When I lived at the monastery, I did a retreat every month. It became such a part of my life that silence and reflection just became part of my routine.
But ever since I left the monastery, that regular movement towards silent and reflection hasn’t been as easy. Instead, I have to decide to go on retreat, find a time, work it into my calendar, show up, and practice. And though going on retreat can be a challenge sometimes, I still do it.
Because when I step away, I remember why I work so hard, why I want to help others, and why this life is such a precious gift. Each retreat teaches me something new or re-teaches me something I’ve forgotten. Here are some of the things I’ve learned on retreat:
1. My Mind is Busy
It doesn’t matter how mindful I think I’ve been or how masterful I think I focus, retreat reminds me that my mind is full of thoughts. But it also reminds me that my thoughts are as impermanent and changing as everything else. When I’m having a bad day or I’m struggling with self-doubt, I remember that if I can be present, these thoughts will fade just like the rest.
2. Silence is a Rare Precious Gift
Until you spend a few hours or days not talking, it’s hard to realize how much noise you fill your life with. Every time I’m on retreat, I notice the urge to fill empty space with music, videos, or talking. Being on retreat teaches me to be comfortable with the silence. It teaches me to listen to the subtle sounds I normally miss and appreciate that the world fills all every space with beautiful sound if you just let it in.
3. My Heart Is Naturally Open
When you see the cruelty in the world, it’s easy to believe that closed hearts are the norm. But retreat shows me something different. On retreat, I find that as I sit with myself my heart naturally opens. It opens to my friends, to the strangers around me, and even to people that normally irritate me. Being on retreat teaches me that my heart longs to be open and all I need to do let it.
4. Stepping Away is Important
Perhaps the most valuable thing I’ve learned on retreat is how important it is to step away. It’s hard to get a grasp on life when you’re just going from one fire to the next. But when I take a few days or hours to pause and step into space, I discover all sorts of things that have been hiding under my feet.
I discover hidden fears, desires, and hopes that have been pulling at me. And as I uncover these hidden tides, I find I can meet them and accept them as part of who I am. All it takes is the willingness to look at your life and so much is revealed.