What is Spiritual Retreat?
The Meaning and Purpose of Personal Retreat
by Andrzej Skwira
“Retreat is for those who desire to deeply realize the truth of their being and the essence of existence. Retreat offers time to step back from the course of daily life and enter into the Unknown, in an environment that provides both structure and support.” —Adyashanti
The word retreat in Latin means withdraw, step back. Some synonyms are sanctuary, shelter, safe place. Webster Dictionary says it’s an act or process of withdrawing especially from what is difficult, dangerous or disagreeable. It seems like living in the world throughout human history has often been difficult, dangerous and disagreeable. We live in the world created by a divided mind, which perceives separation and thus operates with fear-based, repetitive thoughts, always planning and seeking some future imaginary peace. Do we ever find it? What we usually find is stress accumulated by constantly chasing after something, which creates a chronic state of anxiety and a sense that something is always missing.
In order to find relief and healing of stress, we need to stop all the worldly activities, step back, retreat and just simply be. When we realize that the world created by the fear-based mind cannot offer us what seek, we turn our attention back to what really matters, the values relating to our true self. For thousands of years people of different cultures have been seeking personal spiritual retreats to find a shelter, a refuge from the world and to reconnect with a sense of inner peace.
In the Western culture the spiritual retreats have taken place in religious institutions like secluded monasteries, where individuals were offered a shelter and a practice of prayer and meditation. The Buddhist traditional meditation retreat Vipassana, which means insight in Pali (the original language of Buddha ), consists of long periods of sitting and walking meditations, facilitating insight into the true nature of being and spiritual awakening. In indigenous cultures like Native American and others there is a tradition of rite of passage called “Vision Quest”. Vision quests take place in nature, where a person spends usually 2 to 4 days in solitude, practicing silent meditation and fasting. This form of spiritual retreat helps to induce visions, find life purpose and direction, and accelerate spiritual growth and awakening.
All religions celebrate holidays, originally intended as spiritual retreats. One day in a week as Sabbath in Judaism, or Sunday in the Christian tradition is a Holy Day, a day to practice wholeness. Another form of spiritual retreat in all religious traditions is a practice of periodic fasting. It is simply an individual retreat from eating, giving the organism a needed break. A water or juice fast releases all the energy that normally goes into the digestive process, for the purpose of cleansing, healing stress, and reflection.
We often realize the need to search for personal spiritual retreat when we encounter a serious life challenge, such as a midlife crisis, the loss of a loved one, divorce, break-up, serious illness and suddenly you don’t know who you really are anymore. A spiritual emergency ( emerge and see ), as Stanislav Grof describes it in his book, is a potent time and an opportunity for spiritual awakening.
The ultimate spiritual retreat from this world is death. It is an inevitable rest from you, as you imagine yourself to be, a perceived sense of separated entity always living in the past or future, creating anxiety and stress. Do we need to wait for our ultimate rest? Is it possible to find the inner peace and live it now? There is a Sufi saying, often also attributed to Christ: To be in the world but not of it. Can we learn how to function in the world without getting lost in often overwhelming influences and demands of the modern world?
The only way to change this world is to change yourself, or rather to change the way you see yourself. Individual spiritual retreat may help you to rediscover the safe place within, something that is always undisturbed, always unchanged and at peace with itself, a true You. You become an individual, undivided by the mind, being One in a duality of the world. And when you come back home, you bring it with you, helping others to come back home to themselves, helping to change the world. Resources / Links of Interest: Adyashanti Stanislav Grof