by Tommy Harrison
Why go on retreat? It’s a great question. If you talk to your Dharma friends and teachers, you’ll hear a variety of different perspectives. Lots of them will tie back to our human condition, the “busy-ness” of our lives, and how retreats help us tend to our wellbeing. As creatures of habit with that deep sense of self, we dwell on our past and worry about our future – we suffer. We learn there’s ways to understand and release this suffering. Retreats support this liberating process.
One of the things I deeply treasure about going on retreats is what happens between retreats – that thing called “life.” Just a couple of days ago I was reminded about why I go on retreats. My family’s week had been typical. We are a family of six. My wife and daughter left Thursday (6/9) on a well-deserved trip to Savannah with my daughter’s Girl Scout troop. In advance of this, we planned, made our lists, got organized, shopped for those going on the trip, shopped for those staying home, and established a “plan” of what we thought our morning would be like prior to dropping them off for their trip. And then life happened. Things changed and did not go as planned. There was a pet who we found really sick the night before – the kind of sick where you know there’s no coming back to wellness. There were the plans to go to the lake with my 8 year old son – just him and I – a rare treat. This wasn’t meant to be either – the trip to the vet to say good bye to a loved one was more important. There were many things that happened that weren’t planned and some that were. This caused many different feelings, thoughts, and emotional states to arise in the whole family. Life happened.
This type of scenario plays out for each of us every day. Change. Impermanence. Often unplanned, often unseen, and constant. Learning how to navigate through this is a big part of our practice. How does one do this? I’ve learned to appreciate the importance of mindfulness and buckets full of kindness. During check in at one of OIMG’s one day retreats last year, one of our Sangha members shared that he had woke up that morning and started mentally going through a list of reasons not to go to the 1-day retreat. He went on to say that this is exactly why he knew he should go to the retreat. I took that to mean he understood the importance of practicing, of coming back to the present moment, to kindly work with whatever arises. To “be”. Included with this is the understanding that when we stray from our present moment, all we have to do is gently acknowledge this awareness and tenderly start anew. That really resonated with me and is something I think about every day (thank you Robert). Retreats are times where we get to really immerse ourselves in this practice. And it’s something we bring home with us when the retreat is over. It helps us “be” with this “treasure” called life.
Whether I’m on retreat or working through life’s day to day happenings, I fall short of being mindful and present often. Things can get downright bumpy sometimes. And that’s just fine. We learn we can always come back to the present moment in a kind, grounded, healthy manner no matter what is going on. Things ended up well enough Thursday in the midst of the unplanned and sadness of our loss. Mindfulness and kindness with what unfolded had everything to do with it being “well enough”. Over time, one acquires deep gratitude for how our “change management” practice influences these experiences and the choices we can make. Our abilities deepen every time we sit, every time we practice, and every time we go on retreat.
So, whether it’s a ½ day, full day, 3 day, or multiple day retreat opportunity, go. If you have a list of reasons to not go, go anyway. Practice. Take it home. Allow retreats to enrich your moments between retreats – this treasure we call life.