Having attended a few retreats, I always find group dining a key part of the experience. Such moments provide an opportunity to integrate and process experiences as well as connect and meet others under the guise of sharing a meal.
But on a ‘me retreat’ there is no other, unless you consider the voices in your head companions. When by yourself it is easy to minimize the importance of the meal. Yet for me I still find dining by myself an opportunity for reflection. Instead of connecting with others the meal is a time to stop, nurture the self and receive. It is in this type of space where I find self dialogue rich, thoughts expansive and feelings of contentment abound. Well then such outcomes do depend on the dining experience too.
Good food is a good start
So at my recent ‘me retreat’ it was a bonus to stay at a hotel with an award-winning restaurant. I was also glad that it was mid-week, there was no concept of a singles table as in some places I’ve been and the restaurant was on site. So without hesitation I decided rather than stay in and eat a bowl of cereal (I had come prepared) I would take me out on a ‘me date’.
Not allowing any other distractions, so far, I couldn't wait for the restaurant doors to open. So at 6:00 pm on the dot I entered the empty restaurant. I arranged for a glass of Merlot (ok so an occasional wine on special occasions is my plan), a bottle of sparkling mineral water and a cozy seat to enjoy both.
So then what to do? I could sit and stare at the other empty seats. I could mull over thoughts in my mind. I could just be bored (never possible). Or I could do what I always do in times of doubt - pull out the iPhone. I know. No devices right? (Well this was in case of emergency, you know in case my sat nav didn’t work on the way down. Oh and of course I thought it much easier to call my family at night using my own phone than the hotels.) So excuses aside my phone came out to join me.
For a moment (slightest of all) I thought to myself this is an opportunity to be with myself. I don't need to do anything. But I did. What I really wanted to do more than anything was write. I wanted to write about my experience while in it.
So I did.
I sat there alternating between taps of the finger on my phone in MacJournal and my ever diminishing glass of red wine. I sat like that for almost an hour. I had a paper journal with me (what professional retreater goes anywhere without one) but would save that for later.
And I have to say I really enjoyed myself. Held back by a slow single finger WPM rate, the thoughts I recorded were meaningful and reflective. Remember it was just me and the restaurant staff this whole time.
Then other people started to arrive.
What? You mean I had to share the restaurant?
So far my midweek arrival meant minimal contact with a single person other than hotel staff.
The increase in activity clearly was a signal that it was time to move on to the next stage of occupying my time, I mean being on retreat. Plus I had finished my merlot.
I decided to head to a table and eat dinner, as I don’t do the fasting thing very well (if you saw my voluptuous body you would agree).
I found a table in front of the fireplace choosing to be a romantic on my ‘me date’. I didn't have to look at anyone else as the other diners were all behind me-all 25 in their large festive party.
Dinner was my experience. Dinner was my escape. I actually love good food, even if I am a fussy eater and practically a vegetarian. I love passionate people making beautiful eating experiences for me to enjoy. And enjoy I did. From the first waft of smell from the amazing concoction of brie cheese, Sauvignon blanc and walnut soup to the mouth watering chocolate mousse with coffee to finish. I was in gourmet heaven.
I reflected on the fact that many of the retreats I have gone on in the past featured really tasty and scrumptious food. Of course the kind of retreats I usually pay to go on have an element of healthy food attached to them, I still did not feel guilty at all.
So on this first night of my me retreat I learned to let go of guilt, appreciate the innate beauty and taste of a meal prepared by a person equally as passionate as I about their work in this world. Ahhhhhh.
Not looking behind
Then I noticed that I was not looking behind me. It was interesting to observe. Whilst all the activity in the restaurant was behind me my attention was elsewhere. I wondered if there was a mirror whether I would have been caught up in the other diners rather than my experience.
So what did I notice?
My thoughts took me to the details of the environment. For each feature there was a person responsible. Someone at one point in time followed through on an inspiring thought to create the space and experience I now enjoyed. Just think of some of the people that actually made this ‘me experience’ possible….an architect, interior designer, electrician, plumber, chef, waitstaff, hostess, farmer, truck driver, produce vendors, kitchen suppliers, furniture designers and builders, construction people, painters, tillers, cleaners, hotel manager, business owners. This list could go on. My point is that even though I was alone, dining with me, I was benefitting from the collective effort, inspiration, passion and commitment of a whole group of people. At that moment I was even more grateful than before which is hard to believe.
So the next time you sit down for a simple meal, or stop at your local café to grab a coffee, stop. Reflect on the chain of events, decisions and original inspiration that made your small dining moment possible. Also when by yourself and faced with the choice of cold cereal or a gourmet meal for dinner choose the latter.
As my reflections bubbled up again I realized that I had another insight. I also realized it was time to go, to retire, to truly retreat back to my room.
Will share some more insights later…