“Since I was a child at school I experienced life as over-organized and machine-like – a kind of treadmill that just kept going with machine-like regularity leaving little room for just being. I experienced this as a kind of suffocation of my intuitive sensibility and creative and spontaneous exploration that I enjoyed in the brief period before I went to school. I found it quite deadening. Self-retreat offers the opportunity to step out of pressures and demands from outside and this can be an enormous relief of tension that allows for one’s own heart to stir and open up.”
My interest in self-retreats comes from my own experience. In 1997 I did a 6-week self-retreat at the BRC (Buddhist Retreat Centre), under the guidance of Kittisaro and Thanissara. During this retreat I did a lot of writing, recording memories from as early as I could recall. Whenever I came to a particularly painful or difficult memory, I would then use meditation to review the memory and to allow the related feelings to be fully felt and embodied. At times of anger I would punch a pillow or at times of sadness I would just cry, allowing the feelings to be felt. In the process of doing this many unresolved areas of my life’s experience came to light and I was then able to find ways of addressing these unresolved areas. For example, as a result of coming to an understanding through meditation of aspects of my relationship with my mother, I was able to talk these through with her and we were able to come to a place of mutual understanding, forgiveness, and love. I experienced this as an enormously healing process. This was just one aspect of the retreat. There were many others. At the end of the self-retreat I felt as if I had been thoroughly cleaned out on the inside and for a while afterwards I experienced everything around me as exquisitely beautiful and sparkling.
Also when I was in the monastery, we used to have two periods of self-retreat during the year. These were similarly times that I experienced as immensely deepening, revealing, and replenishing. Having experienced this myself, I would like to offer the same kind of support to others who might wish to similarly review their lives or a particular facet of their lives or who might wish to deepen their insight into the nature of their experience or into spiritual teachings. I am very grateful to Dharmagiri for offering me this opportunity to offer others this kind of support. In more general terms, I see the value of self-retreats to be in 3 main areas:
1) self-retreat can bring one back to one’s own inner being or bring one back into alignment with one’s own wisdom faculty
2) self-retreat offers the opportunity to explore one’s own inner realms more fully
3) self-retreat offers the opportunity to deepen our spiritual insight.
Self-retreat offers the possibility of finding and exercising one’s own inner sense of rhythm and balance without having to comply with externally-determined routines and timetables. As valuable as organized group retreats are, their rhythms don’t always suit everyone. Some people are morning people and find it easy to get up early in the morning but difficult to stay up late at night. Other people are night people and find it easy to stay up late into the night but difficult to get up early in the morning. On self-retreat, one can live according to one’s own natural energy levels and this can be very supportive of experiencing fully whatever it is that one needs to experience.
One can also create one’s own structures for the day – when to walk, when to eat, when to sleep, when to meditate, when to write or paint or draw, when to be in nature and how to commune with nature. One can begin to feel into one’s own natural energies and feel how they begin to flow again and reconnect one’s awareness with one’s own inner being. It is as if one’s compass becomes reset to follow one’s own inner guidance rather than following guidance provided from outside. This helps to develop trust in the wisdom that comes from within and this allows one’s creativity and enthusiasm for the journey of life to re-awaken.
This relaxation, opening, and re-awakening of one’s inner being provides the conditions in which suppressed and un-dealt with feelings and perceptions can rise into consciousness where they can be seen, understood, and integrated. This allows one to see more clearly what needs to be attended to: what one needs to do in one’s relationships, what one’s real values are, the way in which one wants to live one’s life, what brings pain and what brings joy.
The way we tend to live our lives – being busy and scattered – fragments us. Self-retreat can be a time of healing, of whole-making, of defragmentation. This gives a sense of clarity and stability in one’s foundations.
Self-retreat offers us the opportunity to explore our inner realms. We all have our own personal histories that are important as they have shaped the form of our lives – how we perceive and feel about things, and how we respond to things. In self-retreat we can begin to see patterns in this conditioning – the underlying matrices that give rise to these ways of thinking, feeling and responding. We may begin to see that we are acting on particular beliefs about ourselves by which we constellate the reality we perceive around us. This can be very revealing and very liberating as it brings with it the possibility of more flexibility and less rigidity in the way we relate to life.
Self-retreat also offers us the opportunity to explore and deepen our spiritual insight through study of scriptures, listening to talks, reading books, making notes and putting the pieces together, meditation and mindfulness practices, and through developing our intuitive awareness – sensing more deeply into what is present in our experience. This in turn increases our awareness of the connectedness and inter-relatedness of everything. We feel more in tune with everything and can enter into a deep sense of peace and fulfillment.
This experience has enormous power to be life-changing. We may completely reorient the direction of our lives. This is why I want to offer this experience to others as I have experienced its value in my own life.
Chandasara can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org