"It's not a Retreat, it is truly a Treat" Thich Nhat Hahn
For the last 20 years I have enjoyed and committed to attending at least one retreat per year whether it be a three day or a thirty day retreat. Retreats have been an essential ingredient for my inspired connection to the teachings of the Buddha and the practices of Yoga. Unlike our daily lives the retreat setting offers us a unique context to deepen into our practice and evolve our path of insight. I have always left retreats with deeper awareness, inspired curiosity, renewed energy, expanded community and more developed wisdom. Although it is only July and the Be Luminous Fall Retreat at Sleeping Lady seems far in the distance I recently found myself reflecting on the magic of retreats and felt inspired to share some thoughts about why I love retreats and what they offer us.
1. You deserve it - Take a few moments to reflect on the effort and the energy you put into everything that you do in your life: work, family, friendships, travel, health, relationships, etc. Our lives are very, very busy and sometimes we forget how inspired and renewing it can be to take time away from our routine and connect deeply with ourselves and others. It takes a decisive conviction to know that the commitment we make to going on retreat is one of the deepest commitments we can make to our own personal evolution.
2. Community - Being immersed in our practice, surrounded by others on the path, is one of the most important anchors for maintaining and deepening our practice. It is incredibly inspiring and uplifting to be surrounded by other yogis exploring and navigating this age old practice. Being held in a space with others is sometimes the mirror we need to remember that everything we need to be happy is within us. When we intertwine ourselves with others on the path we discover facets of ourselves that may hinder us from being truly free. Sometimes the insights we see or hear from others are like magical keys that unlock hidden doorways of our own personal discoveries. Discoveries that can only manifest through the mirror of our community.
3. Deepening into Practice - Yoga and meditation are a practice, a training of the heart and mind and like anything that we hope to evolve and cultivate we must choose at times to go deeper into these practices. The retreat setting is a means of creating our "temple of understanding" that is formed and held in place by the environment and the practices that are offered. As human beings we have an innate interest in continuing our developmental explorations and the teachings and guidance offered during a retreat are meant by nature to be immersive and impactful, which becomes the fuel for our sustained penetrating evolution.
4. Connection to Nature - Many retreat centers are located more remotely and offer us access to the beauty of nature. When we are opened by the practice of yoga and meditation our energy bodies become empowered magnetic fields that soak up the healing, renewing and calming energies intrinsic to the natural environment. When our senses are open and expansive we connect with the amazing sensory dance that is occurring moment to moment surrounding us and within is. Meditating or mindfully walking in nature can awaken within us an experiential resting in the impermanent nature of phenomena and the awareness that we are not the controlling force behind life.
5. Renewing your Heart - You could interpret this literally, energetically or metaphorically. Scientific studies are confirming how sensitive our bodies are to the responses we have to life. If we respond through reactivity our vital organs contract and solidify and this causes endless health issues and depletes our life force. A single moment of peace is an act of renewing your heart toward openness. The practice of yoga, pranayama and meditation are some of the most potent practices for the accessing inner peace and holistic renewal.Through these practices retreats can be like a magnifying glass into the deeper conditioning that creates our reaction to our unfolding life. Participants commonly experience minor and major insights into the way they are closing off their bodies and minds and how the practice can be a powerful ally in the renewal of our life force. Renewal is the path to full embodiment.
6. Fine Tune your Asana Poses - One of the reasons yoga is so inspiring is because the practice is endless, ever changing and never short on creative asana variations and ways to access poses that you may currently be challenged by. Sometimes when we access a pose that we've been working on for months or years we can tap into deep physical opening which can spontaneously lead to psychological opening. This opening can offer insight that connects the puzzle pieces of our life and makes sense out of what might have seemed disparate and disconnected. The evolution and Fine Tuning of our Asana practice is a creative vehicle for: synthesizing the mind/body connection, embodying mindfulness, awakening the playful tai chai master, evoking our inner ally the luminous gorilla, flying with our playful butterfly or remembering the goofiness of a disco dancer. The retreat setting offers a wonderfully creative setting for the explorations of our asana practice.
