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Defining Retreat for Ourselves

By Editor Brian Reid

For two years, Awakening Journal has been filling your computer screen with articles, practices, quick tips and many other goodies to deepen your understanding of retreat and to do more retreats. But what exactly is retreat? If you answered, “a state of mind,” then read no further and please enjoy the rest of your day. Everybody else, let’s see what the illuminating manuscript known as the dictionary has to say.

1. Retreat is the forced or strategic withdrawal of an armed force before an enemy, or the withdrawing of an armed force from action, in order to adopt a more favorable position
This militaristic perspective first sets the stage for who is involved in a retreat. The “armed force” can be interpreted several ways but let’s say it is us. The enemy is very personal but for many of us the enemy is anger in a variety of uniforms—frustration, helplessness, anxiety, bitterness or dissatisfaction. Now that we know who the good guys and bad guys are we can look at how we’re going to maneuver in retreat. It’s a “forced or strategic withdrawal” from action. Sometimes we do need to not only force ourselves into retreat but also apply some force during it as well. The approach to retreat should be uncompromising as well because it’s a priceless endeavor to take the time to withdraw from the mind-numbing action of everyday life. And get strategic about doing retreat if that will motivate you, like you’re drawing up a blueprint to your own bliss. The reason why we withdraw is “to adopt a more favorable position.” Retreat gives us a “more favorable position” or better perspective on how we can live a life of contentment.

2. Retreat is the act of withdrawing from a dangerous situation into safety
Life can be dangerous and its fragility often goes unchecked throughout our day. All we need to do is choke a little on a piece of food or hear our boss say they want to see us in their office right away and suddenly we’re awakened to the unstable nature of our lives. What’s dangerous is not life itself but rather our lack of awareness of how things are really working. Going on retreat disengages us from a “life is just passing me by” mentality and engages an attitude that looks directly at what constitutes our lives. We can do this because we place ourselves in a wholesome situation in retreat. No phone calls to make, emails to check, people to see or places we need to be. No demands, no expectations.

3. Retreat is a place of refuge, privacy or seclusion
In this context, the real estate mantra of “location, location, location” takes on a much deeper meaning. You know you’re on retreat when you feel as though you’re in a place that’s feels protected from trouble. The place refers more to the location of your mind. You want to be in a space where you feel self-contained and content. It’s simply you being at peace with you.

4. Retreat is an asylum for the mentally ill
The statistics about how well we’re dealing with our lives is quite sobering. More than 10% of American women will experience clinical depression over the course of their lifetime. 80%-90% of people who live with a serious mental illness are unemployed. Over 20% of Americans ages 18 and older - about one in five (or over 44 million) adults - suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. Some are inured to the state of their lives. Others are on the edge throughout the week. What is driving us crazy is how we’re seeing our lives and our world. Retreat provides clarity. It is an asylum, a sanctuary for learning how to live a sane, balanced life.

5. Retreat is a period for spiritual contemplation
All of us think about our lives on a daily basis. But it’s another thing to specifically put aside some time to do so. This choice gives the practice of contemplation power. Committing a certain period of time to focus on what matters most in life makes that time tremendously meaningful. When we reflect on the purpose of our lives and the changes we will make to fulfill that purpose in the world, we can simply say that we’re on retreat.

Retreat is a state of mind. You can be on retreat during your lunch break, walking around the block or doing your job. It’s applying the awareness of your heart and mind to whatever you’re doing, whether you’re with others or not. It’s embracing change throughout your day for the sake of others.


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