Though many modern day retreats are recreational and relaxation based holidays that focus on providing you with itineraries designed for pampering and pleasure, the idea of separating and distancing yourself from the World has earlier and more ascetic origins vastly contrasting with the present day model.
The Retreat is deeply rooted in many Spiritual Traditions as a practice for creating space in the Mundane experience of Life to reconnect with a deeper sense of well-being than can be obtained by your average modern day Vacation.
In the Catholic tradition, for example, Retreats were part of The Spiritual Exercises prescribed by St Ignatius as a way of deepening your relationship with the Divine. So too is the Khalwa in the Sufi tradition, the act of Wandering or Parivrajaka in the Hindu and Yogic tradition and its use of Ashrams as centers for retreats. Retreats are also an integral part of deep inner work in Buddhist traditions.
Retreating to a resort as a tourist for the weekend might seem vastly different from an ascetic retreating into a forest or a cave for months, but even under the trappings of Bermuda shirts and beach shorts is the potential for a deeply rewarding experience that is something altogether different than just another holiday.
Taking a page from the spiritual traditions, any Weekend Getaway has the potential to be transformed from a fleeting pleasure to a remarkably transformative time of your life, just by following a few basic principles.
Examine Your Motives
Why are you taking this trip? Aligning your reasons for going on a retreat with the intention of finding the most benefits from your vacation time starts with being honest about your Agenda. For many of us, the impetus of taking flight comes from a deep-seated pattern of Avoidance. We use our vacations to get away, to find our personal space, to take time off, to recharge, all of which are nice ways of saying we seek to run away from a perceived source of exhausting discomfort back home, which might be a job, a relationship or a life situation.
The deeper truth is that the source of that exhausting discomfort exists not in that job, person or situation, but inside of ourselves. It is something to be worked on, not something to be avoided.
Knowing this, you then start to turn your attention inward, your avoidance transforming into a strong Intention to confront, and your trip which was initially a form of escape and distraction becomes a space given to yourself for a deeply personal transformation.
You have chosen to go on retreat because you wanted to create a space away from your daily activities. But many of us inadvertently take them with us on retreat and wonder how they have come along for the ride.
One main culprit is the use of our electronic devices to remain in a state of constant distraction and engagement.
Therefore, try to abstain as best as you can from this potentially distracting tendency.
With the kind permission from your friends and loved ones, you may take this a step further to also distance and lessen your communications with them during this period, even refraining from engaging in long protracted conversations with your fellow guests.
Structure Your Personal Retreat
Either join a retreat with an itinerary that gives you what you are looking for in terms of beneficial activities, or plan one for yourself.
Avoid spending your time without at least a rudimentary timetable of sorts. This is to prevent your mind and your intentions to wander, leading you back to the pattern of boredom and distraction seeking.
Use the Venue
Many Retreats are located in breathtaking venues close to natural surroundings. Engage yourself in interacting and staying connected with these surroundings, letting the experience anchor and ground your mind. Walking, hiking, exploring, or just sitting on a stone and being quiet are all beautifully peaceful ways of immersing yourself in the Hereness and Nowness of your Retreat location.
Purify Your Body
The comfort and ease of being in your body relates to a comfortable mind. The miasma of mental confusion, depression, and lethargy that comes from a body not at the peak of its function is not something you would like to pack in your bags to take with you on your next retreat. Try a regular practice of Yoga Asana along with healthy balanced meals and avoiding alcohol and other intoxicants, perhaps engaging in detoxifying and cleansing practices during your time away from home.
Purify Your Mind
Meditation is a quiet and attentive practice that first brings awareness to your mental processes, then establishes a new relationship you have with them. It affords an unequivocal peek at why your experience of this world has become the way it is, then gives you the keys to changing this experience in a positive way.
In a peaceful resort with natural surroundings and in the absence of distractions, when you have successfully set a strong intention of making the best use of your time, when your body is at the peak of its wellness, you will have the best chances of success in this calming practice.
There are many forms of meditation and most are concerned with bringing you to the present moment by establishing one pointed focus and concentration. Pick a technique and teacher that speaks to you and gain a level of proficiency before leaving for your retreat, or find a retreat with a meditative practice as part of the itinerary.
Why meditate? To put it simply, it is the most direct way of addressing the source of your mental tensions, the ones that led you to a Retreat in the first place.
Using the time spent wisely, you will return from your trip with a priceless souvenir that is worth more than any trinket from the gift shop.
May you find your perfect Retreat and May it lead you to find Joy in Your Body and Peace in Your Heart.
Namaste and see you on the beach!
About the Author
Nithya Priyan is a Yoga and Meditation Instructor and the Founder of the Nithya Priyan School of Yoga, a Yoga School focused on the Learning of Yoga Asana in a Systematic and Structured Way that allows students to experience in twenty-seven weeks of consistent practice, a comprehensive understanding of the physical aspect of Yoga.
Priyan is leading a 9-day Retreat in Bali from May 12-20 as part of his 200 Hour Certified Hatha and Vinyasa Yoga Teacher Training Course.