The local retreat
– from Isabella Rossen, Amsterdam, 11.05.2020

A postcard from a retreat: Usually this would imply a card sent from a location far away from the hustle and bustle of our “everyday life”. People travel long distances to retreats, to find peace of mind or a spiritual connection with the world. Somehow we have come to see such a stretching of the mind as better possible when disconnected from the daily routine we experience at work and at home.

Not this postcard, sent today. Though a postcard from a retreat, it is one not voluntarily sought for in an unfamiliar place. Instead, it is a local retreat; we are collectively in a retreat exactly to the core of our domestic lives, to our apartments, houses, balconies and gardens. A retreat that includes all the daily routines, is confined to only familiar spaces and puts us in touch exclusively with recognizable faces.

The home retreat has created a moment to rethink and refocus, within our local spheres. Now that we cannot travel through space, we are urged to pay more attention to our direct surroundings: our homes, but also our neighborhoods, cities and countries. As borders closed, our perpetual desire to move and keep moving, to accelerate and keep accelerating, has been abruptly forced into capitulation. A painful and non-voluntary retreat. We are not used to standing still, and the lack of possibilities to move physically seems also to affect our mental capacities to stretch.

By experiencing a reduced mobility, our understanding of local also changes. Suddenly we have become so much more aware of what it means to cross a border. We are asked to be more consciously local than we have ever been in our lives: to stay in our “own” immediate surroundings; to help our neighbors; to support our local businesses.

But what does local mean, it has made me wonder. What does local mean in a highly interconnected globalized world? What does local mean stamped in English on the window of an international chain-store in my neighborhood, which sells goods produced all over the world? And who is local where? Am I – born in Amsterdam, but raised in different places – more a local than my upstairs neighbor from Thailand, who has lived here for several years?

How far does local span? Can we draw a radius around us and measure it in kilometers? Does it relate to the source of something or the roots of someone? Is local something physical and/or more imaginative and spiritual? And can the mind also be stretched within its “local” and familiar surroundings? Of course we are digitally more globally interconnected than ever, allowing us to keep working and relating across borders. I hope the current retreat within the local and national, does not make our minds retreat within these borders too.

And, I am ever so happy with my bicycle, standing in front of my doorstep, always ready to take me just a little further away, show me just a bit more than my own home and neighborhood.