Around this time each year, I start to go a bit batty. The holidays are over, but days are still short. Work piles up. The levity that comes with warmer breezes and more daylight is just out of reach. Pagans and wiccans (of which I am not one) acknowledge this in their holiday Imbolc, which welcomes the spring hopefully just around the corner. Groundhog Day is the more popular version of Imbolc, depleted of any sort of pagan (read: threatening to Christianity) meaning.
Part of me digs the high pomp and circumstance of ritual that accompanies some holidays. But at this time of year, I'm just DONE with that sort of thing. The simpler, the better. And I yearn for the introversion that eluded me over Christmas - literally, the darkest time of the year.
The February after I graduated college, I still found myself living in the town of cows, colleges, and contentment. And really hating life for the above reasons. So, on the friendly advice of one of my professors, I took a long weekend and holed up in a monastery in the middle of nowhere, just to ground myself. Did next to nothing except read some, write some, sleep a lot, and exist in warm, comfortable silence, with all my most basic needs provided for. It was heaven. And I returned, rejuvenated (even just a little bit) and ready to live life again.
Since then, retreats have been an essential contribution to my sanity. I haven't done them every year, but I miss them when I choose to forego them. And the last one I did was in 2008. So I'm heading out again this year - aptly enough, on Imbolc itself - to a small place in Arizona to indulge myself again. The place is awfully spartan - few creature comforts, simple food, and enforced silence for all times except dinner. Austere and forbidding landscape, too, full of cacti and pungent chaparral. But the place did offer a nice library, with lots of religious and philosophical writings. Physically, it might seem horrible. But the last time I was here, in 2007, I described my experience there as drinking a big triple thick rich dark chocolate-and-Bailey's milkshake for the soul. Unbelievably wonderful, but also so deep and intoxicating, it was almost too much for me to take. I can't wait to go back and drink deeply again.