I am just out of a three-day personal retreat that I tend to do a couple of times a year. A time when I hit the pause button on life to create a space of meditation at home. As you may well know by now, meditation is my life. I try to bring it in my daily, mundane activities along with a daily sitting practice that I have now cultivated over the years – something that I never miss, no matter where I am or how busy my day ahead is.
How many of us manage to do that – take a pause when all about us are in a frenzied rush? If not for three days, at least for a day – where we unplug our social media, computers and phones and take time just to sit, meditate, walk in nature or just do nothing?
And trust me, doing nothing is the hardest part of it all. Unplugging social media – a cinch, mindful activity– not a bother at all. But sitting silently and doing nothing is by far the most difficult of all activities on such a retreat. No wonder the Zen masters have called the mind – the monkey-mind. It is exactly that. The mind has a mind of its own! It goes hither and thither; flits from one thought to another with no apparent connection; makes the body fidget and restless and as if this is not enough, pokes its nose in just as I am dipping, after what seems like an age, into a delicious silent and still space within.
We tend to think that a retreat is going away somewhere to a peaceful location, far from the madding crowd or to a remote area where we are not encumbered with the hassles of daily living. But do give this a try too. Take a few days out of your busy schedule and turn off all phone, TV and computers. Have a rough schedule for your day and stick to it, no matter what. I have been doing such personal retreats twice a year for close to ten years. They rejuvenate me while providing a new, deeper source of energy and help give me a new perspective on life.
My rough schedule looks something like this:
Homer doing the cathartic stage of Osho Dynamic!
Osho Dynamic or Osho Chakra Breathing Meditations followed by a slow breakfast, shower etc. Then I sit for around an hour followed by some Mindful Activity which I have prepared for in advance – cleaning, cooking, gardening etc. Something that we do on a daily basis – an activity that is done slowly, consciously and mindfully. This can help us bring mindfulness into our daily mundane activities. A retreat like this is not just about taking the space and time to be by ourselves but also a way to bring Mindfulness into our daily lives.
I allow the day to unfold with some readings or Osho talks, more Osho meditations – both active and silent, sitting ones along with silent Vipassana sittings. These are important as the active meditations remove the restlessness from the body allowing me to sit more calmly and silently without the interference of the monkey-mind.
DIY – Do It Yourself
You can create your own day using on your favourite teachings, music or meditation techniques. This was the first time I did such a retreat in India. Normally I do this when I am in the UK, at home. Explaining this to some of my Indian friends, however, and my father was quite amusing. Not familiar with such a technique, they were at once shocked, amused, nonplussed and aghast that I was to go for three days without visiting my father – I am taking care of him. They wanted to know why I would not even call or speak to him and what was the purpose of my doing such a retreat? How could I explain to a bunch of people who have no concept of personal space that I needed some time to myself or that there may be a need for some time out from caring for an elderly person?
Now that I am out of the retreat, I am grateful that my father allowed me to take that space. I don’t think he had any real choice. I cannot say much to my father about how I am feeling. I am walking a delicate balance of being there for him yet not wanting him to feel overwhelmed with guilt, that I needed some space from him or that the responsibility of his medical care was consuming me hence my needing some time to myself to come back to my centre and equilibrium.
I was also relating to him personality to personality. Just our egos rubbing against each other like flint stones, creating friction and sparks. I needed to take the time to reach deep down to my love and compassion for him and not to just react like for like when he became irritable, grumpy or crochety.
I can now see how healthy it was both for him and me, to take some space from each other. I can now go back to being with him with fresh eyes and a new-found patience – something that I was habitually losing.
I wonder if any of you have done such a thing – taken some time out just to be by yourself with no connection to the outside world, taken the time to go inwards and come back with renewed energy? Would love to hear your experiences. If you would prefer to do a group retreat, there is one happening later this year at La Ciboulette in gorgeous rural France.
This was written during the throes of caring for my father in 2018.