I recently returned from being “on retreat”. Some of you will be (very) familiar with what that means, but this is more for the curious onlooker – people thinking it either sounds like a defensive military manoeuvre or heavenly bliss.
What is a retreat?
It’s anything from a couple of days to, in some cases, many months during which you change the routine of your normal day-to-day life with all its preoccupations and interruptions, and focus on other things.
Usually this means going somewhere away from home, somewhere quiet and supportive of your intentions. In my case I went to Dhanakosa for a week – a retreat centre in the Trossachs. Here’s a short timelapse from Dhanakosa earlier in the year:
Who goes on retreat?
Absolutely anyone! On my retreat there were 11 men and 9 women, aged from twenty- to sixty-something. Some buddhist, some not, and from all walks of life. (Here are the faces of all the wonderful people on retreat with me last Spring.) What we had in common was a desire to simplify our lives for a while, quieten our minds, and see what might bubble up as a result.
What do you do on retreat?
Every retreat has its own priorities, which depend on the experience of those attending and sometimes the specialties of the leaders. But there are common ingredients: group meditation, talks and presentations, extended periods of silence, and plenty of time simply to do your own thing.
I did a lot of reading and a lot of walking. In fact, I walked in a way that I haven’t for many years – with no particular direction or goal. I just wandered out the gate and along the road beside Loch Voil, occasionally stopping for a while just to take it all in, or turning onto forest paths on impulse. The last time I roamed like that was when I was a child.
For me, the time and distance a retreat provides helps me see the bigger picture of my life, see more clearly what matters and what doesn’t. And if I feel the need to make some changes or decisions there’s a better chance I’ll be wise when I do!