Always Well Within

Calm Your Mind, Ease Your Heart, Embrace Your Inner Wisdom

A Refreshing Dose of Solitude and Digital Sabbatical

Refreshed.   Rejuvenated.  Relaxed.  Nourished.  Joyful.  Complete.

That’s how I felt during my personal seven-day retreat and digital release.

Could that happen for you?  Yes, of course!  If you are willing to make the break.

Meditation might not be your cup of tea.  But there are countless other ways to nourish yourself with space.

Seven days might be too long – or even impossible – in your reality.  But there’s always one day, one hour, or one moment when you can disconnect and breakaway.

Will you give it a try?

As we all know so well, the sense of simplicity we experience during a break may quickly fade away as we are thrust back into the fray of life.

Unless you decide – once and for all – on a reasonable life balance between activity and peace.  That doesn’t mean you’ll achieve it one go.  But a decision and a commitment are the recommended first step.

The Queen of Love

As nice as they are, relaxation and rejuvenation were not the motivation for my retreat.  The point was to tug at my heart.  To soften, to open, to touch my true essence. Then, through this unknotting process, be able to serve others with a bigger heart.

I happened upon a set of The Faeries’ Oracle cards just before retreat.  I shuffled and pulled “The Faery Who Was Kissed by the Pixies.”  This card depicts Morna, the Queen of Love who uses the power of love to help us open our hearts and love unconditionally.  An auspicious sign, I would say!  May I too be kissed by the pixies and the magic of Morna’s love.

The first morning of retreat, I was awakened abruptly by the ring of the phone.  It was still very dark.  A bleeding, homeless man had entered the neighbor’s screened porch.  An ambulance and the police were speeding our way.

I felt unnerved.  I popped up on the bed, straightened my back, and began loving kindness meditation to quiet my trembling and quell my fears.  I sent love to my self, my neighbor, the homeless man, and all those responding to the call for help.

This unexpected event immediately challenged the boundaries of my love.  Could I feel the same love for a bloody, threatening stranger as I do for a friend in the neighborhood?

The Heart of Loving Kindness Meditation

The practice of loving kindness meditation can be nourishing.  But it also can be unsettling.  Both aspects are part of its power.

Loving kindness meditation involves the mindful repetition of simple phrases.  These are the ones used in my tradition.

  • May I be well.
  • May I be happy.
  • May I be safe. [Optional]

You begin by directing the phrases towards yourself.  Without loving yourself, you cannot truly love others.

I focused on self-love for several days.  My sessions of loving kindness meditation were two hours in length, bookmarked by my usual morning and evening meditation practice.

Many get stuck right here in phase one.  Gross and subtle self-loathing abounds in these modern times.  Repetition of the phrases often raises our dire right to the surface.  That’s the whole point.  The response is simple though not always easy to apply:  let it rise, see it, release it, return to repeating the phrases.

By the way, if you think you are not worthy of love, the Buddha doesn’t agree:

“You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere.  You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” – Buddha

Widening the Circle of Love

In the next stages, you direct the phrases to an ever-widening circle beginning with a benefactor and moving on to a good friend, a neutral person, a difficult person (or enemy) and eventually the whole world.  You imagine a single person at a time and repeat:

  • May you be well.
  • May you be happy.
  • May you be safe.

Then you move on to another.  When you tire of repeating the phrases, the advice is to simply rest your mind for awhile in the atmosphere of love that has started to emerge. Then you begin with repetition of the phrases once again.

Challenges and Insights

Different people are challenged in different phases of loving kindness practice.

Self-love is very hard for some.  Others encounter jealousy when they think of a good friend.  Difficult people?  Usually a challenge for almost everyone!

Some experience dramatic breakthroughs or gain profound insights.  Others don’t feel anything at all, but later mysteriously find themselves with a lighter heart.

This time around, I discovered I still harbor subtle grudges from a whole period of life.

There’s no way around it, those dark spots obscure your happiness.  They are like a mirror showing a sticky place within.  As the layers unpeeled, I could see it’s really my own feelings of jealousy and unworthiness that trigger shutting my love down. The space and the practice gave me the opportunity to honestly see and own these projections.  And to begin to gently release them without being harsh with myself.

I also hit deep pockets of sadness, remembering times when I had withheld my love.

