I had just escaped from my first meditation retreat.
It was day 10 of a Vipassana course. We’d already started talking again, our vow of silence having officially ended.
I remember the gorgeous redhead who sat just in front of me in the group meditation hall, so still, so perfect.
In my mind, that week, she was a goddess. She was an enlightened being while I was a completely corrupt and desperate human struggling to scale the rocky cliff of my mind, seeking escape from the present moment through thinking endless, infinite, inane storylines.
When we were allowed to start speaking, I talked to her. She had a terrible southern drawl which knocked her right off her perfect Buddha goddess pedestal from my perspective.
Then reality hit—they told us we were to stay another night and leave the next morning. I absolutely didn’t want to. In my mind, my chakras were aligned and I was done. So I hopped in my green Mazda Protege and hightailed it down I-35 back to Austin. (The retreat was in the Dallas area.) Upon arrival in my hometown, I headed directly to see my friends’ band play at an aptly named bar, Ego’s.
I was 27 at the time. I could do that then—go from 10 days of silence to drinking a beer at a loud dive bar surrounded by friends, acquaintances and cigarette smoke. I’m 35 now and how life has changed.
I realized a few weeks ago that my life has become a permanent yoga retreat. I live at Lake Atitlan, one of the world’s most beautiful lakes, surrounded by lush flora and fauna, colorful Mayan villages and three volcanoes. This is a place I used to come to give weekend yoga retreats or merely to visit. Now I live here full-time. I also work for a yoga retreat center that hosts dozens of group retreats and personal retreats each year.
I love everything Pema Chodron has ever written, including her book, The Wisdom of No Escape. I’ve realized through my personal experiences and through working with people on retreat that retreat is a paradox.
In a way, it is an escape. It often involves getting out of our hometown and maybe even traveling overseas. It is a chance to get away, unplug and relax.
However, as anyone who has ever been on retreat knows, it is no picnic. There is no escape from ourselves and our minds. Sure, there are temporary escapes such as overeating, binge drinking, drugging, magical thinking and so on. But those are just temporary and ultimately detrimental—and usually prohibited on group retreats anyway.
Here are eight great reasons for us to create the time and space in our lives for retreat, whether it be a single day of silence in our own backyard or a month of yoga in Bali, or anything in between or beyond those examples.
As challenging as it inevitably is, retreat provides an opportunity for us to:
- Unplug from technology and reconnect with our inner being, our innate goodness and the simple perfection of this, here and now.
- Deepen and intensify our yoga and/or meditation practice.
- Connect with the glory of nature, the earth, the sky and possibly the sea as well.
- Feel the power of the group energy which usually enables us to practice with greater discipline and focus.
- Do our own inner work for the benefit of all beings without exception…including ourselves!
- Learn more about our mind’s habit-patterns and tricks and escapes. Awareness leads to acceptance and acceptance is what we want.
- Make new spiritual friends.
- Devote our time, finances and energy to a great cause: healing, soulful practice and feeling total gratitude just to be alive.
Author: Michele Margaret Fajkus
Editor: Caitlin Oriel
Image: Hartwig HKD/Flickr