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.
Kirsteen MacLeod is a writer and yoga teacher. Her debut collection of short stories, The Animal Game, was published in 2016. Her fiction, poetry, and creative non-fiction have appeared in prominent literary journals, including The New Quarterly and The Malahat Review; scores of her articles have been featured in leading Canadian magazines; and her work has been a finalist for the CBC Literary Award in creative non-fiction, among other awards. She divides her time between Kingston, Ontario, and a riverside cabin in the woods near Bancroft.
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.
“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. ” — Publishers Weekly
“Narrated with a touch of warmth that is balanced with the detachment that comes from self-awareness and solitude, the book’s pace is smooth, and its diction is beautiful … In Praise of Retreat issues a deep, thoughtful, and experienced invitation to one’s mind, body, and spirit. ” — Foreword Reviews
“MacLeod’s writing is clear, and her love for quiet, green spaces shines through in lyrical passages about life at her cabin. Her curiosity and passion make for engaging reading throughout the historical sections of each chapter … It’s a book worth reading, one that would make a solid addition to a cottage bookshelf, to be pulled down and riffled through by lamplight on quiet summer nights. ” — Quill & Quire
“At first glance a peaceful read that might yet be useful in helping us make the most of this unexpected alone time. ” — Toronto Star
“In Praise of Retreat — part memoir, part nature essay, part guidebook — is thoughtful, thoroughly researched and often refreshingly wry. ” — Shelf Awareness
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