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In Praise of Retreat
Cover of In Praise of Retreat
In Praise of Retreat
Finding Sanctuary in the Modern World
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For readers of Walden, Wild, Pilgrim at Tinker 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.

For readers of Walden, Wild, Pilgrim at Tinker 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.

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  • From the cover

    I’m sitting on the old footbridge that leads to my cabin in the woods. Beaver Creek passes silently below. Ducks fly overhead. Ferns, cardinal flowers and moss grow amid grey rocks at the water’s edge. Spiders wander over my notebooks, which are spread out on the bridge’s rough planks, pages held open by stones.

    This is the place that inspired this book. By the creek and in the forest, I discovered a rich inner dimension I didn't know existed. Far from my city life and work-obsessed routines, I began to know what gives my life meaning. And to recognize the value of protecting a divine spark, though I’m not religious, and of amplifying the extraordinary—nature, spirit, art, creative thinking—in impoverished times. A retreat means removing yourself from society, to a quiet place where moments are strung like pearls, and after long days apart in inspiring surroundings, you return home refreshed and with a new sense of what you want to do with your life.

    In the fraught modern era, you’d think our timeless human desire to retreat would feel more urgent than ever. Yet taking a step back has become an act of 21st century rebellion when disengaging, even briefly, is seen by many as self-indulgent, unproductive and anti-social. But to retreat is as basic a human need as being social. To withdraw from the everyday is about making breathing space for what illuminates a life.

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  • Publisher's Weekly

    January 4, 2021
    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 Monastère 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.

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    ECW Press
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In Praise of Retreat
In Praise of Retreat
Finding Sanctuary in the Modern World
Kirsteen MacLeod
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