Why do people choose to withdraw from the world?
And what is a retreat?
” I felt the need for a great pilgrimage, so I sat still for three days.”
Hafiz, Persian Poet
A retreat is a time spent away from mundane distractions to seek and connect with the better part of who we are.
A retreat is often called spiritual because all traditions and religions speak of it:
- The yogi meditating in his Himalayan cave
- The monk gardening on a remote island
- The nun praying in her convent cell
- Amerindians building their seasonal sweat lodge
- The aborigine youth on a vision quest in the wilderness
- The aspiring healer fasting alone in the forest
- The elderly lady sitting in church with her rosary
- The person signing up for a detox program
- The pampered socialite wondering if there is more to life
A more or less urgent need for silence and solitude is universal. The necessity to withdraw from our day-to-day concerns, comforts and routines goes well beyond religion’s established rituals and ceremonies or any societal trends. We long to find answers to our existential questions, guidance for our confused minds, a respite from our toils, and solace for our broken hearts. This yearning belongs to everyone, from the agnostic mountaineer camping alone high in the mountain to the atheist sailor taking to the sea for a long solo voyage. Although, I suspect they may both say some version of an invocation to the great mystery of it all.
In all cases, assuming no one is coerced into it, going on a retreat is a life-affirming experience because we make the potent decision to be alone and care for our most profound well-being.
So where can we go? Sometimes we can travel to a supportive environment to stay still and practice inner listening. There are many such places. It can be a medieval monastery with exquisite gardens for contemplation and simple fare, Buddhist temples and disciplined training or an exotic location with refined services.
One resource, The Holistic Centers Network, offers excellent retreats of diverse spiritual practices to seekers on various budgets. If you want to dream and plan time away, please look at their directory https://www.centersnetwork.org/directory/.
” Within you, there is a stillness and sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself,” Hermann Hesse.
And, for many of us, it can be as simple and economical as a few days spent at a friend’s little cabin in the woods. (Please leave your electronics at home). But, for me, it is a few minutes spent each day, in the garden, with no plan or pressing task, with only the willingness to be quiet and the desire to connect with nature’s beauty and generosity.
The introverts among us will smile at the thought of being left alone for an hour, a day, or a week. And many will welcome the opportunity for silence, inner listening and that delicious feeling of being at peace with oneself and, therefore, with the world around us. And when peacefulness eludes us, we return to the breath. In time, the body softens, the mind quietens, and the heart opens.
” A spiritual retreat is a very personal experience. It benefits you physically and psychologically. It enables you to connect with the love-compassion-benevolence-energy-consciousness of Spirit.” William Bloom, Director of the Spiritual Companions Trust