The Difference Between "Retreat" and "Run Away"

I have a long history of running away. 

I’m five years old, and I am standing in my driveway on a beautiful, sunny afternoon with a red hanky tied up with all my worldly goods.  I want to stick it on the end of a stick like I see on TV shows and cartoons, but I can’t seem to find a good stick. 

I’m mad at my mom.  The adult me can’t remember why, but I do clearly remember being filled with five-year-old righteous fury.  It sits burning in my stomach.

“I’m running away!” I yell at her. 

“Fine!” she yells back, “Go on then.  Get going.  I don’t care.”  I can remember how hurt and angry she looked, so clearly.  It seems impossible that she was only 25 at the time, eleven years younger than I am now. 

I remember walking up my block and trying to figure out how long it might take me to get to my grandma’s house 100 miles away. 

I walk around the block–not ready to run away, but too stubborn to come back the way I left. 


I am about six, I think, and I am sitting in my favorite dogwood tree.  I am playing hide and seek again with my best friend and my sister.  Hiding behind the soft green leaves and the shivering cream-colored blossoms, no one sees me.  They cross under me several times, but no one thinks to look up.   I hear them calling my name, and I wonder how long they will look before they give up.


I am in the second grade, and I am hiding from my friends Jessica and Julie and Linda.  I don’t know why I feel compelled to run and hide, but I do. 

“If they come looking for you, then they really like you.  If not, they’re just pretending to like you,” I think.  But even after they pass the test and come find me, I keep doing it, every day, till they get tired of it and stop finally.  I can’t explain to anyone why I do this, including Jessica and Julie and Linda. 

I spent the biggest part of my life putting everyone around me through that test, in some form.   


I have been “on retreat” since last Friday.  This may come as a surprise to those I work with and hang out with.  Consider it a sort of “stealth retreat.”  

You might consider a retreat to be an occasion when you go off to some luxurious, or alternatively, spartan locale and totally make a break with your regular routine. 

That’s certainly one way to do it.  But at its simplest, a retreat is just a strategic withdrawal.  You pull back in as much of your energy and thoughts and activities as you can.   You refocus.  You make adjustments.  You make an effort to see your life clearly and stop distracting yourself.

I’ve probably managed as much contemplation as I’m capable of right now, with or without deserting my post at home or at work.  Distraction is everywhere, if you’re looking for it.   I’ve been “detoxing,” and it’s been rather intense.  Intense dreams.  A lot of paper journaling.  I cried watching the Inauguration.  I cried listening to 3 Doors Down.  I cried watching Biggest Loser a lot.  I’ve cried during my commute. 

I’ve had several memories, including the ones I mention above, hit me as clear and bright and detailed as if I’m living an episode of LOST in HD, and they’re my flashbacks.  

Running away is not “retreat.”  Sometimes it’s a survival skill.  Sometimes it’s a bad habit because we can’t handle intimacy, and have discovered that intimacy has crept up on us like a stalking, stealthy bunny.  

We don’t always run away from people.  Sometimes we run away from emotions that are too much to deal with at the time.  Sometimes we run away from writing, because writing is a mirror

When you’re running away, you’re not at rest, and you can only go so long without rest. 

I’m resting well right now.  In fact, I can’t remember when I’ve had such restful sleep, even if my dreams are a bit on the wild side. 

And no, I’m not going into details about any of that.  It’s not that kind of blog.  (Well, except when my husband drops in on the comments thinking I’m discussing our sex life…)

Leave a Reply