Many people in our society work themselves to the breaking point, and then they seek an escape from their stressful lives. This escape is usually in the form of a vacation. However, they often spend most of their getaway feeling just as stressed as when they were working. The only benefit seems to be the addition of pleasant memories that serve as a virtual means of escape until the next vacation.
On the path of spiritual practice, retreat does not mean running away. Rather, a retreat is a strategic withdrawal with the intent to return stronger. As we work in the world, we use our mindfulness practice to stay aware of how we are doing on all levels, and we plan our step back consciously so we avoid losing all perspective in what can quickly become a life and death struggle.
The practice of retreat has three reasons behind it, each one working in concert with the others.
The first part of any successful retreat is relaxation. We must be willing to detach from the world, from all of our struggles on the playing field, and from everything that defines us. There’s an assumption this happens automatically, hence the popularity of vacation. However, you’ve probably already noticed how when you step away from work and the struggles of daily life, they stay with you in your mind. When we plan a retreat, we factor in time to allow both the body and mind to relax. Part of this time is spent tying up loose ends before leaving – this is the strategic withdrawal. For example, making sure the bills are paid, putting up an out-of-town notice on your email, and making sure you have clean clothes ready for your return to work in your closet. Once you’ve arrived at your retreat destination, consciously let go of everything, trusting that your preparations will hold all the aspects of your life together while you are away. Relaxation purifies our being, creating within us a sense of inner detachment that allows us to see the path before us with clarity.
Once you’ve relaxed, rejuvenation is possible. For many people, this is the favorite part of a retreat, and they try to jump right into new experiences. Relaxing creates a space for those new experiences to be explored without the stress of the past getting in the way. Others get stuck in the relaxation phase. Instead of stopping with the clearing away, we can fill ourselves with Light by embracing all the present moment has to offer. On a retreat, we may visit new places, meet new people, push ourselves into higher brighter mind states through meditation – or do all of the above. Part of the fun of retreat is figuring out what will provide a sense of renewal, right now. Rejuvenation rebuilds our being from the inside, creating a sense of excitement about life and our place within it.
Rejuvenation gives us the energy required to reconnect with our highest, deepest Self. While living and working in the world, it’s easy to lose our way and become bogged down by material concerns. We start looking outward and attempt to fix the world, forgetting that all we experience is a reflection of our inner being. Our perception as a separate individual tricks us into thinking we are alone, and the world rests solely upon our shoulders. That weight can cause us to doubt ourselves and make us feel as if we can accomplish nothing. By communing with Spirit, God, Source, or whatever your Word of the day is, we remember what we are: pure Light. Reconnection with this wisdom provides the strength to return to our work in the world.
For those of us serious about our spiritual practice, making time to retreat is not an option, it’s a necessity. Even when we cannot disappear for several days, we can still create a retreat whenever the need arises. All we need to do is remember these three reasons – Relaxation, Rejuvenation, Reconnection – and carve out time to step away and experience all three. We may only be gone for a few minutes or an hour, but this conscious retreat can make all the difference in our inner life.
If you would like to experience a longer retreat, join me in May 2016 at Arches National Park in Utah. Please visit DharmaCenter.com/power-trips to learn more.
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