Perchance to Retreat

Perchance to Retreat

Recently, I spent 3 days in a little oasis, just north of Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana (New Orleans is south of the lake, but, could have been a million miles away, rather than the literal forty). The Carmelite Spirituality Center was the host venue for a TM retreat over the long Memorial Day weekend. I wasn't really sure what to expect. I hadn't been on any sort of "retreat" for ages, and probably never a three nighter!

Transcendental Meditation (TM) is a straightforward technique derived from a practice associated with the ancient Vedic traditions of India. This knowledge was introduced to the West by Maharishi in the 1950's, as part of his ultimate goal to bring about World Peace. Understanding that a single religion could never be the driving force to achieve such a vision, Maharishi made sure to disassociate the TM technique (and other Vedic teachings) from any Hindu vestiges.

Aside: my father met Maharishi in Dublin during his European tour in 1983

My Dad with Maharishi (1983)

But, this is not really about TM. Instead, I'd like to delve a little into the practice of retreating in our current society.

Why do most of us tend to shy away from the idea of embarking on a retreat?
  • Terminology: for starters, the term has somewhat negative connotations, certainly on the battlefield, but also perhaps implies admitting that we have a personal weakness or some such thing that we need to work on.

  • Psyche: is the idea even in the mainstream psyche anymore? Or, has it ever been? Has it been more of a thing that is organized by your local church or school? Or, maybe best left to those do-gooder types that head off to Africa on a mission trip? Or, indeed, those annual (but oft contrived) team-building exercises for which everyone in the office is obliged to sign up?

  • Effort: we are creatures of habit. So, even if we get to the point where we are seriously and voluntarily considering some sort of intentional retreat, it's such an effort to break out of our daily routines. There are always plenty of excuses to put it off - work, family, other busy'ness... And, fear!

Rather than trying to work on the terminology, perhaps we should attempt to recast the notion of "retreat" to something less stuffy, something more appealing, more mainstream.

First things first, we need to redress the mindset that pervades, in countries like the USA, wherein taking holidays - a.k.a. vacation, ETO (Earned Time Off), PTO (Paid Time Off), FTO (Flexible Time Off), et cetera - is almost frowned upon. Or, certainly, taking an "extended break" of say two weeks is generally considered unusual behavior (particularly if you are in your 20's or 30's). But, of course, it's not unusual behaviour, rather it is essential in order to properly disconnect, to rest, to refocus, to reenergize.

Small Rant...
Shame on countries that allow employers to get away with the paltry 10-day annual regime for new hires, even for seasoned recruits who may have accrued up to 25 or 30 days at a previous tenure.

Once we all accept that taking-time-out is right, it is of course up to the individual to decide how to spend that time.

  • To simply vacate your home temporarily is a good start.

  • The degree to which you are willing to go outside of your comfort zone is an important choice. There's no right or wrong here. This is very subjective and very much based on where you're at. But, the important thing is to be open to this reality.

  • Formal or informal?

    • An ad hoc, spontaneous type of getaway with friends/family, or

    • A trip where you give up control and allow others to prescribe and administer the agenda.

  • Above all, I would say rest is key. Whether you plan to engage intellectually, spiritually, meditatively, or in a more physically active way, the criticality of rest and sleep cannot be overstated. Depending on the nature of the vacation/retreat, your reintroduction into "normal life" should be well planned. A 5-day mountaineering trip should certainly include adequate downtime before getting back into the regular routine.

You need to Retreat to Advance - this article is cited here based purely on a quick Google search, and is written by a professional who works primarily in the area of conflict management within the workplace.

At my recent retreat, there was intense restfulness, meaningful knowledge sharing, and beautiful fellowship. The Sisters that hosted us did so with the ultimate of respect and efficiency, along with unwavering vitality and infectious good humor. For me, their character was one of the most striking aspects of the entire experience. This was manifest in many different little ways, not least the willingness to embrace vegan cuisine (the prescribed style of diet for the retreat, albeit rather alien for the traditional American/Filipino).

Cursive is not entirely dead😊... I happened upon this short prayer on a chalkboard in one of the rooms at the retreat center.