7. Restfulness - Synonymous with quiet, tranquil, serene and calm. One of the goals of our meditation practice is the cultivation of Equanimity, which implies having a balanced state of mind in relationship to life experiences. When we relate to life in a reactive manner it is like sending little disruptive shock waves through our nervous system and these shock waves build up into restlessness and agitation. Restfulness, the opposite requires a quieting down and a simplifying which is offered by the retreat setting. We assert our attention mindfully into the practices of breath, gaze, sitting, flow and over time we become filled by the soft warm glow of restfulness. Restful tranquility is endless, free and easily accessible when we unplug from the routine of our lives.
8. Non Doing - Sometimes translated as "natural action", "just being" or "awareness mind" this is different than tranquility or equanimity because it is said to be beyond the mind. It is synonymous with purusa or pure awareness which is described in the yoga sutra. It is a knowing of that which is occurring without any movement of mind toward it or away from. The knowing of this cultivates a peacefulness that is said to transcend peace of mind because it is beyond mind. It is that which watches the dance of life but is unaffected. A retreat is like gifting yourself a spa treatment in the energy of Non doing. All of the teachings aim toward the cultivation and realization of this wisdom of knowing. All the tools in our practice; asana, pranayama, self inquiry and meditation are tilling the soil for the awakening of Non-Doing.
9. Meditation - The art of watching and listening. When we become still we are able to sit and watch and in the place of watching we are able to see to that which is calling us forward. When we are able to act from a place of awareness, endeavors are meaningful and inspirational. Watching and listening are aided by quiet, sangha, instruction, dialogue and silence. The retreat setting offers the opportunity to formally sit together and reflect and inquire on how the practice of sitting can help shape our approach to life. Although meditation can be a challenge the longer vinyasa practices and natural setting of the retreat setting foster a sense of ease and accessibility with meditation that sometimes is hard to connect with during our busy lives.
10. A Place of Learning - Sometimes when I get stuck, argumentative or judgmental I notice that often what is lacking is an openness to learning from the situation that is being presented. This closed nature leads me into a place of suffering and alienation rather than connection and generosity. Every moment of our life is a new moment and newness is a place of discovering, searching and inquisitiveness. To "know thyself" deeply requires an openness and vulnerability to accept that we are always growing and growth is a learning process. The openness that we experience on retreat is like a direct wiring into the circuit of our learning nature. A retreat offers us the opportunity to reconnect with the inner learning center of our hearts and to share those learnings with all those around us.
Michel and I and are always filled with gratitude and a wonderful sense of abundance when we co-facilitate our Fall retreat. Here, also is a wonderful description from Ruth Benfield of her experience last year.
"A fall retreat with Michel and Scott and a group of fellow yogis.....what does it do for the soul?
Michel and Scott lead an experience filled with wonderful yoga, meditation and time to reflect, re-energize and renew. Their leadership and energy make every moment filled with value. They selected a wonderful environment....Sleeping Lady in Leavenworth. This facility sits on a significant amount of acreage, on the edge of the beautiful mountain village of Leavenworth. It has been developed with individual cabins of a variety of sizes and conference/yoga space that is beautiful. They have a wonderful chef that literally makes it a challenge to loose any weight despite a significant yoga practice! Further more the grounds are filled with wonderful art surprises.....Northwest art pieces intertwined with the natural beauty of the grounds....just one example, a fabulous Chulily Icicle sculpture amongst the trees. Those were all things I expected. What was beyond my expectation was the community that was created with the 25 participants. At Be Luminous, overtime community has been built that is caring and filled with warmth....and a little sweat! However, what happened at the 2010 fall retreat allowed for a depth of experience and knowledge of the life work of fellow mat occupiers. The individuals in our yoga community are truly incredible. Each individual had a life story, a mission to make the world a better place and reflections on how to reach a personal best. To have time away from our busy lives, to have the opportunity to know others that share yoga in greater depth, to be in a beautiful setting and to have that experience led with the energy and skill Michel and Scott bring is a true gift." - Ruth Benfield