Big collective sigh! Finally the hustle and bustle of Christmas have passed and there is some spaciousness to reflect and embrace a whole brand new year.

And I shall be leaping into the deep end of new beginnings by leaving my ‘normal’ life behind to attend an eight day Meditation Intensive Retreat in another country.

This is the final and beautiful completion of a year of study with the McLean Meditation Institute Teacher Training Program and I am exited.

Over the years I have attended a number of retreats .. from simple one/two day periods within the bounds of Noble Silence, to weekends spent living mindfulness and meditation in all its many flavours, to longer meditation, and sometimes yoga, retreats .. hours filled with silence, sitting, yoga, sitting, writing, walking and sitting.

I am even eager to start the 22+ hour flight and bus adventure, as it will lead me to a new land filled with red sandstone formations, Native American history and energy vortexes that the area is well known for. I can’t wait to meet the other retreat participants, some of whom I have had Skype chats with this year, continuing to learn and share meditation, and diving into some internal shaking-up that happens when we dive deeply into a transformational experience.

I am also very aware of the responsibilities, routine, schedules and commitments that I shall be leaving behind .. so I am truly in the midst of planning to make sure family, dog, house, bills etc are sorted so I can truly detach myself for a few weeks!

What is a Retreat

The dictionary definition of the word ‘retreat’ is:

the act of withdrawing, as into safety or privacy; retirement; seclusion; a place of refuge, seclusion, or privacy

When we engage in a meditation retreat we are withdrawing from our ordinary life, our responsibilities, our labels and our day to day activities – physically by leaving our environment, home and work, our comfort zone, our entertainment toys and our ‘things’; and mentally by letting go of anything unrelated to our meditation practice, giving ourselves permission to drop the ‘to-do-lists’, stop the mental chatter and ruminations, so that we can retreat inward.

A retreat is a rare and magical opportunity to pause and be still, to rest and heal, to reflect and ignite our spirit

It’s a little like a cocoon; we have this heavenly place of peacefulness to withdraw too, often in locations chosen for their inspiring natural beauty, close connection with nature and wildlife, offering expansive terrains with spaciousness and time for reflection .. removed from most of our habitual distractions and excuses. We are tended to physically with our meals lovingly prepared and our immediate ‘survival’ needs accommodated .. and tended to mentally with committed teachers and the support of other retreat-ants.

Mostly however it is the silence that we soak ourselves in that changes us when on retreat. We have an opportunity to marinate in the infinite silence, so that our sense of time and self melt away and we settle into a much simpler pattern that supports and nourishes our meditation.

In that stillness we begin to hear our heart and soul whisper to us .. and suddenly someone seems to have flicked a switch, as life amplifies around us .. it is brighter, the wind in the trees becomes music, the birds sing sweet messages to us, the aroma of earth and food lovingly being prepared calls us, walking along the bush track brings us to tears in its magnificence, and our day is often peppered with ah-ha moments as mindfulness becomes part of each breath in each moment.

But. Retreats are also challenging

In the retreat cocoon .. we eventually whittle away the ‘fluff and the bubble’ of our distractions and are faced with the bare bones of what is left. There can be periods of intense emotional upheaval, unresolved feelings that bubble to the surface and demand that we paid attention. Old hurts, fears and sadness can arrive with a big bang and stay with us uninvited. Boredom seems to consume us and personal stories take on epic proportions .. there is a heightened sensitivity to everything around and within us.

This is the transformational quality of being on retreat .. a purification occurs and as we ‘bear witness’ to what unfolds and integrate our experiences we begin to emerge from the cocoon with a new appreciation and awareness of life.

Next up I will share some Tips on Preparing for a Retreat.