By Jennifer & Gary French
Something’s wrong. It’s hard to put a finger on it. Some vague feeling of losing track of ourselves. Worn down by our daily routines and obligations, an undetected general fatigue builds up gradually over time…Or, maybe life throws us an unexpected curve ball, striking us with a family sickness, a loved one’s death; we are overwhelmed…Or, perhaps, life is idling fairly along, a little miss here and a little miss there, but overall, we are just fine!
These are all signs that we are overdue for a tune-up, a routine health maintenance, a little preventative soul care to recharge our life force. This is when it might be in our best interest to create some space from our day-to-day life, leave our worries behind, and reset ourselves. Ah, yes… a retreat.
A retreat is an occasion to step back from our mundane world and find the time and space to focus inward. There are many types of retreats to meet a wide variety of interests—writers’ retreats, artists’ retreats, spiritual retreats, walking retreats, silent retreats, and more. The common element among all of these is this concept of “retreating.”
The word retreat itself comes from the Latin retrahere, which means to pull back. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines retreat as “the act or process of withdrawing.” The Oxford Dictionary defines it as “a quiet or secluded place where one can relax and rest” or “a period of seclusion for the purposes of prayer and meditation.”
These definitions lead us to the heart of what going on retreat is fundamentally about: taking the time to pause and go inward to get in touch with our deeper selves, needs, desires, and goals. It is a time to readjust our perspective on life. Climbing upward out of the twists and turns of the dense forest path into the crisp, blue mountain air, it allows us to rediscover clarity and a bit of peace. We then can bring back a fresh perspective into our daily lives, allowing us to again meet our more immediate challenges with grace and equanimity.
As we may imagine, the longer the retreat, the more intense the experience tends to be. Longer retreats are often designed with plenty of unscheduled leisure time throughout the day, so we may stroll and nap as we please. Others can be intensives that might have full day schedules, carefully constructed for participants to get the very most out of this precious, self-care time.
Just as there are many styles of retreats, there are also many ways of approaching a retreat. We can travel faraway, or we may choose a shorter more convenient experience close to home. There are lots of opportunities to pack up our bags, get on a plane, and travel miles and miles away, creating that much-needed clear boundary of space around us that is so often hard to find when at home. This is what comes to mind for most—an exotic spa in a tropical locale. In an ideal world, we would be able to jet off several times a year to foreign lands to refresh and replenish. Does this mean that we must travel long distances to have an effective or transformative retreat?
Closer to home, we could attempt to simply turn off the phone and the television, let our friends and family know that we won’t be available for the next few days, and create the space right where we are. But all too often this can be a disappointing challenge as we are so easily drawn back into the world around us and the things that need to be done… the floor that needs to be cleaned, the emails that need to be answered, the dinner that needs to be made, and on and on it goes…
The long-weekend or day retreat is a fantastic way to keep both the fun and the adventure and, at the same time, greatly benefit from the structure and guidance of a formal retreat leader. Through her knowledge and experience, the retreat leader helps to create a truly healthy and revitalizing opportunity. These long-weekends or single day retreats often offer participants a kind of reset, a pause that we can more easily sneak into our life to help keep us centered and balanced. These shorter retreats tend to be a bit more focused, with practices and activities to help direct the experience and enhance the intention of going inward. Sometimes these practices are self-practices which may include periods of individual silence for reading, writing, and contemplation. Other times there may be group practices such as yoga classes or meditations. These more accessible weekend or day-long experiences combine the best of the faraway with the best of the closer to home: the critical separation of personal space with ease, affordability, and the focused guidance of a retreat leader.
In the end, the why, where, and how long of going on retreat can only be answered by you and your individual needs. Whatever your reason for wanting to retreat, for wanting to pause and connect inward, it is your reason. The new and unexpected challenges, the disorientations, the loss of one’s sense of self, and the general fatigue of routines and obligations often push us toward the great need to get away from it all. Yet once we realize the power of retreating, we can then use this profound tool as a form of preventative self-care, allowing us to find the ability to meet all that life brings us with a rejuvenating sense of peace, clarity, and equanimity.
Stay in the Know…
The Yoga Sanctuary regularly offers retreats of all lengths from the simple (and local) day retreat to week-long adventures afar. Be sure to stay connected! Follow our Facebook Page or sign up to be the first to learn about our next retreat!