Have you ever drooled over adverts for yoga retreats in far-flung places? Perhaps the very idea of a week or 10 days (or even a weekend) of silence sounds like heaven to you? The regimented structure of some, from when to wake up to when to eat, may appeal. Or maybe you’d enjoy a more relaxed type of retreat?
The Minded Institute’s founder and director, Heather Mason shares her experience of her most recent retreat. No stranger to running them, Heather has spent many months on retreat and knows the benefits. But running a busy organisation (speaking and running professional trainings around the world) means she doesn’t go as often as she would like.
“I went on this last one because I broke up with my boyfriend” she says. “I knew it would be hard showing up on retreat with my mind being so busy. It had been a number of years since I’d last been on (as opposed to running one) retreat but I have this trust that no matter how much I suffer at the beginning, once the mind is clear, everything else becomes easier.”
No matter how hard life feels, there’s a part of us that wants to heal and find wholeness again. “You can lose someone you love but that capacity for wellness is never lost. I’ve had my share of mental health issues and it takes a lot of effort to get my mind to settle in retreat but I’m always willing to do it. During this last retreat, once my mind settled, I saw a plant and its immense beauty. The simple became glorious again, the basic beautiful. This is what being alive means. I knew that was a sign that mental health had returned, that I was letting go and that my mind was regaining its momentarily obstructed vigor.”
“Having done retreats for 13 years, I’m always amazed at how there can be a certain amount of aggressive energy on retreats at first. We all come from so much busy-ness in our daily lives. I reflected how, during this retreat, at our communal interview sessions, how much other people were affected and bothered by small things, and slowly how this changed into patience and love. As soon as we calm ourselves, we have so much more patience with others. I feel grateful to have had the opportunity to reconnect with this calm.”
Want some of the benefits without fully retreating from your daily life? Here are Heather’s top tips:
· Have reminders in your home – “We’re constantly being stimulated by unwholesome messages in the outside world and retreats help us cut down on that stimulation. Put up messages which remind you to be mindful and inspiring, all around your home. This will help you remember to connect to this quiet, wise part of you.”
· Create a shrine at home – “Mine is very personal to me,” says Heather. “I have reminders of my dog, spiritual gifts like a paintbrush an artist gave me to inspire passion, sage from an Incan shaman, a painting a friend drew of a Buddhist nun, a talisman from an African medicine man, faeries and bracelets from friends… They’re meaningful objects for me.”
· Switch off – “Don’t be afraid to shut off your computer and turn off your phone. Remind yourself that constant communication isn’t necessary.”
· We communicate in silence as well as with words – “We shared rooms on the retreat and in spite of the silence, I felt connected to my roommate. Even with loved ones, you don’t need Facebook or to talk to people every day. You can hold them in your heart and connect deeply. I understand loneliness. I’ve felt that the people who love me have been very far away but we can develop a connection through the heart and through practice.”
· Think of something you love unconditionally – “Every time I go to meditate, I focus on my dog and that unadulterated love. We can forge that in other areas of our lives. I’ve gone into retreat with no hope of fixing things but having sat there and sending love, I’ve come out to external surprises.”
· Do what’s right for you – “Not everyone belongs in a private, silent retreat. Some do better with shorter meditations. Honour that.”
Image courtesy of Eve Menezes Cunningham