Do we ever truly switch off or disconnect from the world in which we are living? I would argue that we never do and that this needs to change. We live in a time of hyper-connectivity, where we are seldom off the grid, and more often than not engaged in/on it. Technology, whilst it has brought us a great deal, also has a lot to answer for. So is it time to withdraw from the world that brings us so much stress and demands constant attention, is it time to attend a meditation retreat and truly switch off? In this piece, we will look at what benefits a meditation retreat can bring, and why you should seriously consider the proposition that it is time to retreat to heal.
Many will say that they do not consider themselves “broken”, so why do they need fixing? But if you ask those very same people what their energy levels are most days, or how they find their sleep, many would, if being honest, answer not great. Whilst this may not feel like an immediate danger, if you carry on pushing your body to its limits, placing it under continued mental strains and stresses, and demanding of it something that it wasn’t ultimately meant to deliver – i.e. the 24/7 state of alertness, pretty quickly those concerns can escalate into real issues. Think of it another way, if you are a fit and healthy person, you probably exercise regularly. Within that programme of exercise, in order to avoid injury, you incorporate a number of rest days. Now, if you stopped resting, and instead trained at full speed almost constantly, at some point a weak point will be highlighted and your body will suffer a physical injury. Yet these same people, smart enough to grant themselves physical rest, are intent on never letting their brain switch off – perhaps for fear of missing out. It is fed constantly with data and information, much of the same being superfluous or meaningless, and then they wonder why they can never fall asleep because their heads are “spinning”. Put bluntly, it is time to give your mind a rest, turn off and relax.
There is perhaps a misunderstanding of what a real retreat involves, or indeed what meditation means. Obviously, there will be different retreats, offering different services (and at different prices no doubt) so it is important that you properly research before booking. Read real testimonials and reviews and if possible speak to people who have been on such retreats. There is a great deal of information online and for once it is advocated that you do go and look!
Many retreats (with perhaps the exception of Martial Arts retreats) however will focus around silence. Not quite, silence! In all likelihood, you will be required to alleviate yourself of your dearest friend, and biggest problem – your phone. Now many will suddenly tighten their grip around their devices at the very thought of being without their mobile, and yes it is like a source of comfort. The phone, however, is also the reason why you may need a retreat in the first place, so whilst it will be tough, you’ll have to give it a real go!
At first, the silence will be very loud. This is because you have probably never truly experienced it. So, in an unfamiliar setting, alone, and without your phone, you have nobody to talk to, and nothing to look at. It is simply you and your thoughts. Straight away they will be shouting “stop this madness” and you’ll feel very uncomfortable. You’ve probably never spent time with yourself in this way and it will seem alien. Your brain, devoid of data will try and fill the void, and it is very good at doing so, and normally this is in a negative way. Silence will feel like going cold turkey or giving up sugar completely, the brain will have lost its stimuli, and will not be happy. Stick with it though, it is not forever, and it is not harmful, quite the opposite. If you can’t imagine a week in this state, perhaps a weekend retreat may be the best start, but if you can tough it out, the longer the better.
You may book a retreat in order to recharge, but it is also very likely that the days will start very early, usually with a form of meditation. Mealtimes, often also in silence, will feel strange. Sitting with strangers and not talking is harder than it sounds. Reading and even writing may be discouraged, the reason again is to give your mind a complete rest, away from any information overload, so that it too can switch itself off, and recuperate.
Perhaps the only sounds you’ll hear, other than the world around you, are the voices of the teachers during any lectures. Given that this will be a sole source of foreign data fed to the brain, just watch carefully how it hones it and focuses intently on the words being spoken. Your ability to truly listen will be revealed, you’ll have improved focus and attention and from this, free from distractions, you will truly learn.
There are many reasons given as to why people attend retreats. Each is truly specific to the individual in question. For some they may have complex problems that they want to address, some are looking for an escape, to retreat to heal, whilst some may be grieving or in need of some personal space. For many though, they see it as a chance to rest, not in the sense of a Sunday morning lie in, but truly rest. They go to recharge their life batteries, heal the mind and spirit, and refocus their lives and attention on what really matters to them or to regroup. No two people will have the same specific reasons, but they all share one common bond. They go to a retreat because they’ve realized that they need it – this may after a problem has occurred, or before it has developed, but they have listened to their bodies and realized that it is time to take positive action.
Is It For You?
It is arguable that retreats should be tried by everyone, and that each person will benefit in one way or another. Life is getting faster, louder, and more stressful. It is a constant drain on our physical and mental stores of energy and if we continue to live it at full speed, then at some point it is likely that there will be a crash of some sort.
So ask yourself this. At the end of every day do you feel tired; does it feel like there is an ever growing burden of demands being asked and expected of you; when was the last time that you actually spent a night without looking at your phone, or watching mindless television to distract you from the world in which you are existing; when did you last truly pay attention to something, at a non-cursory level; do you consider that you live your life in perspective; and finally can you carry on like this for the rest of your life?
These may seem like dramatic questions, indeed they are a little frightening, but your life matters, you matter, and just as you wouldn’t train your physical body every hour of every day because you realise it is dangerous, you need to consider the harm that you are potentially causing yourself day to day by never switching off your mind.
Let’s look at it slightly differently. Wouldn’t you like to spend a day without having to check your phone for updates, likes and follows? It would be great would it not to be able to sit in silence and just be with your thoughts, to find a clarity and perspective on what has happened and your plans for the future? Being disconnected from the pointless noise that the world offers sounds idyllic, and being free of worries, fears and concerns sounds like a great state of mind to have, doesn’t it? So instead of fearing the unknown, embrace and experience it. Give yourself the “real” break that you need, switch off, recharge, recuperate and refocus so that you can come back sharper, smarter and above all happier. Is it not, therefore, time that you considered a retreat to heal?