Choden on the Importance of Retreat

An excerpt from our Spring Newsletter…

Retreat is an important part of mindfulness practice. In fact it is more than just important, it is essential. It allows our practice to mature and for us to make contact with deeper levels of our inner process. In many ways, mindfulness practice provides conditions for an inner process of unfolding, growth and emergence. We begin to sense that there is a growth process within us that needs certain conditions. One of these conditions is retreat.

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Each of us has a sense of this inner process. It is like an inner landscape of feeling and opening and sensing for which there are no adequate words. And yet, we know when we are in touch with this process within ourselves and when there is a sense of movement and opening. Often this process can feel painful and difficult, while other times it can feel like a deep sense of wellbeing and opening, even blissful sometimes.

A simple example of this process is nurturing the growth of a flower. We need a flower pot, we need to tend to the soil and plant the seed, and then we need to water the plant and make sure it has access to sunlight. When these conditions are in place the flower can grow. We don’t need to actually make it grow – it grows by itself. But we can provide the conditions. Retreat is similar. We provide the conditions and then the process takes care of itself.

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The problem with just doing regular, daily practice is that the mind never entirely settles. For example, meditating 45 minutes each day in the evening, we settle and ground to some extent but much of the time we are processing thoughts, feelings and events of that day. There is little time and space for a deeper process of settling and unfolding. This often requires that we step outside of our normal lives and go to a quiet place to practice in a more intensive way. This was the advice given throughout the ages in the Buddhist tradition. Then we can experience a deeper level of settling, and also deeper layers of emotion and feeling can surface and work themselves through us.

For these reasons it is advisable to do a retreat of 5 days or more at least once a year. This is especially important for those of us who teach mindfulness because it then allows us to draw on a deeper resource of experience and wisdom when we teach.

Retreat is an important part of mindfulness practice. In fact it is more than just important, it is essential. It allows our practice to mature and for us to make contact with deeper levels of our inner process.

The Mindfulness Association offers a deepening practice retreat once a year for just this purpose. We hold it on Holy Isle because this is a special place – it is both a nature sanctuary and a sacred spiritual island. But also there are very few distractions there. Also the environment is beautiful with the mountain and sea. These conditions are all nurturing for the mind and body, particularly for those of us who live in cities and feel disconnected from nature.

This year the theme is focused on embodiment. This is a key issue in mindfulness and compassion practice. We live in a disembodied culture where things are becoming increasingly virtual – so many people spend so much time on their Ipads, smart phones and laptops. On this retreat we will give ourselves time to reconnect with our bodies, slow down and feel in touch with our senses, and the natural world around us. This will allow us to reconnect with a deeper source of wisdom within ourselves, and to experience a kind of wellbeing that does not depend of striving and constant mental activity.

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Part of the focus will be on the mindfulness process of grounding which allows us to make contact with a secure base in ourselves – like coming to rest in a part of us that feels stable and solid and reliable. This then opens up the possibility of experiencing a sense of space in and around ourselves, and with this space comes a sense of freedom and wellbeing.

Once we contact this sense of secure base the compassion aspect is building capacity on this secure base – contacting and developing our inner qualities of wisdom, kindness and strength. It means investing in the part of ourselves that understands us, supports us and is kind and friendly, instead of habitually falling back on the self critic who criticises and condemns. Would it not be wonderful if we lived our lives from this place? So come and join me this year on Holy Isle.

To book, please click:

https://rsb92458.infusionsoft.com/saleform/nathnieef
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