Coming to enemies, the idea of unconditional love gave me pause for thought.  What does it really mean?  Why should I love an enemy?  The reflections were rich and strengthened my resolve.

This year, I am personally discovering love is the best medicine I could ever find.   I feel it to be the most potent force we can offer in this suffering universe.  Partnered with wisdom, love can conquer all.

“Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies – or else? The chain reaction of evil – hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars – must be broken, or else we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Distraction?  Oh yes, plenty of that.  It came in waves and increased toward the end of the retreat. Again, the remedy is simple though not always easy.  You just bring your mind back to the phrases and object of love.  Some sessions it seems you have to do this a thousand times.  But other times, mind settles and you’re right there with love.

Realistically, you can’t do a quiet retreat and be online too.  Although, in one sense, the digital sabbatical was a secondary gain, it was extremely important in my eyes.

With extra focus online the week before, I was weary of the internet by the time I began.  So – at first – its call was not very strong.  But, over the days, an alluring crescendo built up. Wisely, I didn’t make any hard and fast rules for this digital sabbatical so there was nothing to break or feel stressed about.  Nevertheless, I didn’t cave in to surfing endlessly.

Deeper insights are personal and difficult to convey.  One question that keeps bubbling to the surface:  Am I wasting too much time?

It’s easy to fritter away one’s limited and, thus, precious time captivated by social media and the illusion that we are being of help.  Are we really helpful or is it just ego’s game?

These reflections reverberated deeply.  I see it is time to clean up my digital clutter and simplify my online engagement.  All for one purpose:  to focus more on my inner life.  I’ll be writing about this more in the coming weeks.

In this day and age, it’s an accomplishment when anyone has the guts to do even a short retreat.  But I’m not bragging about these seven short days.  It’s peanuts in comparison to spiritual luminaries like Dilgo Kheyntse Rinpoche and Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche who have spent more than twenty years in solitary retreat.

What are your thoughts on breaks?  Have you taken a break, digital or otherwise?  Are you in need of solitude or a good break? 

Related Articles

Image:  The Thousand Arms of Avalokiteshvara, The Buddha of Compassion by suraj

If you enjoyed this article, please share the link with others.  For more inspiration, please join me on the Always Well Within Facebook page.  Thank you for reading and for your support.  All my love, Sandra


Your 2011 Word: Dead or Alive?


Freeze or Flow?


  1. Life enforces me to take a break regularly. I listen. I have clear goals regarding social media – to build a community – but I won’t exhaust myself to do so. Once it stops being fun then it’s time to rest. I spent 3 days building shelves downstairs and clearing clutter. It was marvellous! I love chores and being at home and ‘with’ home. My step daughter teases me about not leaving the property, but I’ll be travelling the world with my work, and I’ve had years away from home: 12 hour days 6 -7 days a week. A simple life at home nurtures me. She’ll learn when she’s older. She’ll be coming home with grand kids begging for peace 🙂

    A great meditation technique too. Gegu used to do this with me while I was plumbing. Short phrases over and over and changing in my mind. He’s a clever one! Love and peace.

    • Simon,

      I’m glad and not surprised that you have such clarity over your digital life.

      I find chores are a wonderful way to let the mind rest and just be present. But I don’t love them quite as much as you! I do love being at home though just like you. My focus now is on inner traveling.

      I find there’s a reverberation that occurs in one’s body and being through repeating the phrases. It works very deeply. Of course, Gegu would have this down pat!

      I also love these glimpses into your life and experience. Thanks!

  2. Hi Sandra,
    When I take a break (cup of coffee, walk, vacation whatever) and it’s refreshing, my mind says why don’t I basically make my life one big break. What would that look like? Are we really helpful or is it just ego’s game?- that is a wonderful, soul-searching question. My answer/guess is that we are all searching for some form of purpose that suits our personality and temperment.

    • Riley, That’s an interesting question -> what would it look like to make your life one big break. An interesting blog topic! I remember Gandhi saying he didn’t need to take a vacation because he was on vacation all the time.

      This is a soul searching question about being helpful or being deluded by ego. I’m contemplating on this and will probably share my insights at one point. Thanks for sharing yours here.

