Someone asked if I “practiced” what I preached”. In other words, they explained, did I pray? The answer is a quick and resounding YES!!! In fact, because I was engaged in a prayer retreat, this post is four days late and will be followed later today by two others… or possibly three.
The first definition of the word “retreat” is usually how it is used in a military setting. By that I mean it is defined as a withdrawal or, to many, a running away. Often such an action is seen as a sign of cowardice or a means of giving up.
Spiritual retreats decry that connotation. Sometimes the most strategic moves we can make are those that require us to take a step back in order to gain a new perspective or to perhaps confirm and solidify what we already know.
The musical retreat is played to alert troops that it is time to withdraw. It is usually played once new information has been received and does not always signal a definite leaving or giving up. It simply is an effective way to reach many and make them vigilant that conditions have changed which will require a new approach.
We often get such “alerts” ourselves. Sometimes it is life that is preparing us for new things and sometimes it is our own body telling us to be vigilant to how we are responding to events we are encountering. Often we ignore these but this time, I paid attention. I try to plan a retreat during Advent because it is a very hectic time of year. My purpose is not to withdraw from the festivities but to make certain I am celebrating for the right reasons in appropriate fashion.
A retreat in a spiritual sense means finding a place where one can get in touch with one’s inner being. For the religious it is a way of affirming their faith and getting a chance for some stillness to listen. In the midst of frivolity and the joyous noise of the season it can sometimes be hard to connect to our deity. It is very easy to get caught up in the consumerism of the times rather than the spirit of benevolence that the holiday celebrates.
The University of Kansas includes steps for a group retreat on its online Community Tool Box page. “Retreats can be useful for your staff, members, volunteers, or board of directors. Some of the benefits of retreats are that they can eliminate the outside distractions of your usual daily setting, build enthusiasm and commitment among your staff or members, cultivate an unceremonious, casual, unpressured mood, create a sense of shared experience and bonding to help people better work together, set aside some uninterrupted time to solve key problems, and allow you to step back and re-examine goals, objectives, and activities.”
These same goals can be achieved with an individual retreat. Embarking on an individual retreat or taking part in such a retreat even with a group of friends can be very beneficial. Generally, they involve a great deal of meditation. With a major focus on intense meditation, mindfulness becomes the end result, a mindfulness that allows one to see without interruption how one responds to living. By participating in such a retreat, we are able to realize how we respond and perhaps create difficulties in our living as well as experience a sense of freedom as we also celebrate our strengths and joys.
Franciscan Retreats are found worldwide and they have broken the practice of a retreat into several easy steps. They have also made retreats an art form, simple and available to all. Many retreat centers are free of charge, letting participants pay what they can as a donation. No religious affiliation is necessary and all are welcome.
The Franciscan retreat format follows these basic steps. The first is surrender, the surrendering of time, your busy life, and most of all, your own thoughts so that you are open to new revelations. The next step is prayer. It is this conversation of sorts that opens the door for everything that follows and so, the next step after prayer is silence. After all, if we are doing all the talking, mentally and perhaps verbally, then we cannot fully listen. The next two steps may seem unusual but they open the door for greater knowledge. They are to read and then to write or journal your experiences. The retreat centers also encourage the exploring of their grounds, communing with both nature and other people going through similar retreats. The retreat concludes with a plan to return. After all, life gives us each a new opportunity with the rising of each new day. The knowledge we gained last year was important but the upcoming New Year will give us new chances for greater insight. Making plans to return for another retreat is being prudent and planning for the future.
Sara Avant Stover is a female yogini who also teaches spiritual retreats. On her website she explains how to do a personal retreat at home and you can reach that page with this link: http://www.thewayofthehappywoman.com/my-journal/2014/07/stay-home-retreat. Chances are, though, you might already have done a mini personal retreat at home without even knowing it.
Finding a special place or time for some personal time is important as we go through life. We need to reconnect with ourselves, touch base with our own inner being. Maybe you awaken a few minutes earlier than everyone and take that time for some relaxation before entering the hectic chaos of your busy day. Many choose to read in the stillness of the night and then journal about their day. Still others take a few minutes from their lunch hour to have a few minutes of prayer and meditation.
Quite a few years ago my day was scheduled down to the last second it seemed. I was not only worn out, I was burned out. Then a traffic snarl resulted in my taking a detour through a drive-in restaurant. Realizing that none of us were going to get where we were going on time and that I was thirsty, I pulled into one of the ordering stalls and ordered some ice tea. I spent fifteen minutes reading a paperback I found that had fallen out of my library book bag and was stuck partially under the passenger seat. I finished the tea and the book’s chapter and realized I was much calmer. I began to schedule fifteen minutes for going through the restaurant and having my tea as I read. Life suddenly seemed much more manageable and I’m sure I was much more pleasant to be around. I had thought I didn’t have a minute to spare but I found I did – fifteen minutes in fact every day. Projects got done and were actually done easier and better. Nothing was sacrificed and everything was gained.
If you have missed the blog posts the past four days, I do apologize. Hopefully, we you reread some prior ones or maybe, you found your own fifteen minute retreat. There is no point in having a season of good will if it makes us lose our own.
I trained my puppy that whenever I am engaged in fiber arts, I will have to put things down before I can take him outside to do his business. The code phrase to tell him I saw his signal but he needs to let me put my work down is this: “Let me park my needle.” Earlier this week I received an alert from my body telling me I was overworked and overstressed by the holiday happenings. So I gave myself permission to “park my post” and engage in a retreat of sorts. All too often we think we having nothing else to give or time to take. Just when we think we can’t spare anything, we can sometimes find everything. All we have to do is retreat and then, in that retreat, we find that which we’ve been searching for and that which makes it all worth living.