As a mindfulness teacher I remain an eternal student, for we never ‘arrive’ at enlightenment, though we may continually pursue a deeper and richer practice. Going on retreat is a tremendously rewarding way to do this, entering an environment dedicated to rigorous practice and lively learning.
For me, there is something particularly special about a residential, arriving somewhere in which there is literally nowhere to go, and nothing to do, beyond entering into a different mode, with a deliberate shift of gears, mental and physical. A week long retreat is somewhat of a luxury, as well as a challenge, and requires a degree of preparation and subsequent ‘arrival’.
The first day is an opportunity to do just this, and having travelled to somewhere new and unknown and be in the company of a group made up of likeminded, though unknown fellow travellers, there is much excitement, and curiosity, and a feast for the mind as it goes about its usual business of planning, and judging, in spite of an explicit and conscious intention to do otherwise. So, whilst the essence of being on retreat is revitalising and rejuvenating, there is a process to get there, and after a day spanning over 14 hours, I must conceded exhaustion, albeit a contented one.
Coming away, and giving myself an opportunity to adopt a ‘beginners mind’, to experience the practices, guided by others, afresh and, ideally, as though for the first time is a significant component of maintaining my practice. Just as I take my car for its service, my practice needs to be investigated, and replenished. A retreat serves this purpose, and provides a wonderfully supportive opportunity to dust it off and blow out the cobwebs, clearing the landscape, and enabling me to see with new perspective. The acts of intentionally creating space to attend, and deliberately slowing down, allows me a chance to ask myself some important questions, about both the direction of my practice, and my life in general.