At a recent retreat i co-presented, yoga teacher Clare Lovelace from Soul Tribe mused that the word ‘retreat’ can give the wrong idea about what we do. She pointed out that some people think of it as a running away, a retreat into a weekend (or longer) that is disconnected from all the messy realities of everyday life (the cooking and cleaning, the kids to school, the traffic and the managers etc). For Clare, a retreat may well be time away from all of those things, but it is not running away from reality; it is facing it full on, just in a different way. To explain the difference as she sees it, Clare said she prefers the word ‘expansion’, as participants delve into themselves and their relationship with divine energy, expanding their vision of what is possible and then returning to their ongoing lives with a broader perspective, with more love and generosity at hand.
This reminds me of what the Navaho (or Dine, as they prefer to be known) people say about ceremony: that after we have performed our blessings for spirit, ‘beauty is returned’. That means giving thanks for the spirit of the place we live, for the plants and animals we share our beautiful planet with, and for the ultimate life force in the universe, which courses through all beings in time and space. I’ve always felt that way – that after blessings, ceremony or ritual of any kind, life looks more beautiful again, like it did when we were kids, before the business of life got so serious and we stopped seeing the glint of light off a gum leaf in a tree, the way water runs around barriers in the gutters, the simple magic of a breath or a smile.
So I went on a retreat of my own, after That Inner Glow, to spend three days fasting in the forest. Mostly alone, but also sometimes in the company of a few like minded souls, with whom I was fortunate enough to share insights, practices and reflections upon the path. Not eating is easy enough, once you are committed to it (although I did have to leave the camp area where one fellow visionary had to cook, due to his dietary requirements – there is no need for self-torture!). I was going to go the full fast and not drink any water either, but I took a doctor’s advice and sipped enough liquid to keep my kidneys functioning (500ml over three days). And rather than stay in a 3m diameter circle, as I did last time, I took the opportunity to walk mindfully around the wild forest of central Victoria, finding special trees and a sit spot, and engaging with the Country there.
We don’t get enough initiation in the modern world – times where we break out of our reality and allow a new one to break through, transforming us from one version of ourselves to another, maturing the soul and evolving consciousness. This is what a retreat is for me – initiation. Remembering myself not only as a family man, not only as a worker, or a mate to other blokes, or even as a member of modern society. But as a being, fortunate enough to be born into a primate body, capable of self-awareness, practising to perfect the art of being and becoming more human; stretching the mental body out to the stars as well as remaining connected to this physical body and loyal to the earth; keeping the emotional body open enough to embrace my loved ones and wish for them to be protected even though I know they have to make their own way too; evolving enough to open the spiritual body even while I keep playing my role in this modern society, which is too often desacralised to the point where we might even begin to believe in the materialistic world of consumerism if we’re not careful …
Retreat as Initiation. It’s a concept worthy of your time and consideration, I would offer.