After completing my ninth One Dharma retreat in December, I have reflected quite a lot on the importance of retreats in my life. The retreats have varied in length from three days to seven days. Every retreat is a gift to my own ability to cultivate peace of mind as I navigate the waves of my life. They are a training ground for this delicate and, often, nebulous task of being present with my own heart. Retreats allow me the time, space, and safety to make this journey to the core of things and stay there outside of the usual patterns of avoidance and distraction that sweep me along in my normal life routines. The more retreats I do, the more I think of them as essential for my mental well being and ability to live a fulfilling life.
Still, retreating from life is challenging as I disengage from my family, my work, my email, my phone. The process of letting go of all of this, even for a few days, feels to me like prying a young child’s grasping arms from her parents’ neck as she tearfully screams in protest at being dropped off for the first day of kindergarten. Once she’s in her classroom, though, she quickly begins making friends and learning about the beauties of this other existence… A world away from her usual comforts and routines but safe and secure under the watchful gaze of her teacher, with her basic needs provided for and more. So it is at retreat: I learn to sit and watch the anxiety come and go as I wonder what emails I might be getting that need attention. I watch the loneliness dance with me as I miss hearing my husband’s voice or hugging my cats. Then, I get to see what’s on the other side of those feelings, instead of merely feeling bound by a constant struggle to avoid emotions that are inevitable. Returning to life, I have a new confidence that I can touch what’s underneath the waves of pain and fear and “come home” wherever I am.
I already feel so fortunate to have a trusted dharma teacher live close by and offer retreats at an accessible location, and I feel even more fortunate that these retreats are sometimes offered for an extended amount of time. I find that, after the first day of a retreat, things get very interesting as my patterns take a backseat to noticing what is present within me. The more time I have at a retreat, the more I get to discover. Since the biggest challenge of retreat is always the initial disconnection itself (figuring out who will take my stepson to school, deferring tasks at work until I return, the anxiety of having no contact with my husband, etc), it seems like the opportunity to stay longer at a retreat offers much more gain for very little additional sacrifice. Once we’re there, why not stay for longer to get even more benefit and even more practice doing what is so hard to do in the thick of our lives? Why not give ourselves the gift of an additional day or two to connect more strongly with our heart-center, our core, the true nature of things? It reminds me of the choice to exercise or go to the gym: the hardest part is always getting started, but once those endorphins start flowing, we often don’t want to stop. I hope that others will choose to give themselves this additional practice time at our upcoming Spring retreat! More information is here.
Frankie Fachilla has been practicing with One Dharma for 10 + years. She is a licensed professional counselor in the mental health field.