Most spiritual and wisdom traditions speak of the power of retreating .. an opportunity to step away from the complexity of daily life and shift awareness inward. For 2,500 years, meditation retreats have been a central part of the Buddhist path of awakening.
Retreat: A period of withdrawal from the world
I have just returned from an eight-day retreat that incorporated periods of silence and community experience, group and self learning, meditation and yoga. When I signed up for the retreat (about a year ago) I would ponder its arrival with excitement .. imagining my escape from household chores (and daily life), the bills, the constantly getting up to take people somewhere or pick them up, the washing and the cooking. I would imagine great big gulps of silence, of walking in nature alone, deep peaceful uninterrupted sleep, of finding and hanging out with 'me'.
As the retreat date got closer .. I found myself focusing on the practical as a way of making it come to fruition quicker. Writing checklists of what to take and how to best prepare. The details filled my days and the days raced past.
I started writing about this preparation time because it had become a focal point for my excitement .. and then about two days before I left I realised that it was real. There was nothing really to do but dive in, let go of expectations and remain open to the mystery.
Whatever your thoughts are about going on retreat .. the experience is going to be unlike anything you can imagine
And now that I am back, I felt it wise to write a few thoughts on coming home because re-entry after a retreat can be challenging.
TIPS FOR RE-ENTRY AFTER RETREAT
Hold A Gentle Intention
On the plane trip home I was excited and energised and full of grand ideas and eagerness to share. I felt ready to take on the world with my enthusiasm. Yet within a few hours of coming home .. I felt mentally and physically exhausted. Partly due to jet-lag and partly due to being stretched so quickly. People I loved dearly wanted my time and my stories (succinct and profound), household tasks needed to be addressed, phone calls returned.
I was acutely reminded of how fast life now moves, and the level of noise and distraction. Transitioning back into 'normal' life, requires care.
Protect what you nurtured, manage expectations and take small baby steps, one change at a time
*I purposefully resisted the urge to jump onto my emails or book in new classes
*I blocked out two days for just my immediate family so that I could be present to their news and catch up on their world
*I held back on discussing any specifics of the retreat, keeping details to a minimum. Consider how you might respond to 'How did it go?' or 'Are you enlightened yet?' .. they will come .. and my typical response was along the lines of 'I am still processing the whole adventure, stay tuned'.
*Try to maintain a gentle flow of energy in the first few days home. I used jet lag as a reason to continue to retire early at night, and again for taking an afternoon nap (when I may nap or meditate or read quietly).
*Step away and breathe. I took my dog for a number of short walks just to get out of the house and feel the wind on my face.
*Avoid noise. My mind reacted with shock to the noise of life 'outside'. I chose not to turn on the TV, the laptop or even the radio. I recognised quickly that I craved silence - so I made sure I had some.
*Choice. We have such a choice of food and drink and entertainment available to us. I chose to eat well but sparingly as I had done on retreat. I also continued to drink a large volume of water, which was a requirement in Sedona due to the climate and height, but is also a good healthy practice, Flying and just general travel can dehydrate.
*Recognise those 'grand' ideas which are exciting at first but can become overwhelming. Take a breath and start with cultivating one new habit or practice at a time.
My intention for the retreat was to embrace SPACIOUS AWARENESS .. this is now my intention moving forward
Sustain Your Practice
The rhythm and the practices that were followed on retreat supported a greater sense of ease and flow, and I know that I want to integrate these into my daily life. But. I recognise that this will take time. My family life just does not function around my meditation practice and need for quiet reflection. I may not be able to match the retreat schedule that I loved so much, but I can commit to rising early for my morning practice, and take advantage of the family being busy watching TV before dinner to sit for my afternoon practice.
And if something interrupts this rhythm .. then I take that as an opportunity to continue practising kindness and compassion (for self and others) and I start again the next day.
You just have to start.
Find Your Sangha
The wonderful group of people that I connected with while on retreat, are known at our Center as 'Sangha 12'.
Sangha is a Pali word meaning "association", "assembly," "company" or "community" and most commonly refers in Buddhism to the monastic community of ordained Buddhist monks or nuns.
My Retreat Sangha is made up of eighteen individuals who live across the world. The modern tools for maintaining our Sangha is going to be a Facebook Group .. and already we have been sharing our stories of returning home, our challenges and our new adventures. This new forum of communication will allow us to keep in touch and support each other.
It can be hard to leave that supportive and attentive environment of your retreat and community when you return home. For some it can be lonely returning to an empty house, or a noisy and demanding household. By recogniseing that nearly everyone returning from retreat will go through a period of 'loss' can be helpful, as can finding your local sangha by joining a yoga/meditation center or finding other groups that hold similar interests ie. hiking, healthy eating or reading.
Reignite Your Passion
I find that the retreat process continues long after you have returned home. It is like you are marinating in your experience, and marinating takes time and patience. I have a journal of notes, insights and ponderings .. that over time I will dip into and reflect on. I have a list of things to research and learn more about, and a bag of books that I couldn't resist when I attended the three day Meditation Teacher Symposium after the retreat. There will be moments when I will be drawn to revisit these memories and times when they will be great for reigniting my passion.
*Keep a journal on your reflections after retreat to tap into in the future.
*Write a letter to yourself about the retreat experience and how you would like to integrate new learning's or awareness's.
*Book another day or longer retreat or just take some time regularly to be away with yourself.
*Find tools that you can turn to in order to engage with the retreat experience.
Most of all be kind to yourself.
*Use the tools you have (ie. meditation) to help and support your transition back into daily life
*Consider what you might be able to do to maintain the spirit of your retreat such as a hike on the weekend, a new early to bed-early to rise habit, or a day off technology each week
*Continue to find new ways to embrace the aspects of your retreat that mean so much to you. I really enjoyed retiring early at night and spending some time reading, so this is something I have shared with my family and suggested that we all embrace
*I have also posted a series of retreat pictures on my office pin board, so I can connect with the magical energy cultivated on retreat, and be reminded of how I wish to bring that to my daily life.
"To be guided by your inner wisdom, you have to stop moving, stop doing, and listen to yourself.”
NOTE: There have now been five posts about going on retreat .. and I thought it might be useful to share these in a lovingly prepared and FREE eBook which I shall have ready for you in the next week or two.