For thousands of years, retreat was the primary vehicle for spiritual and personal development. It was an art, at the center of all the great esoteric teaching of Buddha, Jesus and others. But in the modern fast paced world it became a lost art. Retreat is misunderstood, and carries a negative connotation of defeat, avoidance, weakness and even cowardice. In order to understand the great value that retreat offers all us, we must clear away this misperception by examining the original meaning of the word. To begin, recognize that retreat is both a verb and a noun. It is essential to understand and embrace both meanings in order to embody and benefit from the act and the event.

The act or verb is a response to overwhelming resistance one may encounter in life. We are innately conditioned to move forward, to advance, in the normal pursuits of our lives. We have a goal or direction we want to move towards or attain, but our path seems to be blocked, we encounter resistance. We cannot figure out why. In truth it could be any number of things, from not knowing what to do next to not having the means, skill or power to overcome it. But it also might simply be that we are pursuing a goal that is not in the cards for us at this time. Regardless, at this moment we need to make an honest assessment of what we are up against, of all the conditions, both inside and out. In order to do that we must first stop, stop trying to move forward. Once we have stopped, the opportunity to reflect on the truth of the situation arises, which is to look inside. So in this sense, retreat is about changing our view, from outside to inside.

When we look inside, the first things that arise are our ideas about what is happening, as well as the attendant emotions such as frustration and anger. And more often than not, the common theme is that something is wrong, wrong with the world, wrong with me, wrong if I have to retreat. That idea is what we must question. Is that true, is something wrong with the world, with me? Is there something wrong with retreating? The answer is no. Retreat does not mean there is something wrong, does not mean defeat. It means there is another way, a way that is more appropriate and in alignment with the true expression of your life. Retreat is the means by which we discover that new way. So retreat is simply another way to move forward, even if it appears as moving backwards.

Retreat as a noun refers to the space or environment that supports this action of stopping in order to look inside, to question, to find another way. It is a refuge, a safe place where we can relax. Relax from the stubborn striving and struggling that we engage in when we are trying to overcome or deny our resistance to what is.

As I mentioned earlier, one of the things that prevents us from moving forward could be that we don't have the power or strength. This could be physical, mental or emotional strength. Relaxation helps our strength in two ways. One, we stop wasting our energy on struggle and striving. The second is that when we relax, when we let go of tension, our vital energy flows and revitalizes the body and mind. I am sure you have all experienced that when you are relaxed, you think more clearly. So a retreat is a place where you are supported to look inside and touch your truth and wisdom, and re-energize yourself at the same time.

Like any thing worth doing, the art of retreat requires certain attitudes or tools. The first and most important is willingness, the willingness to stop, to look inside, to relax. Willingness is the attitude that neutralizes the struggle and striving, to be at ease with the recognition that we don't know what to do. The second is trust, trust in life, in your true nature, that this mystery we call life and the intelligence that created it, will always direct you towards what is best, to what will bring you health, happiness and even awakening. The final tools are diligence and patience. We need diligence to practice retreat, to remember why we are in retreat, to make it the rule rather than the exception. We want patience to allow things to unfold, to become clear, to learn to be here now, at ease. Most importantly patience teaches us to love ourselves, the good and the not so good, because love is the energy that shows us the way, which carries us to where we are supposed to be.

Author's Bio: 

Gordon Scarritt is a writer and an awareness based stress mastery consultant in private practice in New York City. Using mindfulness meditation as a starting point, he guides his clients through the unlearning process of conditioned behavior to the ease of directly experiencing life as it is, not what they wish or think it should be.
Mr.Scarritt has been teaching meditation, awareness based exercises and assisting people with looking into the truth of their being for 30 years. He has created an integrated approach to stress mastery and personal inquiry into the truth of being called Walking with the Tiger.