Sweet silence, space and contemplation. This is, for me, the heart of retreat. A retreat provides a kind of rest not found or experienced anywhere else. Quiet means no phone, no computer, little to no music, limited and focused conversation. No outside stimulation. Space means the pace is slow, nothing happens fast and there is lots of time to consider what is happening inside. Contemplation means reflection on the things that matter most. A time to shift attention from the outside world of concern to the inner world of evolution.
Vacation is often the opposite. Tons of external stimulation. Lots of excitement, lots of movement, lots of noise. Curious, too, how we often return from vacation saying “we need another vacation” to recover from our vacation. The constant stimulation of activities, people and new places can be exhausting.
Both a retreat and a vacation are a suspension from our normal routine, from our job, our daily life tasks. Both can be an opportunity to experience other places and other ways of being. Yet, where vacation is generally about seeing the outer world; the beach, the mountains, the ocean, the Empire State building, the Taj Mahal, retreat, on the other hand, is about seeing the inner world, traveling the inner landscape.
Exploring our inner geography, is often considered a luxury, a pursuit saved for when there is supposedly time to spare. It is rare in our current culture that we take the time to travel the inner landscape, but there is long precedent for this kind of travel. Traveling the inner landscape is most often recognized in religious traditions, in monastic cultures from almost every continent. Teresa of Avila wrote The Interior Castle, a treatise on her experience in retreat. Daoist Immortals lived alone in high mountain caves for years on end, charting the world of individual realization.
Over the course of this last month, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to host a long retreat. To bring the support for someone to travel the inner landscape, to find her own mountains, valleys, oceans and rivers. Reaching in and clearing away all that might block her own knowing. Such an honor and such a joy to guide and witness this kind of precious journey. Each day seasoned with the full range of emotions, sweetened with the power of revelation, each day rich with the pain and potency of true knowing.
Fact is, no matter where you travel, you cannot get away from you. Your thoughts, your sensations, your feelings go with you wherever you go. In some ways you could say that your inner world is the most reliable world, always there for you. Especially your body. Your body is an ever-present, ever-available, stalwart participant in your life, never failing to provide up to-the-minute information about the state of affairs, no matter where you are. The only real news you can use is your own.