|Are YOU Ready for an Alternative Vacation?|
|'Getting away from it all’ is something most of us do at least once a year. The holiday or vacation has become an integral part of our culture and something we look forward to. For some it’s a break from work, for others it’s an escape from work! For many it’s simply a time to be relaxed and contented because we often tend to perceive work as time spent in a stressful and often unhappy place. And for a few the ‘anticipation’ is often greater than the ‘realization’ simply because wherever you go, there you are! And until there is the realisation that any stress or unhappiness in our life are always self created then even the annual holiday can easily be a bit of a let-down. |
Obviously not everyone would say they feel unhappy and unrelaxed at work, however just the use of the word ‘work’ can trigger a certain …anxiety! Unsurprisingly the very idea of work still tends to attract the labels of ‘necessary evil’ or ‘daily drudgery’. Whatever it is, it seems to require a holiday!
The Original Holiday!
During the last twenty years there has been an explosion in the popularity of retreats. For hundreds of years a retreat was perceived almost exclusively as a ‘spiritual pursuit’. It was central to the quest for a deeper wisdom and clearer insight into the true meaning of life. It was a time to go to a place of solitude, silence and self-reflection. It’s purpose was to drop the distractions of worldly concerns and material attachments in order to rediscover the ‘spiritual dimension’, commune with the divine and realize ones core spiritual nature.
A retreat was a precursor to the idea of going on holiday and was made up of ‘holy days’. It was seen as a time to strengthen a personal connection with ‘the source’ in whatever way one perceived or defined such an entity/energy. Then came the world of work with the intensity of the factory, the production line and the rise of the continuously consuming society. While this was positioned as ‘progress’ it was neither a liberating nor a happy making experience for the soul. Holidays became a necessary time for rest and renewal. Some relief from the harshness of work and the working environment became an essential part of our culture. It also became another reward for working hard which, roughly translated, meant compensation for a ‘loss of freedom and happiness’.
Off to Work
On the other side of the coin, for some, the world of work has become an escape in itself. The rise of the workaholic and the action addict, as someone who escapes into work and not from work, is often perceived to be a way of avoiding the ‘more important’ dimensions of life. These can be anything from family responsibilities to difficult relationships, from the need to avoid resolving some deep psychological trauma to simply avoiding responsibility for our life. It is then more likely that either the stress of avoidance or just the perceived stress of work itself, often both, would eventually trigger a personal crisis and a search for ways to centre and rebalance one’s life. At this point the possible value of a retreat rather than just another holiday may be considered.
Coming Back to Self
Authentic ‘spiritual retreats’ are not about strengthening our attachment to certain ‘beliefs’, religious or otherwise. A spiritually renewing retreat is designed to take us beyond our beliefs and help us rediscover the innately held ‘truths’ about our self and about how to live in harmony and alignment to those truths. Truths that are already present but lying dormant within our consciousness.
On an authentic retreat, with a spiritual emphasis, the world is temporarily put to one side and the true nature of self is contemplated. Questions of identity (who am I?), meaning and purpose (why am I here?), are explored in a reflective state of consciousness. Certain practices facilitate spiritual awakening through the process of self- realization. In a spiritual retreat there is the conscious effort to bring the noise of the over stimulated monkey mind into a state of silence and stillness. Only in such a state of stillness does the quiet voice of ones innate spiritual wisdom get the chance to be felt and heard. In silence the real ‘I’, the real self, is revealed and known as pure awareness. All the many false ‘I’s, the unreal identities (with job, possessions, people etc) are seen for what they are, illusory identities. Gradually they lose their power and fall away. The true nature of being, which is profoundly peaceful yet infinitely powerful is rediscovered and restored.
Holidays versus Retreats
While a holiday is made up of ones ‘annual allowance’ of work-free days, a retreat is made of a number of what is hoped will be ‘holy days’, where holy in this case means days spent ‘beyond the material’. A holiday usually means traveling to an exotic destination in an attempt to ‘stimulate’ our body into relaxation! A retreat, on the other hand, usually means traveling to a very ordinary and simple location, to meditate and reflect, in order to end all stimulation so that mind and spirit can relax properly… at last! While the holiday tends to have en external focus with ‘sight seeing’ and visits to ancient places, the aim of a retreat is an internal focus with the purpose of ‘insight seeing’, self-realisation and the rediscovery of one’s innate wisdom.
