The concept of a sacred journey is ancient. The Lakota Indians described it as "hearing with the ear of the heart, returning home like the flight of the jay." It is a journey guided by poetic images rather than maps, landmarks, or directions. During our journey we turn inward into the silence. The silence calls to us, beckoning us to cross a threshold and enter the spiritual dimension. This is the spiritual life-the choice of the inward journey as a sacred path. It is the search for the soul, and we are transformed as we travel.
Retreats are an important part of our spiritual journey. They give us time to turn our attention away from mundane concerns so we can attend to that "still small voice inside us," as the Quakers say. Retreats give us an opportunity for undiluted concentration in which we can attune our subtle awareness to our experience of the spirit. Then, when we return to the world, we can continue to perceive this presence in the midst of our daily lives, within us, within others, and in the very fabric of the world.
In our fast-paced lives, we desperately need retreats to regain our perspective, help us balance our inner and outer lives. Otherwise we are at risk for being carried away by the powerful tides and undertow of our mass media, electronic communications, and consumer culture, not to mention office meetings or our children's soccer games and dance recitals. The structure of a retreat gives us a chance to just say no to incessant stress and time pressure, so we can balance the busyness of our outer lives with the quiet calmness of our inner center.
Some of us need regular brief retreats to quench our spiritual yearning. We need the quiet time to commune with the sacred as much as we need to eat or sleep.
Steve, a forty-year-old computer programmer, was this kind of person. He knew what stress was and had seen plenty of colleagues burn out. He knew what he needed for his own sanity and spiritual peace of mind. Without his twenty minutes of quiet reflection every morning, his fast-paced workday seemed empty, bordering on the absurd, and he felt uncomfortably pressured. Steve generally preferred retreats that focused on breathing with awareness, helping him to enter a wonderful inner world of silence. After that, he was ready for anything.
Karen, on the other hand, liked to practice her daily retreats in the evening. She was a thirty-two-year-old graphic designer who worked with a group of people who were unusually warm and supportive. At the end of the day, she needed quiet time for herself. She enjoyed the variety of the retreat activities and the psychological nature of the journaling exercises. Karen would often sit in bed to write in her journal just before going to sleep.
How do you know it's what you crave?
Some people, like Steven and Karen, know they yearn for a retreat and are restless when they don't heed that call. But if you have never retreated, how do you know it's what you crave? Here are some clues.
Signs that you need a retreat:
You feel an unquenchable inner yearning.
You don't laugh as much as you used to.
All you do is take care of others' needs, neglecting your own.
Your heart feels closed.
You rush everywhere.
You don't remember your dreams.
You know there's more to life, but you don't know what it is or what to do about it.
You comment to friends that you feel like you're running on empty.
With no energy to do anything else, you spend evenings and weekends zoned out in front of the TV.
You want to experience more love in your life.
Most of us can identify with at least some of these signs, but if more than half of them are true for you, it is clear you need to turn your attention to your spiritual life. Taking twenty minutes a day to retreat will give you the silence, solitude, and sacred time to remember the divine in yourself and in your life.
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