  3. Sandra,
    How wonderful that you chose to do this, and then committed to it – even when there were distractions.

    I have done this – sometimes in varying degrees – and find it to be so helpful in adding additional clarity and purpose to my life. And love…love is such a beautiful place to “be”….

    Thank you so, so much for sharing this part of your journey…

    • So nice to hear that you too value time away. I too find that the clarity and purpose that emerges makes it very worthwhile. And love is the clincher!
      Lots of love to you.

  4. Hi Sandra,
    Welcome back from your 7 day retreat. I’m planning on doing this myself – when I’m not sure. I believe we do come back refreshed and reinvigorated when we give ourselves permission to rest and rejuvenate. It’s also great to do other things – not always work on self-development; i.e. take a break and have some fun! I’ve found that when I’m not focused on self-development I have some sort of break-through that shifts my thinking while doing something else. I may fly out to CA to visit my brother & his family around Labor Day. That will probably be my fun retreat and digital getaway.

    • You are so right, Angela. Too much “self-development” can strangle our soul! I love the idea of allowing for fun. Having fun is not a well developed ability on my part. I’m so glad you mention it here.

      Wishing you a wonderful time over Labor Day, whatever you choose to do.

  5. Hi Sandra – yes breaks and retreats are useful. I tried one myself this time last year – a 3 day silent retreat and went through all the different thoughts you describe. Disengaging from the world (including a digital fast is challenging)

    Sometimes we need a break from the world so we can focus on ourselves. But the bigger question for me is how to turn every day into a retreat? Working on trying to nourish my life with space on a daily basis:)

    • Hi Vishnu,

      I love hearing that you too have done silent retreats. This is a really good point about bringing the sense and view of retreat into daily life. As I said above, Gandhi explained that he never took a vacation because he was on vacation all the time. So much depends on our perspective. At the same time, I’m a big advocate for periods of formal meditation. I find they provide the basis for integrating greater spaciousness and peace in our life.

  6. About 4 years ago I did a similar thing. My main focus was to simplify my life. Now 4 years later I still do not have TV, stiil only use my phone for calls and texts and I don’t have it with me 24/7, and I am still disconnected from 2 “social” websites.

    Other things have found their way in that I am beginning the work of removing. Just because we simplify our lives once doesn’t mean they stay that way. It takes vigilance to keep it simple.

    • Patricia,

      I’m impressed that you’ve been able to keep to simplicity so well. It’s true -> complexity can easily slip back in. Vigilance is a wonderful quality to have in this respect. You are an inspiration to me. I’m looking at how to decluttuer my digital life this month. Thanks for sharing your successes.

  7. Your brave example of your digital sabbatical has inspired me to do the same.I am going away with my boys and my mother soon. Instead of scrambling to do the bare minimum, I am going to break completely and just enjoy nature and family and relax.

    I do realize that all the tension is in my head. My brief absence is not going to matter much to anyone else or even to me in the end. It is me that has to get comfortable with it,

    Thank you for your example!

    • Fabulous! So happy to hear your plans to breakaway for a week. I hope you share you experience on your blog and the level of comfort you find being away. I think there’s some truth about the benefit of regularity in blogging and social media. But the degree of tension we sometimes experience around it might not be in proportion to what’s actually necessary. At least, I know that can be the case for me.

      I know you are always up for a new challenge and adventure. Good luck with this one!

  8. Thanks for sharing your experience.
    Well I got an enforced digital break I wasn’t planning on and I was surprised how well I survived. i did love the messages that Des brought into hospital from my online world.

    Do I feel the need to plan a digital sabbatical now- what I have found is that having had 2 plus weeks away from my computer I have lost my need to jump online as I did in the past. What I need now is to develop a more effective Social media daily /weekly schedule
    love and peace

    • Suzie,

      Sorry for your abrupt departure. I hope you are healing well! Congratulations on surviving so well and returning with such clarity. I too am looking at my social media schedule! It’s wonderful to hear that you lost the impulse to jump on line so easily. We all seem to be entering the same stream. I’m grateful that you shared your experience with us. I’m sorry your digital sabbatical was enforced, but your experience teaches us all.

  9. Sandra,

    What a gift to yourself you gave. Welcome back from your retreat. I’d like to do this some time in the near future, too. Maybe not for 7 days…perhaps even “just” 7 hours. But I know I need it. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

    • Hi Lindsay,

      Even 7 hours would be terrific. I fully support you! I appreciate your current article on Mercury retrograde. Great advice for this period!

