I recently ran an Ecopsychotherapy intensive, which requires time to reflect upon before i can share; it was so filled with exceptional moments, deep nature connection, spiritual richness and shared community that it was truly humbling and overwhelming. In the meantime, though, the question arises: why retreat?
The word “retreat” indicates that we are removing ourselves from a situation. In military terms, it often connotes a situation where we were in danger and had to run away in order to survive. Although our situation might not be so dramatic, the metaphor holds true in some ways. Everyday life in the modern world is a hectic reality and sometimes we just want to get out of the ‘rat race’. Too often we find ourselves caught up in circumstances where we feel we are fighting just to stay alive, to keep that job or position, to keep our relationship thriving, to pay the bills and keep our kids in school or our creative juices flowing in a world where everything has been reduced to the dollar.
The seemingly unending progress of economic rationalisation reduces everything in its path to commodification: what’s it worth? It doesn’t matter if it is our soul or what is left of nature; it seems that once the gaze of modern industrial society falls upon something, it is reduced to what it can be bought and sold for. No wonder the idea of a retreat seems so sensible!
But coming on retreat is more than just getting away from a crazy world, or a rushed existence. It is about remembering who we really are; the “me” behind what I appear to be like to others, the “I” beneath the socialised self that is caught up in all those games, the endless mystery and the crying child, the wounded romantic and the spiritually enlightened person that is forgotten in the hustle bustle of everyday life. Although the retreats i run are specifically designed to enhance deep connection to nature, these social aspects of ourselves are all present too. Every part of us needs to be included in a retreat, no matter what the focus is.
And regardless of the theme, by the time we leave a retreat, our boundlessly free spirit should be shining through again, ready to embrace the world and all its madness with loving arms and a compassionate heart. The person we know we are will be more ready, willing and able to step up to the bus for work, to the kitchen table for another day of family life or retiring reflection, to get back to our creative selves and to be here now. We retreat from the ‘real’ world of rushing about getting things done in order to return to it refreshed, better able to integrate our inner sense of worth with our outer existence in the physical and social world.
So, as well as going deep to rediscover our beautiful souls and loving them back into thriving, we concentrate a bit on how to integrate what we get out of the retreat into everyday life. When we’ve experienced really deep breath without any distraction, we take that out to breakfast and remain mindful of it, until it becomes natural again. When we have rediscovered that gentle child inside and how it viewed the world without judgment or hatred, we ask ourselves how it could remain alive inside our adult lives and concerns, to become a guide just as a good elder can. When we hear a bird calling to us to remind us that we are part of nature and can regain an ability to be in conversation with it, we work on hearing that voice whenever we need some wisdom to help us make a decision.
We retreat to rediscover; then we return to integrate and to share what we have learned with others. That’s how retreats work.