A retreat should be part of everybody’s regular self care regime. We make time for the little acts of self care. We get our hair done, we treat ourselves to a monthly mani/pedi, we might even get a massage or download a cool meditation app on our smartphones. But how often do we stop to nourish our real core? A retreat is an important opportunity to stop and listen to who we really are.
My most memorable silent retreat
I try to attend a week-long retreat every year. Last year I celebrated New Year’s Eve with a 7 day silent Vipassana meditation retreat deep in the jungle of Khao Sok National Park. It was definitely the most unusual and memorable retreat I’ve ever attended.
Jungle Yoga Retreat, Khao Sok National Park
At Jungle Yoga access is by boat only and accommodation consists of ‘living baskets’ made of bamboo and thatch that float on a sprawling lake.
Observing a week of noble silence in such a remote location without internet access, can be a real challenge. But that is the whole point of the retreat. For true transformation to occur we need to meet our unedited selves in the raw.
We’d travelled from all over the planet to the remoteness of Praiwan Raft House. We had come to listen deep inside and to nourish ourselves in a pristine natural environment of Klong Long Wildlife Sanctuary. We had many reasons for doing so.
Collapsed marriages, a progressive illness, or simply feeling stuck in life and sucked dry by the demands of our busy lives. Many of us were searching for meaning and new perspectives. We all needed to renew a deeper connection with ourselves.
There were the established hardcore meditators who do a silent retreat every year, there were the curious ones who’d finally committed to a week of silence for the first time and there were the slackers like me who needed a week-long bootcamp to re-establish a lapsed meditation practice.
And then there was the woman who hadn’t read the fine print. “You mean we won’t be able to speak at all?” She looked panicked and ready to jump on the next boat, only there wasn’t going to be another boat for a week.
Noble silence, one of our teachers explained, encourages us to stay in the present moment, to become deeply connected. I nodded enthusiastically, trying make her feel better.
As we prepared for our first hour-long sitting, a sudden breeze whipped the lake into a whirlpool of ripples. The floating yoga shala, made from bamboo strung together by choir rope, groaned and creaked swaying in the morning breeze.
The woman who had accidently committed to a week of noble silence certainly had reason to look panicked. There we were, 25 of us, sitting cross legged, looking more or less comfortable, stuck on a lake deep in the jungle of a remote National Park with only the calls of gibbon monkeys for company.
To a visitor from outer space we would have looked like a bunch of shipwreck survivors stuck on a life raft in the middle of nowhere.
The panicked woman settled into her meditation pose and bravely accepted the challenge.
You already know how the story ends. She loved it! Of course she did. Yes, there was the struggle, yes, there was the quiet sigh of relief when it was over, it was the same for all of us. But there was also that deep feeling of peace and inner connection.
She wrote this in a follow-up email to the group. “I can feel myself like I haven’t for a very long time. I can see clearly now what I need. I have already begun to make changes to my life.” She’d gained deep insight into who she was on where she was headed. She’d experienced the magic of a retreat!
You don’t have to go on a silent retreat to experience deep transformation, but a digital detox should be non-negotiable. It’s what I encourage as part of my retreats.
But isn’t it a bit self-indulgent to spend a week or longer on your own, away from your family or partner? Not to mention the cost?
Absolutely not! Think of it as a long term investment in yourself. A form of life insurance. Its dividends will be paid in emotional and physical wellbeing.
Besides, a retreat doesn’t have to break the bank. I’ve taken many retreats in Buddhist meditation centres that ask for modest donations, though they tend to be fairly spartan and won’t suit everybody. But thankfully, there is no shortage of alternatives to fit any budget.