  10. {You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” – Buddha }

    this very inspired me 🙂

    thanks for sharing!

  11. Welcome back, Sandra! It sounds like your retreat was filled with thought, space, and love. My status quo is solitude, so taking a break would simply mean unplugging the internet cable — which I certainly should do more often than I do. Whenever I go on holiday, I try to make it a point to put away my phone and leave my computer at home. I always find that I pay much better attention to what is actually around me when I do. Unlike you, I’m not sure I am on social media to be helpful. It simply happens to be the least tiring way for me to interact with other people, but it still has a price tag in time, energy, and space.

    • Thank you, Jennifer. I think I may be gradually gravitating toward a status quo of more solitude so your example is a good one for me. We’ll see what the future holds. You already have good habits of leaving your connections behind. I admire that.

      Your blog is certainly helpful! I’m never sure if blogs are considered part of social media or not. Social media is also a place for me to connect with like-minded people like you. It’s been one of the best aspects of connecting. But like you say, balance is crucial so we are not paying a high price tag.

      I’m amazed by how well you’ve managed to continue your blog despite your new work schedule. You seem to know how to prioritize your activities well!

  12. It sounds like your un-knotting process served you well.

    > You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” – Buddha
    Great words of wisdom.

  13. Hi Sandra, it was a while since I visited your blog and now I can see what I´ve been missing 🙂 There is so much in what you write that touches my heart.

    And yes, I know we need breaks every now and then. Be it digital breaks or other breaks in the flow of every day life. I´m in a middle of a long walk these days, and have noticed how important it is to have breaks for the body to readjust.

    Your post made me realize that this goes for everything we do in life. If we just go on and on we will get ourselves exhausted. Brakes are there for us to get new energy.

  14. Hi Tom,

    So nice to see you! I know it’s not easy to visit all the blogs we love. It takes time. I appreciate that you took a moment to stop by and say hello.

    Breaks are vital. I like you point about how we just exhaust ourselves if we don’t stop and put on the brakes!

  15. Sandra-

    I’ve been finding lots of comparisons among my dear friends…

    ” But I’m not bragging about these seven short days. It’s peanuts in comparison to spiritual luminaries like Dilgo Kheyntse Rinpoche and Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche who have spent more than twenty years in solitary retreat.”

    It’s entirely possible that…I may push too much with this.

    My perspective–you took some time for you. You uncovered, aired out a lot of emotional memories and integrated them further into you. Does it matter that people you admire did it for longer or shorter than you? Or, is what matters that you did what you needed to do to care for you for the length of time that felt right?

    I loved how you presented the meditation and its effects on you. I’m glad that you came back to share it with us. My feelings don’t really matter either though. 😉

    So, I might suggest not being falsely modest about your ability to recognize your surface and deeper needs, and not being ashamed of talking about them! Or, if there is a desire within you to spend more time in solitary retreat, then do so.
    If you enjoy teaching and sharing yourself with others, then do that.

    I caught myself blaming me when I “failed” to complete a 24 hour fast from food as an experiment…after Raam did his 7 day fast AND went hiking. What good does it do to kick myself for not measuring up to his yardstick? Absolutely None–and I don’t want you to kick yourself either. 🙂

    • Dear heart Jeanie,

      Thanks for your concern and advice. I agree that comparisons are usually not helpful.

      But let me assure you, though it may have sounded that way, I am not making a comparison. I’m only putting my accomplishment in perspective. I feel good about my accomplishment even if it’s peanuts in comparison to great spiritual masters. I am not putting myself down.

      If anything, I am trying to bring a dose of humility to the plate. But this is not false modesty. Nor does it have anything to do with shame. I simply don’t want to give any incorrect impressions about my spiritual accomplishment, which is miniscule. And that’s just a fact. Neither good nor bad.

      I agree that self-blame and kicking oneself is not useful. That’s not what I am doing here, but I do appreciate your care and big heart.

  16. Hi Sandra,

    I’m really impressed you were able to do this 7 day meditation retreat by yourself! When I read your first post, I just assumed you would be going away for a retreat. This is a great reminder that we don’t really need to go anywhere to retreat to our inner selves.

