You may have heard this advice if you ever go on a mindfulness retreat: Leave your phone at home. It's true now more than ever, but now there is a gadget you could bring with you to help you stay focused, and it's not too much of a distraction.
I'm talking about the Amazon Alexa bot, which is included with speakers like the Amazon Echo and even a new pair of eyeglasses. The idea is to get away for a while and write notes and thoughts down. I've been a fan of journaling for years, and once wrote about a popular morning routine that involves a set process of writing notes for seven minutes. However, having a bot can make a mindfulness retreat even more rewarding.
Here's how it works:
First, make sure wherever you go that you can connect to Wi-Fi and use a power outlet, and that the Amazon Echo is configured and ready to use. That might mean using the same Wi-Fi network name as the one you normally use, or it might mean bringing your phone only to help you with the setup. (Avoid the temptation by then putting it in your car.)
Bring a journal and pen as well, but not much else. A few snacks and an overnight bag if needed, but try not to bring extra books, magazines, or other materials. Go light and slim, unless you're specifically wanting to read books (which is a different type of retreat).
Go to a quiet place such as a cabin. I tend to go to state parks in my area where there is a public lodge I can use for free, and I go on a Monday or Tuesday when no one else is around. (In the winter, I've been able to use the fireplace in the lodge as well.)
You really want to set aside time to write down your thoughts, go for walks, and think about your future plans. It's also a good idea to write down notes about your past accomplishments. My colleague Minda Zetlin has some great tips on how to do a mindfulness journal more effectively. The journal and pen are your way to simplify the experience as much as possible and to focus on walking and hiking.
I've done a day retreat before and it usually involves maybe three or four hours of hiking and around two hours of taking notes. The time goes by fast if you're intentional about your goals, idea generation, and self-awareness exercises. Before you even start, decide to fill a certain number of pages in your journal, to make at least ten long-term goals, and to fully evaluate at least five life experiences and projects. Keep busy the entire time.
Okay, now for using Alexa. For starters, if you are in a cabin or a private lodge of some kind (or even in a hotel room), use Alexa to play some relaxing music. You can ask Alexa to play ambient music or even night sounds and background noises.
Another way to use Alexa on a mindfulness retreat is to speak notes to yourself. I recommend an app called Daily Log for this, which allows you to record memos and then have Alexa read them back to you. There are quite a few other notes and journaling apps. Once you are home, you can then review all of your notes.
Of course, Alexa is also there to answer any questions you have. I recommend skipping questions about the weather or a stock report. Instead, if you're pondering your future, you can ask about plans. For example, if you're thinking of a move to a city, you can ask about the weather there. Not to plug the shopping options on an Amazon gadget, but I've been known to suddenly feel the urge to purchase a certain book or even new pair of running shoes. Alexa can even answer life questions. I tried the question "how do you stay productive in life" and Alexa gave me a long series of tips.
You can also set reminders. Say you want to write a new business plan for your startup. You can ask Alexa to remind you to do that on a certain date in the future. Along with the notes, the hikes, and the fact that you can spend long periods of time thinking and planning, a mindfulness retreat is an excellent way to figure out what you really want to accomplish and the direction you are heading.