How to Retreat From the World

I’ll never forget the night I met the man on the moon—Apollo 14 Astronaut Edgar Mitchell, the sixth man to walk on the lunar surface.

He stood on the lawn of my home in Hawaii, looking up at a waxing gibbous moon. He told me: “This is the phase the moon was in when we launched from Cape Canaveral.”

Three nights later (the amount of time it takes to travel 240,000 miles to the moon), Dr. Mitchell took me to that same spot on the lawn, and with a pair of binoculars located a particular place on the moon’s surface.

“See that grayish area right there? That’s approximately where we landed,” he said with a real twinkle in his eye.

Pinch me! I was literally moonstruck, next to a man who’d been to the moon and back. He’d spent 33 hours on its surface and even hit a few golf balls into space.

How did this encounter come about? It’s all thanks to the power of retreats.

It began some 10 years earlier, in the ’80s, when I attended my first retreat at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. Esalen is world-renowned for its pioneering work in the “human potential movement.” Inspired by the English writer and philosopher Aldous Huxley, founders Michael Murphy and Dick Price, both Stanford graduates, wanted to create a think tank to explore the frontiers of human consciousness.

Among the hundreds of workshops to choose from, I attended a weekend course that focused on how to build an empowered workplace, a subject important to me at that time in my career. Having personal access to the instructors and the opportunity to commune with a small group of like-minded participants was especially appealing.

Esalen’s 127 acres of pristine nature offer a refuge of clear mountain air, wildflowers, and breathtaking ocean views. Much of the retreat’s food comes straight from their on-site organic gardens, just 400 steps from the kitchen. It was here that I first experienced fresh “farm to table” food, grown in healthy, biodiverse soil.

Retreats originated in religious tradition.

A decade later, when my husband and I found ourselves constructing an original Frank Lloyd Wright home on the island of Hawaii, we felt compelled to share this architectural masterpiece with others. So, we decided to use our home as a small retreat venue, which we called the New Millennium Institute. It was then that I became a retreat planner and director, which led to hosting Edgar Mitchell and 20 participants for a program that included a stargazing expedition to the summit of Mauna Kea at the Canada-France-Hawaii telescope and observatory.

The Power of Retreats

Perhaps the true power and magic that retreats hold for us is that they take us from the ordinary to the extraordinary. They bring us in touch with new friends, places, and shared experiences that deeply connect us to one another. And they give us time to think, repair, and marvel again at life’s wonders.

Our collective yearning and desire to retreat dates back hundreds of years, having its origins in religious tradition. Think monks and monasteries.

What began as a simple ritual of solitude, stillness, and sanctuary has also evolved to include fellowship and learning.

Choosing a Personal Retreat

The best way to find a retreat anywhere in the world these days is to search online. There are thousands worldwide offering meditation and yoga, painting, poetry, astrology, photography, and more. Consider the following when sorting through your options:

Are you fascinated with the teacher, subject, or program being offered? Does the location or setting interest you? Will the program offer you a rich variety of experiences in body, mind, and spirit?

It’s important to get a sense of the schedule and what your time commitment will be. Consider whether you will be traveling solo or with a partner or friend. Do you seek solitude or are you interested in making new connections?

Of the many retreats I have participated in, these are two of my favorites:

The Mana Retreat Center, Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand

This sanctuary is nestled in the bush-covered hills of the Coromandel Range, only a few hours’ drive from Auckland. For 30 years they have been holding space for group retreats, workshops, and professional development trainings. New Zealand is currently closed to travel, but you can check schedules at

Inner Harmony Retreats

Award winning songwriter, recording artist, and filmmaker Michael Stillwater and psychologist/therapist Doris Laesser Stillwater are a talented duo that offer programs in Europe. They are skilled in helping everyone unlock their voice, sing their authentic song, and tell the story of their life through music. Programs have included song sanctuary retreats in Assisi, Italy. For a current list of programs and locations see

Susanne Sims is a wellness travel consultant and author on a mission—taking a body, mind, spirit approach to investigating the latest in medical treatments and healthy-lifestyle options abroad.

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