Why do we go on retreat? I had a conversation about this and wanted to share some of it here.
This weekend I am taking a personal retreat – for 2-3 days I will go into silence and be by myself and focus on spending the time in ways that nourish me on a spiritual level. For many years now I have done this at least three times per year. I find it essential given the work I do. All week every week I am teaching meditation and working with people helping them to focus on their spiritual lives and steer their transformational process. It’s wonderful life. I work in beautiful serene environments, work with lovely people, and get to go to the retreats that I lead all year round all over the world. I could not do this well if I didn’t ensure that I had my own times for retreat.
As you may know I am enjoying the great bliss of being a new dad. My son, Jackson Kabir, just turned 3 months old. He is an amazing being, to say the very least. Anyway, the other night I was speaking with his momma and realized that it had been over a year since my last personal retreat. My schedule and focus got swept up in the pregnancy and early days of Jackson’s life.
It is time. I’m teaching and working with others more than ever before. In some ways, it is impossible to even think of. I have more responsibilities, I don’t want to be away from my new family. And they don’t want to be away from me. It’s hard for his momma when I am away. As it is, my work has me traveling much of the year. It would seem to make more sense to spend the weekend catching up on work around our house, or just spending down time with the family, or catching up on office work, or working on my book. But when we spoke, it was clear to all of us that the whole equation will be hugely served by Dada taking a few days in the woods.
What triggered it was that I was referring to working with my students as “work”. Instead of saying “I’m meeting with Jennifer in the morning” I said “I have to go into work in the morning.” I suddenly woke up to what I was feeling. That, instead of being immersed in a life of service and wonder and transformation, I was “working”. I was going to apply my trade and get paid. Of course, working with Jennifer feels a lot better than working at Wendy’s, but still, that is not what I am about. Jackson’s Momma knows me very well and even though it will be her alone with the baby and the house and the many things to do, she insisted that this Father’s Day, Harshada’s on retreat.
My “work” is a gift. I was blessed to find my way onto a path of awakening and transformation, and have been given the gift to have this vocation, this calling, to help others find their way on the path. Even remembering that was enough to snap me out of the trance of tiredness I was in. Even still, on Friday I am heading for the woods.
My retreats are incredibly simple. During my training years, I would do retreats with groups and enjoy them hugely, now I like to be in solitude. Wherever I am I find a place where I can be left alone and where there is a high vibration. In India, I have retreated in dusty little sacred villages or engaged in multiple day Vedic rituals. When I am here I go somewhere outside of the city where I can find some wilderness. These retreats are different than vacations. There is rest involved, but also some focus. When I need retreat, lounging by a pool with a novel wouldn’t give me the spirit medicine that I need.
I usually like to practice total silence, even if I am in a place with other people. I also eat very simply, partly to minimize food gathering/preparation time. On retreat I want maximum time for reflection and practice. I usually do a good deal of sitting meditation combined with walking and focused journal writing. Sometimes I will also bring a yoga mat and do some yogasana practice. Sometimes I will bring an important book. I think on this weekend’s retreat I will bring a new volume of Rumi poems I just received from a dear friend.
Retreats are where we can process deep stuff. During our day-to-day, because we need to keep moving forward and taking care of business, we “shoulder” stuff: concerns, feelings, pressures, dark thoughts, desires. When we slow down in the un-distracted space of a spiritual retreat, we un-earth these energies. If we know how to do it well, we can use practices like contemplation and meditation to relieve these energies and get free from them.
Our group retreats use contemplation exercises and discussions to do this un-earthing and processing. When I am alone, I like to do long sessions of focused prayer for this. From meditation, I will shift into a space of heart where I can pray or “offer up” whatever I need to spirit. I pray for things in my life, I pray for my students, I pray for my own clarity. I try to make this process complete, meaning, that I leave the retreat truly unburdened by anything I was shouldering. I use the retreat time to put what I cannot shoulder into Spirit’s hands.
So what are you shouldering? You may not even know until you get to the retreat. Our next retreat is a 5 day retreat at Omega Institute. Five days is a good chance to find some deep relief. If you’ve been on retreat with me, you already know. If you haven’t, then, I hope you can find a way to experience it. It feels like a big “give”. The money, the time away, etc. It feels like turning your back on your “responsibilities”. But our retreats aren’t like that. They are all about getting the juice flowing in your heart so that you can engage fully in your life. You renew your creative energies. You renew your love muscles. If you want to see more about joining us at Omega in July, click here.
Anyway, pray for me this weekend. Imagine me smiling in the woods.