I Need Some Space

Local author Melanie McGhee wants you to take a step back

by Leslie Wylie

Take a load off. Get out of town. Do what you feel like doing. Pay attention to your own needs.

Yeah, right.

In the maelstrom of our fast-paced modern world, such commands sound great in theory, but somehow we never quite get around to putting them into practice. You know, it's just that we have so much stuff to do â" calling a time-out feels counter-intuitive. After all, Rome wasn't built while the Romans were on vacation.

And so the pressures continue to swell, and try as we might to pound them into submission, we're usually the ones that end up taking a beating. The human psyche, with its relentless appetite for complication, can be its own worst enemy. But according to Knoxville-based psychotherapist and life coach Melanie McGhee, it can also be a new best friend.

In her just-released book, An Illumined Life (Hickory Hill Press, $27.95), McGhee asks her readers to do the unthinkable: to give themselves a retreat. That's right, a quiet, reclusive weekend with no TV, no email and no doing laundry. Whether the reader decides to hole up in a mountainside cabin or the living room is up to them; the important thing is that they're in a space where they feel comfortable and free from the tangles of day-to-day life.

â“For thousands of years and in most spiritual traditions, retreat and reflection have been honored and celebrated as two vital means of reconnecting with oneself and with a Higher Power,â” McGhee writes in the book's introduction. â“Retreat is also a time of refuge and seclusion, a time to withdraw from daily routines and reflect on life... Alchemy takes place on retreat and forever changes us.â”

In An Illumined Life , change is a direct byproduct of increased awareness. Fittingly, the book doubles as a guide, a conversationalist of sorts, asking questions and listening for answers via its workbook-style format. One after the next, chapters guide the reader through a journey of self-reflection, gently nudging him or her to identify his or her personal values, motivations, passions, intentions, challenges and goals. â“What fires me up? What things do I feel most passionate about?â” one such question asks, followed by a big, airy blank space begging to be filled in. â“Remember to trust your first response,â” McGhee reminds at the opening of each interactive question-and-answer session.

The book reaches deep into every corner of the reader's life, no matter how dusty or neglected. No aspect of livingâ"from work and career to spirituality to interpersonal relationshipsâ"is left untouched, and there's as much space for evaluating the past as there is for exploring possible futures. Working through the book, self-revelations surface freely as the reader comes face to face with the reality of his or her own life and the conduits of change that may be available.

McGhee, herself a busy psychotherapist, wife, friend and mother of two, began writing An Illumined Life after more than 15 years of perfecting the art of the personal retreat herself. â“Before the retreat,â” she writes, recalling the first time she decided to take a solo weekend away, â“I felt unconscious, disconnected, and completely carried away with the routine and busy-ness of running my life. â‘Running' is the operative word here. Because I was always running, I no longer felt the inherent joy of living life consciouslyâ After my retreat, I felt totally present. I started showing up for my life in a new way.â”

Throughout the book, McGhee's narrative voice is as calm, soothing and sincere as the content it is communicating. Her use of metaphor is as deliberate as it is intuitive; even her comparison of life to a river that we're obliged to navigate somehow transcends sappy cliché.

But you don't have to be a flaky, New-Age devotee to appreciate McGhee's counseling. An Illumined Life retains an element of groundedness that practical-minded readers will find engaging, and the text is always inviting, never pushy. It's clear that McGhee isn't trying force her own belief system down anyone else's throat: When offering suggestions and questions aimed at helping readers connect with their spiritual life, for instance, she chooses her words carefully, encouraging readers to use whatever name they personally see fitâ"be it God, Love, Lord Shiva, or anything elseâ"to describe what she calls the â“Divine Presence.â” In essence, McGhee gives readers permission to feel what they feel, believe what they believe and, most of all, respect themselves. â“The river moves at its own speed,â” she writes. â“Try as you might, pushing the river won't change the river; it's better to practice accepting the river. In the same way, it is better to practice accepting yourself.â”

So call a time-out already. For once, give your own well-being the undivided attention it deserves. Believe it or not, you're worth it.

Melanie McGhee will be reading from and signing copies of An Illumined Life at Hargreaves this Saturday, May 5, at 2 p.m. For more information, visit www.retreatandreflect.com .


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