View over Wallis Lake from the retreat centre.
Um, because someone or something is chasing me? Yes. Even if we don’t know it, to some extent, we are all hounded by our ego, our fears and our addictions. They keep us bound to discontent and to a flawed view of the world. If we want to be truly happy and see reality as it really is, then we must deal with these things, but how many of us do this consciously as a regular part of our life?
In my dictionary, retreat means various things, but the one we’re concerned with here is the withdrawal into seclusion; temporary retirement for religious exercises kind.
Why would anyone want to do that? To take a break from our regular life and work on removing the mental restraints that stop us being happy and from seeing the world as it really is. It’s like a spiritual holiday. You drop your ordinary concerns and enter a space where your only concern is your mental or spiritual state. You use the time for reflection, meditation and prayer (a word which may not mean what you think it does) and if you do it well, you come out feeling cleansed, lighter in spirit and mentally stronger.
Is it just for religious fanatics? No, you can have a completely secular retreat, and retreating from the world is a healthy thing for anyone to do. Look how good holidays are for us. Think of how much better than a normal holiday it would be for us to have a break where we focus on our spirit. We come back uplifted, reinspired, invigorated.
You could say that an ordinary holiday does this for you anyway, but do you grow as a person during an ordinary holiday? Do you enter a deeper level of being in an ordinary holiday? Do you work with yourself and your mind during an ordinary holiday? Do you take yourself away from the distractions of the world, or do you go to a resort and immerse yourself in the activities there? Most importantly, do you pray or meditate on your holiday? Imagine a holiday where the answer to these is yes, that’s a retreat.
What do people do on a retreat? That depends on what kind of retreat you do, but all will have some form of reflection, meditation and/or prayer, and most will have at least some periods of silence.
Yoga retreats do a lot of yoga, obviously. Formal vipashyana meditation retreats are in total silence and the participants sit and meditate for 8-10 hours a day. Though I have never been on one, I hear they are usually very strict. Public Tibetan Buddhist retreats have some form of teachings in the schedule, a time when you sit in meditation and listen to a spiritual teacher, either live or on video or audio tape. This is the kind of retreat I’m going to. It’s a very relaxed kind of retreat with lots of time for reflection, meditation and relaxation. It’s by the beach and we have 3 hrs off in the middle of the day, so you can go swimming. Everyone also does some kind of work, for example, serving food. This is the time to practice integrating your meditation into activity.
A different kind of retreat. Your idea of a retreat may be of quiet, secluded places with few people, but the retreat I go to isn’t like that, at least not for me. Why? Because most of my life is a retreat from the world, and though the retreat is a retreat for most people, for me, it’s more like a family reunion (I have gone on this retreat every year since 1997). I get all the spiritual benefits, but not the seclusion, peace and quiet I’m used to. (I live in the bush with only one or two others, no neighbours for miles; I speak rarely; I leave only for shopping or the occasional day of casual teaching and my constant focus is on remaining in a state of meditation—to varying degrees of success)
The traffic on the nearby road, the 300 adults and 100 kids and the talking to people I haven’t seen for a year aren’t a problem, (the place is quiet for most people) because on retreat I get what I don’t get at home, ie the support of other practitioners and the presence of one of the most powerful Dzogchen masters alive. I also get a time when I change my focus from the business of being an author to the business of working on myself. I also have a break from the rest of my family who stay behind.
What about the blog? I have posts scheduled. WordPress will post them at the time I have set. I may still check for comments when I’m out buying groceries (it’s not a full seclusion retreat), but don’t expect it.
Have you ever been on a retreat? What kind? Do you do it regularly?
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