To go on retreat, you have to be brave. ..or foolish.
To set aside unstructured time, three or four days of it, without the scaffold of busy-ness to hold everything together – it isn’t normal and possibly quite dangerous.
And surrounded by people you don’t know! Can it get any worse?
And they all look either dull or mad, this is the thought on the first evening….though in my experience, it takes less than twenty four hours for judgements to melt and community to form.
But on the opening evening of my recent Beautiful Life retreat at Llangasty, you can be sure there are at least four people in the circle thinking, ‘Why the hell did I come? This is the last place I want to be.’
So everyone has their escape plans: ‘I don’t usually last more than a couple of days on retreat,’ someone jokes on the first evening. They need to put down that marker to feel safe, and fair enough.
Sometimes some deep and unknown lower case wisdom takes us to a place; and then on arrival, our upper case terror drowns it out and it seems just the worst idea.
Such bravery not to run out of the door there and then!…especially if the retreat leader is not soothing my carefully-maintained self-image.
‘Soothe my self-image – or else!’
I mean, sometimes our self-image is all we seem to have, there’s not much else going right in our lives; and so to have it questioned or undermined – it’s not the best feeling.
Though beyond my tired self-image, polished with increasing difficulty, is a joy and energy I’ve lost; and many discover this on retreat, and with some liberation… while others close up.
Yes, the terror wins sometimes; you watch the drawbridge of the soul raised in some as one day becomes another.
‘Nothing fresh allowed through!’ say the old psyche guards.
Another time, perhaps, it’s not everyone’s moment; and there’s a season for everything…
But meal times buzz, with our view across the lake; and the silence is deep in the meditations; the walks, wonderful; and the honesty in the sessions compelling.
And no one mentions Brexit, because sometimes the news behind the news is more important.
In a climate of safety and acceptance, we dare to contemplate the truth of ourselves, the mess and the magic, the place to which our journey has brought us.
And with the mist on the mountains of Brecon, we ponder trust; the two halves of life; the forgotten inner child; the mindful life; the victim, the activist and the contemplative; and what it is to be conscious…
…and other stuff and other stories. Though we mainly contemplate our own story, with compassion.
(We do need to ponder our story with compassion. Or we don’t hear it at all or hear it askew.)
And on a couple of evenings we sit with Julian of Norwich – our guest retreatant. ‘His meaning is love’, she says from her cell, which is good to hear when my self-image is in shreds.
Oh, and after some homegrown entertainment, we talk and drink round the bonfire on our final evening together, (and some dance, dancing is optional, not exactly Strictly) unable to remember when we hadn’t known each other.
You do travel a journey on retreat, alone and in community – and both are important.
We don’t depend on people, that’s never wise; but they can be such grace on occasion.
And the one who said they probably wouldn’t last more than two days, on the fourth day kindly says, ‘I’ll be recommending this, you know.’
They’re called retreats, though most advance.
Thank you, Llangasty.