The Joys of Retreating from The World (For a While)


By Steve Taylor Ph.D

Guest writer for Wake Up World

It’s easy for us to wear ourselves out in the world, dashing from one place to the next, our minds immersed in the tasks of our jobs and the other duties which make up our lives. With so much noise and busy-ness around us, it’s easy for us to lose our grounding, even our sense of identity. There is often a lot of noise inside us too. The busy-ness around us triggers thoughts and associations inside our heads, so that even when we’re not active our minds are filled with a chaos of thought-chatter, jumping from one subject to the next like dancing fleas.

That’s why periods of retreat are so important. Quietness and stillness allow the mental noise inside us to fade away, and help us to come back to ourselves. After weeks of frantic rushing and chasing, we step off the fast-moving train of time and return to the present. Our energy regenerates, and we feel a sense of wholeness, a glow of well-being. At the same time, there is a feeling of rootedness, of being so grounded and stable that the normal stresses and slights of everyday life don’t affect us to the same degree.

For me it seems to run in cycles. For two or three weeks I can function quite happily in the world of activity, writing, teaching, caring for my kids, playing sports with friends – but then I feel the need to step off, to spend a few evenings quietly at home (not that I always get the chance to, of course).

That’s why I’ve never felt that darkness is something negative. Darkness isn’t empty and bleak – it’s full of potential. I often lie in the darkness, listening to music, meditating or contemplating, and relish the feeling of energy collecting inside me and the glow of well-being beginning to radiate through my being.

Quietness is also the source of creativity. Without regular periods of withdrawal and relaxation, creativity dries up. Stillness makes the mind fertile, like a river running over a plain, enabling ideas and inspirations to shoot up. They seem to come from nowhere, as if we’ve connected to some great cosmic reservoir which – if the conditions are right – channels into our own individual minds.

I write poetry, and that’s where my poems come from. I find that when I’m in an active mode, poems just don’t come. They come when I’m in retreat. I sometimes find myself wondering where the next one will come from; if I’ve had a dry period, I wonder if they’re ever going to come again at all. But after a few days of withdrawal, an idea suddenly emerges, seemingly out of nowhere. Not a whole poem – just the scenario of a poem, the structure of one, which I then have to spend time fleshing out.

And if this is true for us as individuals, it’s true for the world itself. At this time of year – at least for those in the southern hemisphere – nature is in retreat. All things have withdrawn into darkness, and are slowly regenerating. That’s why the winter solstice is so significant – because after weeks of increasing darkness, the earth is starting to collect itself again, to gather its energies, in readiness for the explosion of creativity of life in spring.

If that’s what the rest of nature is doing, maybe we should do it too.

Previous articles by Steve Taylor:

About the author:


Steve Taylor holds a Ph.D in Transpersonal Psychology and is a senior lecturer in Psychology at Leeds Metropolitan University, UK. For the last three years Steve has been included in Mind, Body, Spirit magazine’s list of the ‘100 most spiritually influential living people’ (coming in at #31 in 2014).

Steve is also the author of Back to Sanity: Healing the Madness of Our Minds and The Fall: The Insanity of the Ego in Human History and the Dawning of A New Era. His books have been published in 16 languages and his research has appeared in The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, The Journal of Consciousness Studies, The Transpersonal Psychology Review, The International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, as well as the popular media in the UK, including on BBC World TV, The Guardian, and The Independent.

Connect with Steve at or follow Steve at


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