The Magic of Retreat

Every retreat is full of surprises. Once you’ve been on retreat, you know to expect the unexpected: maybe not a huge epiphany, but a small, meaningful shift in perspective. Whether we are retreating from something or seeking peace and quiet, something in us begins to stir the moment we set the intention to go on retreat.

One of the first things we notice on retreat is how we are profoundly connected to those around us, and yet we are having a profoundly personal experience. It is as if, to borrow from Rilke, we are “protecting one another’s solitude.”

A retreat is sacred by default. Something in us calls, and is called to. As Rumi advised, we should let ourselves be “silently drawn by the strange pull” of what we really love. Sometimes the busy-ness of life covers the ears of our hearts and keeps us from hearing that call, from feeling that pull.

Retreat offers novelty: new surroundings, new constellations of people. We might feel as if we were stepping onto our mat or sitting on our meditation cushion for the first time. We might realize it’s been a long time since we stood still in the midst of trees and listened to the birds calling to one another. We might wake up refreshed for the first time in a long time, to the wonderful smell of coffee that someone else prepared for us.

Then comes the time of goodbyes and departure, and return to the familiar. And yet something is different. We are clearer. We are better listeners; our hearts are full and we are more present for those we had left behind. We might have learned a new yoga pose, a new way of guiding the breath— or we might have learned that we love saffron, or that we have the ability to relax profoundly and hear our inner voice in the practice of yoga nidra.

So the retreat lingers lightly, casting a bit of brightness and color on what might otherwise seem like the drudgery or monotony of daily life. We don’t go on retreat to escape the everyday; rather we go on retreat to be reminded of the sacred beauty that infuses every aspect of our human life, and we rejoice.