A retreat serves the body, mind and spirit by allowing time to find greater inner peace. When you find inner peace, you move the world toward peace. This is why it is vital to escape from the world's bombardment of sounds and images and take time for the mind and heart to come to stillness.
People go on retreat for a number of reasons that generally focus on positive personal change:
- Reconnect to your true self
- Learn and practice methods to better yourself and your life
- Relax at a deep level
- Rejuvenate your Spirit
- Take time for reflection
- Gain clarity on an issue or your life path
- Find meaning in your life beyond daily or material concerns
- Practice your Faith
Types of Retreats:
Retreats vary as widely as the people who go on retreat. Sites for a retreat include spas, cabins, monastery guest houses, hot springs, ashrams, zendos, and bed and breakfasts. Some people prefer to go to a non-place for a retreat, such as an isolated camping spot. A retreat can also include activities like vision quests and pilgrimages. Services for retreats range from fully catered organic meals, to facilities where you bring your own food and cook your own meal; from full room service, to not only having to make your own bed, but also change the sheets for the next guest; from expressive actions and singing during classes, to required silence at all times (but most retreats are very quiet places that focus on contemplation, even if group sessions get rowdy.)
Who Can Retreat?
Personal retreats are most often taken alone, because a solitary retreat allows for the greatest time for self-reflection. Group retreats often focus on classes or events, and are therefore more suitable for groups of people. Some retreat centers require that each person retreat as an individual; others allow couples and groups to share accommodations; still others separate people based on gender.
Most retreat centers are affiliated with a religion. Some require that you adhere to their faith, others are open to all faiths. Some centers require that you participate in services and activities even if you do not adhere to their faith. The "Faith" category in the listings on Retreat Finder indicates the faith of a retreat center and if the center is open to people of other faiths.
Some retreat centers require that you to perform some amount of work exchange or chores such as washing dishes. This is often why the cost of the retreat is so low. The "Work Exchange" box on the Accommodations tab of the listings on Retreat Finder indicate if a center requires these small services.
What to Wear on Retreat:
Casual, comfortable clothing is appropriate most retreat centers. However, clothing requirements can run the gamut from special clothing for religious services, to no clothing for hot springs. If you are traveling to somewhere unfamiliar, you may want to check with the retreat center about the local weather so see if an extra sweater or umbrella is needed.
What to Bring on Your Retreat:
Retreat centers vary so widely, some are like camping, others are closer to resorts. Therefore, please inquire with the retreat center if you need to bring special items such as flashlights, bathing suit, yoga mats, zafu, etc.
We hope that this information is helpful to you. If you have any specific questions, please feel free to ask the retreat center you are interested in attending. Retreat Center staff are welcoming and kind, and are willing to answer any question you may have.
What Others Say About Retreats:
The following is an ever growing list of quotes from various writers about retreats.
Concerning Meditation and Retreats
This awakening of the awareness of your own being is freedom, because it frees the mind from its tendency to become obsessed with things, people, etc. It will bring the being who has been lost in the world into focus. You will begin to see not only the world you are involved with, but also the being, you, who are involved in it, as they are. This awareness will result in the experience that your existence is a gift, a blessing, a joyous continuum. The pain and suffering we go through in life is a result of our obsession with the world, while not seeing the true nature of the world or ourselves. Simply, this unawareness of our true nature is the source of all the pain in life.
Venerable R. Somaloka, Australian Buddhist Vihara
Concerning Silent Retreats:
Silence is the soul's oxygen, "the true friend who never betrays," wrote Confucius; "the one and only voice of God," according to Melville. In silence, you can hear your soul's guidance.
From Entering the Castle by Caroline Myss, Free Press, NY, NY 2007
Concerning retreats in general:
The alchemical vessel of meditation retreat is very powerful. The Tibetan word for retreat, samlado, means, literally, "to sit or stay within boundaries," and the retreat situation is a place where the boundaries within which you live are defined specifically for the purpose of meditation. These boundaries may demand not speaking, not reading distracting literature like newspapers, and meeting only specific people. There may be defined geographical boundaries beyond which you do not go, and specific activities performed each day. The body, speech, and mind are placed within this context- the vessel- and whatever arises from the unconscious is what you work with. So long as you maintain your self-discipline, the energy of whatever arises is held, and transformation can take its course. This can make retreat uncomfortable, particularly over long periods.
In one retreat of over six months, I experience weeks of powerful sexual fantasies principally resulting from the deity I was practicing, which was intended to evoke and transform such feelings. For a while I found the intensity of energy almost intolerable, but by remaining within the clearly defined retreat boundaries, and giving the energy a vehicle for its transformation in the meditation practice, the intensity eventually began to subside.
After a time the fantasies ceased, and I noticed a change had gradually taken place through the process of meditation. The wild, crazy energy that had been evoked was changing into something much freer and more blissful. The bliss was accompanied by an openness or spaciousness that enabled it to be experienced without the grasping that would turn it into sexual desire and frustration. I sensed that for the first time the wild, uncivilized rawness of my sexual energy was falling within my own control rather than my being its slave.
In retreat the practitioner enters a process that is an intense example of transformation. The practitioner is the prima material, and in one sense the body is also the container in which the transformation takes place. The body is the vessel that contains the elemental forces of the unconscious; the emotions, the instincts, and their related psychological patterns and impulses. The use of deity practices and ritual sadhanas (methods of transformation) in Tantra give a focus to retreat and act as a catalyst for transformation. They provide the forces awakening within the body with a symbolic vehicle through which they can be channeled. When undertaken skillfully and with guidance, retreat can be a profound experience in which the retreat boundaries exist to support the inner process.
From The Psychology of Buddhist Trantra by Rob Preece, Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, NY, 2006.$18.95
After a two-week intensive retreat earlier this month, I was contemplating the difference between daily practice and retreat. I mentioned this to music therapist Christine Stevens and she replied,'It's the difference between taking a shower and immersing yourself in a long bath.'
Daily practice - the quick morning shower - refreshes mind and body, allowing moments that restore us to stillness and wellbeing. It's necessary maintenance that keeps us awake.
Retreats, on the other hand, whether they focus on meditation, yoga, or other modalities, allow for deeper immersion- the long bath. Here we can sink deeply into our practice. Retreats empower us to develop our meditation skills and rewire our nervous systems, shedding habitual patterns no longer useful to us. After a good long soak, we leave infused with a renewed sense of peace and confidence, and a healthy pride in our practice.
Brian Spielmann, Outreach Coordinator, Shambhala Mountain Center
How to Retreat:
Details on how to conduct a retreat- Tibetan Buddhist style- from Diamond Mountain