    What are your thoughts on trying to do something like this when you live with other people, like a spouse or kids? I don’t have kids, so I think it would be much easier, but would still be hard with my husband around watching TV or something.

    Anyhow, it’s really interesting to hear about how this self-exploration has affected you. In some of your past posts it seems as though you weren’t so sure about the whole digital sabbatical thing. Like you said, I think it’s important for us to check ourselves and our intentions to make sure our time is truly well-spent – adding value rather than fueling our egos.

    That’s part of the reason why I haven’t been around as much lately. I guess I’m in what some people call the “quarterlife crisis” – trying to figure out the next steps for me. I know a lot of people quit their jobs and dive head first into something else, and that’s fine if they have a really solid idea of what they really want to be doing, but it’s not as clear to me right now. I figure I’ll end up doing more good for others in the long run if I can sort things out for myself first.

    Anyhow, thanks for listening, for your inspiration, and for being you!

  17. Sandra,

    As always, your writing is so compelling; deep with insight, personal conviction and selfless giving.

    Meta meditation has not always risen to the top of my practice. Why? I’m not sure. It’s not that I don’t embrace lovingkindness, nor can’t see its practical application (with three kids, meta could be one of the most important lessons I could ever teach them!). This is something I need to revisit.

    I most resonated with the digital sabbatical elements of your experience. I admit — this last month or so has seen me within my own kind of D.S. Spending time with family and friends, camping, helping out with the organizations I volunteer for. As time goes on, I question how beneficial being “connected” all the time can be with my journey towards simplicity and sustainability.

    I suppose it’s all about balance. While I enjoy my time being unplugged, I do miss interacting with friends such as yourself (and Raam, Ali, Lynn, and so many others). Your (the collective “your”) words are refreshing and inspiring. And these relationships, albeit virtual, help me realize the growing web and movement of change that is taking place across the world.

    Here’s wishing you continued love and kindness. Be well.


    • It’s so nice to “connect” with you, Bill.

      I think we are all drawn to the particular practices we need. Mindfulness meditation is also a powerful way to open the heart. There are other ways to develop loving kindness aside from metta practice itself. It was quite a few years before I gave loving kindness practice a try. (This isn’t my first time!). I think you will come to it in the right time if it’s the right practice for you. In the meantime, you have a beautiful heart already!

      I hear what you’re saying about the benefits of digital sabbatical. I really value the connections I’ve made on the internet with people like you, Lynn, Raam, Ali and others. I feel so blessed! I finally realized that I don’t connect with my real world friends everyday so it’s not necessary to be glued to the internet for that purpose either. I’m starting to take a few days off from the internet each week. Experimenting with some ways to bring back more space. It’s a great exploration. I’m glad you are feeling positive results too!

      Thanks so much for leaving a comment. I really appreciate connecting with you. May you be well, happy, and safe.

  18. Hi Adrienne,

    Yes, it’s more than possible to do a meditation retreat on your own at home. This is a good option especially for people who don’t have the funds or extra time to get to a formal group retreat. You can also adjust it to your experience and time available. For example, you can try out a half-day retreat to start with. There’s no need to dive into a 7-day retreat to begin with. It’s easier for me to do a longer retreat because I’ve done several already both on my own and in a group.

    I was able to arrange to have a week on my own. That’s far easier than trying to do a personal retreat if you live in an active, busy household. Especially if you are a beginner, it really helps to have a relatively quiet space free of normal distractions. Of course, no space is 100% quiet, but we find the best space we can.

    It might be possible to do a retreat like this co-existing with your husband if you had clear agreements and clear boundaries. I have done that and it worked fine, but my husband was away at work most of the day time. It could be challenging though. If you are going to feel distracted by the sound of the t.v. for example, you would be better off trying to arrange a more quiet, solitary space for a few days. For example, some nunneries offer low cost space for personal retreat. Or, take the time when your husband is at work or off on a trip. Or wear noise reduction headphones! It’s a question of looking at our own situation and seeing what the possibilities are.

    I feel like it’s a real privilege to be able to have time for retreat. I know it’s not as easy for people with families to have this opportunity.

    It sounds like you are doing a lot of inner work and contemplation right now during this important transition phrase. You are so smart! I trust that clarity will emerge for you in time. All my love to you!

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