While many will return from their holiday in need of a rest, those who return from a retreat are more likely to have a renewed energy based on a combination of new perspectives about ones self and the meaning of life itself. While the ‘holiday maker’ is often weary and drained by the ‘living it up’ life style, the retreatant tends to have a new enthusiasm that comes from a reprioritization of what’s really important in life. While the holiday tends to burn up a lot of energy with physical exercise and unfocussed mental activity, the retreat is a time to conserve and refresh our energy, learn new ways to manage ones mental activity and tap into ‘the source’ of spiritual power. On a traditional holiday rest comes with sleeping, on an authentic spiritual retreat rest comes with awakening!
Then and Now
While the ‘vacationer’ returns laden with many photos, memories and perhaps home movies of their adventures, the ‘retreatant’ returns much lighter after starting to ditch old memories, habits and lifelong patterns of thinking and behaving. The holiday experience fades with little lasting value whereas the retreat experience expands when used on a day-to-day basis. That’s because the holiday destination was some far of location, often some thousands of miles away, whereas the ultimate retreat destination is the very centre of the self which is always only one second and no distance away. When that daily journey to work begins again the next ‘holiday experience’ lies well into the future, whereas the ‘retreat insperience’ is always available in the present. Holidays become memories of ‘then’ while retreats are accessible ‘now’!
How do you Know?
In the last few decades the word ‘retreat’ has been hijacked. It is now used to describe all kinds of ‘getaways’ from a weekend of pampering at the local spa to corporate gatherings in five star hotels. While we may know when we’ve been on a good holiday how do we know how good was our spiritual retreat? Here are seven signs of a worthwhile retreat:
1 You return with a deeper awareness of your authentic self and understanding of your self as a spiritual being including an awareness of how and when you lose your sense of identity ‘in the material/physical’ world.
2 You return with a deeper insight and understanding of how life works in terms of the dynamics of your day-to-day relationships.
3 You return with a method of meditation that you can use to continue cultivating self awareness.
4 You return with greater clarity on ways to access your innate wisdom and apply your spiritual power.
5 You return with some sound advice on how to adjust your lifestyle in ways that will support your ongoing spiritual awakening
6 You return with a new perspective and possibly reprioritization of the ‘role of work’ in your life
7 You return feeling refreshed, enthusiastic and empowered to face what previously appeared to be difficult relationships and/or situations
The Real Retreat Within
If you haven’t yet retreated in real life in real time to a real retreat location here is a simple inner exercise for daily practice that may help you when your emotions flare and the stress kicks in.
Imagine yourself heading to a cave in the hills or a secluded cottage in the mountains. See your self sitting quietly in the silence of an evening sunset. The sky is a warm reddish hue. It is a windless evening and everything as still. You are wrapped by the silence of the mountains and although your gaze looks outwards your awareness turns inwards. You can feel a peace arising from deep within your being. A quiet voice whispers in your inner ear ‘all is well, all is well, all is as it is’. And in that moment every worry, every concern, every care dissolves. You sit quietly in the glowing power of your own being…silent and still… just being… silent and still …simply… being.
Whenever you need to replenish your personal energy with the power of your own inner peace go ‘into retreat’ and recover your peace and your power. Caves in the mountains, cottages in hills, Ashrams and Monasteries as ‘retreat centres’, are all just metaphors for the ‘inner space’ of your own consciousness, your own spirit…YOU! You can go there anytime. Once you have found that ‘inner space’ you are likely to discover an energy that, in time, and with a little practice, restores calm to your mind and clarity to your intellect, in a matter of moments. And then one day you will realise YOU were always ‘there’ all along! At which point you will smile quietly and nothing ‘out there’ will ever bother you again.
Most of us, at some time or other, long to find a place where the busy-ness, noise and stressors of the world will not intrude – a place which nurtures the spirit and gives us the chance to be at peace. While going on a retreat gives you a chance to get away from it all, reflect on your life and relationships, get to know your self and even create a new vision for your life, the real benefit is when you return to deal with living in this world. And when you do you are more likely to realise the true value of turning your holidays into holy days!
Question: Why do you go on holiday and what do you think is stopping you from going on a retreat?
Reflection: When you go to work and work becomes very important or get lost in action what might you be escaping?
Action: Consciously create two 3 minute windows each day this week to practice ‘going on retreat’ with the exercise above. Develop the exercise for your self.