So… I’ve texted, whatsapped, zoomed - and even telephoned everyone I know. I’ve cleaned the kitchen from top to bottom, my office has never been so tidy, we’ve even cleared that wild area at the bottom of the garden. Given the awful state of the reality of the world at the moment, it’s tempting to retreat into the universe of virtual reality but I know that would only be another distraction. I’ve done everything I can think of - all the really good escaping/deflecting behaviours my mind can come up with. Now maybe it’s time for a different kind of retreat…
On several occasions during my life I have gone to a ‘Retreat’ for a week or so as a guest in a monastery or convent. Nothing to do with war or running away, this kind of retreat is actually the very opposite. It certainly means stopping and turning round, but is really about taking time out to have a good long look at yourself. Examining your life, your attitudes, your relationships; facing up to past mistakes so you can learn from them; taking stock of the things you like about yourself – and the things about you that you might not like or want to think about.
Retreats are about honestly coming to terms with, and accepting yourself for who and what you are. About looking to the future, wondering what life might bring, which direction you’re going to take, and who, and what, and how, you choose to be. Ways of approaching this differ: writing a journal or blog, reading one of those ‘self-help’ books to help guide your reflecting; using music or silent meditation as an inspiration. Individual aims will differ too, depending on who you are: maybe learning to listen to life rather than just to commentate on it; or perhaps learning to cope with the particular challenges you face in life.
Whichever way you do them and whatever your particular aims, retreats aren’t easy. They’re challenging and require courage and persistence – but then so does every adventure – and it strikes me that that’s what a retreat is – an adventure into life. Your life, if you’re up to it!
Today I find myself on another kind of retreat. This time it’s not actually my choice, it’s not as the guest of a religious community and it’s definitely going to be for more than just a week or so. I’m finding, I admit, that just like on my spiritual retreats, for the first few days I want to be doing things because the last thing my mind wants to do is something much more important - actually confront who I am, who I am being…
So I’ve been (as well as sleeping quite a lot!) busying myself, losing myself in doing things, - some of them useful and maybe even important! - but doing anything rather than the one thing I know will be the most challenging, uncomfortable, but by far the best thing I could do with this free time I’ve suddenly been given: retreating from all the ‘doing’ distractions of life and instead, looking at and listening to life; and having a go at really being.
Rev Steve Smith