Understanding Retreat


Why do a retreat?
The reasons for seeking a retreat experience are as diverse as the many types of retreats. Some seek spiritual renewal; others are looking to heal physically and mentally. Many desire a retreat specific to their religious faith, and some are simply looking to escape for a few days into a life unfettered with the daily demands of work, home and family.

The word “retreat” itself is misleading; for some it connotes escape or retreat from the real world — which is true to a degree – but it also involves retreating from ignorance, from the dissatisfied mind of attachment and from the self-cherishing thought.  These are the fundamental forces from which one must retreat.  Transforming the mind into virtue, freeing oneself from suffering and its causes: these are the essential meaning of Buddhist practice. Our motivation in any practice we do begins with wanting to achieve enlightenment for the sake of all beings. To achieve our full human potential so we can fully benefit others.

  • To develop our fundamental human qualities of wisdom, patience, compassion, loving kindness and basic goodness.
  • To gives us the time for putting into practice the teachings we have received. Practices like: meditation, reciting mantras, praying for the welfare of others, accumulating merit and visualization techniques.
  • To take a break from the busyness of our ordinary lives. We are generally so caught up in; “habitual doing”, self indulgent fantasies, sense enjoyments and our various obligations to others that retreat time is the only time we have to relax and  slow down. In a retreat situation, with all the “busyness” gone, we are forced to come face to face with ourselves, to expose our delusions, to discover our depth, to meet ourselves honestly.
  • Lastly; retreat gives us the time and space to explore ourselves, our minds and our feelings leaving nothing hidden. All habitual patterns are uncovered so we can awaken and start living life directly, truthfully, honestly no longer on auto pilot.

The Challenge of retreat
I think to some, a retreat sounds “harmonious”, but the stillness, serene settings and silence that are hallmarks of most retreats can also open the floodgates to all kinds of thoughts and feelings that we rarely acknowledge. Often when we look so directly into “the mirror” we don’t like what we see. Some feel suffocating loneliness, others feel indiscriminate aggression, intense passion or unbearable boredom. But rest assured, the inner clatter of extreme emotions and unpredictable feelings is eventually replaced by almost heavenly waves of calm and equanimity.

Understanding retreat
Some argue entering retreat is a selfish act or a wasteful use of our precious human life. Retreatants are just escaping their responsibilities, avoiding what needs to be accomplished at this very moment.

But if we take this analogy:
A person could decide to dedicate their life caring for the sick and do much good in the immediate world. But also a person could decide to first spend ten years going to (retreating into) medical school and become a doctor to possibly help in a much greater capacity. We all have choices, to how we want to impact the world. Hospitals need nurses and technicians as well as surgeons.

In retreat a student practices, works with and contemplates the teachings he has studied until he understands and realizes them fully. Then emerging only after he has acquire the tools to benefit the world in a much greater capacity.