live in a world that is always on the go.  We try to rush traffic to get to work.  We want work to fly by to get to happy hour.  We want the week to speed up to get to the weekend.  We’re always looking ahead; wanting more and never really shutting off.  How many of us wake in the middle of the night and automatically reach for our phones?  It has now become habitual.  Half the time, we don’t even care about the nonsense on our Facebook timelines, but it’s stimulation in some form.  While I did have use of WiFi at Penuel Ridge, I tried my hardest not to use it — only allowing myself to turn it on to check in at night and on my birthday.
It is quite liberating to pretend your phone doesn’t exist; you should try it some time!  Not only did I not use my phone much, but I had no T.V. or music playing.  It was just me, my journal, a couple of books and my laptop for novel-writing purposes.  There were moments I would just sit and let my mind do what it wanted, until it would just quiet down.  It takes some patience, but it’s like restarting an electronic device.  You come out more clear and quicker from it.
2. Boredom is just fear. Don’t always try to fill the spaces in your mind.
Seriously.  We fear having nothing to do or having no one to talk to.  We fear being alone.  We fear where our minds will go if we’re left alone with our thoughts.  Boredom hit a couple of times during my retreat, but they passed as soon as I wrote or read or napped or looked out the window and appreciated nature.  Maybe it sounds lame, but I no longer fear nothing to do.  In fact, I want to seek out moments of “nothing to do” more often — like meditation, prayer or just looking out a window for 10-15 minutes per day.
3. It’s okay to be angry at a book. (It usually reveals something about ourselves we don’t like.)
That doesn’t mean it was a bad book or a good book.  You don’t have to make that decision.  Some books were written to make you think.  I read “God Help The Child” by Toni Morrison at the hopes of seeing happy endings for abused children.  Instead, the book’s main theme was: history repeats itself.  The abused children grow up to be abusive parents — maybe not physically, but in some way.  The book reminded me of what I already know — no one escapes childhood unscathed.  This reality is hard for me to swallow.  I want there to be wonderful parents out there and children who are 100% happy and loved.  I know that is completely unrealistic.  No one is 100% happy.  There will always be pain, neglect and resentment.  While I was angry with Toni’s book, it was only because I am frustrated knowing if I ever do become a parent — I won’t be perfect and I will inflict some issue upon my child.  This torments me.
In 3 days on retreat, I expelled so many emotions that have been stuck inside of me, buried under the stress of work and confined due to cold, dreary winter.  I was able to spit some of those feelings out in such an unfiltered release with myself.  I journaled, prayed aloud in violent, angry sobs, napped, got rid of writer’s block in my novel and watched the cardinals outside the window at the bird feeder.  I saw all of the beauty in the world again and acknowledged the pain, and forgave myself for feeling all of the emotions I sometimes try hard to ignore.  Depression, anger, sadness, hate, love, fear — I felt them all, and finally, I felt peace and relief and hope. Mission: accomplished!
Please share your thoughts in the comments below!
Any tips on how to quiet the mind?
Has there ever been a book that upset you this way?


  • Sandy Lo

    Sandy Lo’s personal story is inspiring. She started, StarShine Magazine, an online publication in 2001, at the age of 18. She wrote her first novel in 2009, “Lost In You,” followed by the “Dream Catchers” Series. She was the first person ever to professionally interview Taylor Swift and has received personal endorsements for her books from members of boy bands Backstreet Boys and 98 Degrees. Recently, she has been seeing some tremendous momentum in book sales on Kindle. She has been included on the “50 Writers You Should Be Reading” list by The Authors Show, and “Dream Catchers”, “Breaking The Moon” and “Indigo Waters” reached the Top 100 Best Selling Coming of Age novels in Amazon’s Kindle Store. What makes this even more unique, is that Sandy relocated from NY to Nashville in order to write “The Watch Dog,” which is set in a fictional town outside of Music City. “The Watch Dog” reached the Top 10 Ghost Stories on Amazon. Aside from her writing projects, Sandy is also a freelance digital strategist.