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Mar 30
Dharma Teachings
On Retreat
 Reflections on the pleasures and value of retreat practice

Winter is such a beautiful time of year, especially in the country where the snow can stay white much longer than it can in the city. Winter is also a good time to slow down and hibernate just a little bit, which brings me to this month’s topic: Retreat.

I highly recommend taking time away/time for ourselves. What does this mean? I think there is no one answer. It’s subjective, and that’s totally fine. A retreat is not synonymous with being alone, but I think solitude is a fairly common desire when people want to go on a retreat. This type of retreat is often referred to as getting away – as in, I just need to get away and have some time to myself. Another common motivation or intention for retreat has to do with whatever spiritual/religious path you are following. It is a time to deepen your understanding and experience; this can be done alone or with others. I’ve done both solitary and group retreats, and feel that each is beneficial personally as well as for society.

Solitude. The solitary retreat. I remember when my mom was finally all alone. I use the word finally because that is how she would describe it. She was born in 1930, was the youngest of ten children, married when she was 21, had the first of her seven children when she was 22 and the last (that’s me!) when she was 39. She moved out of her parents’ home when she married my dad, and wasn’t “all alone” (as she would happily say) until my dad died in 1990. I don’t think my mom ever left the house to go on a “retreat,” but she did very much enjoy it when my dad would take the kids on a vacation. She would stay home, and have the place all to herself. Sweet, sweet solitude!

My dad, on the other hand, would go on retreats with a group of men from the Catholic church we attended. These were led by priests, and Dad very much looked forward to them. I remember he said there would be times of silence, time to study, time for listening to Father Dan’s or Father Stan’s sermons, and of course time to just be with each other, hanging out together by the fire and getting to know one another on a deeper level. I recall that when he came back from these weekends he always seemed refreshed and happier, more relaxed. I guess my dad did group retreats and my mom did solitary ones – something I haven’t ever really thought of until just now.

Personally, I find myself longing for a solitary retreat when I haven’t been able to schedule one for a while. I find the silence and alone time priceless. My solitary retreats always include a lot of sitting meditation, reading, and some afternoon nap time! I find that not talking to anyone for a weekend and not using any electronic devices is very refreshing. It can be hard too, of course, but well worth it. The silence allows me to see more clearly into my own mind and heart. In fact, the mental chatter can be quite loud, and this is another benefit to a solo retreat: you are right there in the middle of your own stuff! No one else is with you, so you can see more quickly what it is that we ourselves create and keep creating without anyone else’s help. Another thing about solitary retreats is that they can actually put you face to face with some painful realities about yourself.  But not to worry, because you can handle it with gentleness, fearlessness, and confidence in your own strength and wisdom to work with whatever comes up.

Many people come to Windhorse Retreat Center for solitary retreats throughout the year, and each person has his or her own reasons for doing so. I’d like to invite those of you who have come for a solitary retreat: please share something about your own experience of being alone in this building and on this land here in Sheboygan County.

Susan Firer is a co-founder of Windhorse Retreat Center. This piece originally appeared on the Center’s blog page, at https://windhorse.shambhala.org/blog .

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