I think we all know the obvious reason to retreat: to get an unplugged, deeply rejuvenating dose of relaxation and stress release such that we feel refueled and joyful. In a group retreat, we get the added benefit of being energized by the collective buzz of an intentional community. These benefits are certainly reason enough to retreat. And, we can see the need for doing this, more than ever, in our intensely stimulating, competitive, and stressful culture. But, there is something even more life altering about retreating. In taking retreat, there is the potential for a real breakthrough–a genuine leap in the way you feel, both physically and mentally that goes beyond temporary rejuvenation. This breakthrough can transform who you are.
Break: a stopping of patterns and habitual ways of seeing, thinking and acting. In a safe and wholesome container, away from our schedules, we set aside our external responsibilities and busy lives to attend to our bodies and minds. We have an opportunity to try on and live with healthier habits. And this break is essential for letting go and trusting the process of looking inwards and witnessing our thoughts, and more difficult emotions. These thought-emotion patterns may have been hidden behind the frenetic movement and prevalent escape opportunities at home. In putting ourselves in the retreat space, the unconscious thoughts and emotions are no longer hidden and can be fully seen. These are the thoughts that can lead us into doing the things we know aren’t good for us, over and over again. When these thoughts become conscious, we get to make the choice about whether we want to follow them or ignore them. Through: crossing or transcending into a new territory. In order to move to the next threshold of our evolution we need traction. Just like when you start exercising after a long hiatus–it’s super hard at first. But, after a while, exercising gets easier and we begin to enjoy the gain in energy and strength. This holds true for making real progress in our health through the practices of Ayurveda, meditation and yoga. The positive effects attained from daily practice give us incentive to keep going, building momentum in these new habits.
With the pause from our normal habits and the momentum of new healthier habits in place, we begin to make real progress. We will start to connect how our thoughts and actions affect how we feel. A breakthrough happens when we feel or see something so clearly and vividly that it inspires a real change in our thinking, actions, and physical state such that we are no longer in the same place. We have moved through to something new. And, this change is irreversible. We may waver and fall back into old patterns occasionally, but once we have seen this new truth we can no longer NOT see it. It pulls us forward and compels us to seek and live in this new territory of insight. This happened to me on my first retreat back in 2004.
I had been suffering from anxiety and illness for quite a while and I felt open and eager for change. Putting myself in a space, away from responsibilities, while simultaneously practicing yoga and meditation, I began to glimpse another way to interact with the world. I experienced, for the first time, thoughts, emotions and physical discomfort, in a calm container of watchfulness. Instead of reacting to the different emotions and moods, I found it interesting to see how they played out in my body. This allowed for an objective space between experience and action such that I could respond with more thoughtfulness and skill. My experience was so profound that I vowed, no matter what my circumstances, I would find a way to do a retreat once a year. I have not wavered on this promise to myself and it is one of the most important aspects of my life. Retreating has kept the momentum and motivation to move towards truth a compelling reality.
So, yes! Take a retreat to fully nourish your body, mind and heart. With the abundance of retreat topics and teachers out there, choose the area(s) that you are most drawn to and which emphasize the new habits you want to take back home with you. Take a break from technology and the hyper-doing mentality and allow yourself to fully drop into the benevolent container provided by retreat. Know that in the healing space of a retreat, there is an opportunity for a breakthrough. A breakthrough that is uniquely yours. Imagine the possibilities.