My reader will probably not be too surprised to learn that I have been on retreats a couple of times.
After all, someone who gripes about the rush and noise and pressures of the modern world, and who has anxiety issues, tends to spend quite a lot of time yearning for silence and solitude. Because there are, quite frankly, times when everything just gets too much to cope with.
Obviously there are many ways this might be achieved; perhaps I could commit a serious crime and then misbehave in gaol – that would probably lead to a good long spell in solitary, although I can think of several reasons why this might not be the ideal solution.
I could lock myself in a room and refuse to come out – from experience, though, that just leads to unpleasantness and tears. It worked tolerably well when I was a child, but as an adult I can see why it might not look so good.
Whenever I get the opportunity I go for a long walk. Unfortunately, if it is near my home I tend to be surrounded by dogs and dog walkers – not that’s there’s anything wrong with them, I hasten to add, but it’s hardly peaceful. There are several dog owners around here whose voices can not only be heard several counties away because of the sheer volume, but can also smash windows by pitch alone. And I soon get back to roads and so-called civilisation, no matter which route I take.
Then there are lots of other walkers bellowing into mobile phones: ‘Yes, it’s lovely and peaceful out here! Now, let me just yell a few personal and private details at you and anyone else within earshot! What? Yes, I’m still a complete tosser! Why do you ask?’
Going further afield takes more time, and that’s no good if I need a quick fix of silence, so generally I’m stuck with the dog walkers and the tossers.
So, retreats. Other than the meaning of legging it from a superior military force, a retreat is defined as withdrawing to a quiet / peaceful place. There is also the implication of it being a place to indulge in contemplation.
Yes, that’s exactly what I had in mind. Don’t mind if I do.
My first retreat was at an abbey not terribly far from where I live. Although I am not a Christian, I enjoyed a short week of taking quiet walks in the grounds of the abbey and the countryside beyond, reading, rising early and taking a silent breakfast with the monks, and even attending one of the services each day.
Some of the time I spent painting watercolours which I have long lost. Since at least one was of foxgloves, here’s a photo of some just so you can imagine how incredibly good the paintings were!
The other retreat was in the North of England, and consisted of a week-long period of meditation with a Buddhist group. This was very hard work, but I did finish the week feeling refreshed.
Of course, it is perfectly possible to organise one’s own retreat by finding somewhere quiet and secluded and staying put for a week or however long one fancies (a year, perhaps?).
Perhaps I should do that soon.