For readers of Walden, Wild, Pilgrim at Tinker’s Creek, A Book of Silence, A Gift from the Sea and other celebrations of the inner adventure.
An utterly engaging dive into our modern ways of retreat — where we go, why we’re drawn, and how it’s urgent
From pilgrim paths to forest cabins, and from rented hermitages to arts temples and quiet havens for yoga and meditation, In Praise of Retreat explores the pleasures and powers of this ancient practice for modern people. Kirsteen MacLeod draws on the history of retreat and personal experiences to reveal the many ways readers can step back from society to reconnect with their deepest selves — and to their loftiest aspirations in life.
In the 21st century, disengaging, even briefly, is seen by many as self-indulgent, unproductive, and antisocial. Yet to retreat is as basic a human need as being social, and everyone can benefit, whether it’s for a weekend, a month, or a lifetime. Retreat is an uncertain adventure with as many peaks and valleys as any mountain expedition, except we head inward, to recharge and find fresh energy and brave new ideas to bring back into our everyday lives.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
In our FOMO-obsessed culture, it can seem like silence isn’t golden anymore. In this fascinating—and vicariously soothing—memoir, yoga instructor Kirsteen MacLeod discovers the quiet pleasures of wilderness cabins, spiritual sojourns, yoga retreats, and more. We were impressed by the mental and creative benefits MacLeod found while getting away from it all and loved her personal insights on what it’s like being “alone” for an extended period with your partner. (It seems like she and her husband, Marco, have a great relationship!) Hearing about these solitary excursions answered questions we never even knew we had. Turns out you can book some alone time in a centuries-old monastery like you’re planning a week in a hotel! Don’t be surprised if you find yourself taking In Praise of Retreat to a nice, quiet corner—or maybe even to the high hills.
Short story writer MacLeod (The Animal Game) delivers a satisfying exploration of and testament to the healing benefits of "removing yourself from society to a quiet place." Seeking an escape from a harried professional life and feeling unfulfilled creativity, she and her partner decamped from Toronto to "a retreat in the woods." They found there a "relief from life's rushing and chafing" and an opportunity to "stop, gain clarity and make space for change." MacLeod's satisfaction in solitude sparked her to wonder: "What has inspired people, ancient and modern, to retreat?" She answers that question by drawing on her own research into philosophy, Western religion, culture, music, and Eastern spirituality to argue that retreat cultivates virtues of "freedom, attunement to self, attunement to nature, reflective perspective and creativity." MacLeod also includes evocative descriptions of personal retreats to "wild places," such as Scotland's northwest Highlands, and "new sanctums," such as Le Monast re des Augustines wellness center in Quebec. Her reflections on a difficult pilgrimage along Hastings Heritage Trail and a disastrous ashram retreat also demonstrate the difficult sides of getting away. But hardship, MacLeod writes, makes a retreat worthwhile. Anyone looking for a respite from everyday busyness or struggling through quarantine will be inspired by MacLeod's fresh perspective on the benefits of solitude.