Spiritual Retreats

March 1st, 2013 by admin

The rigors of life often take a toll on both our physical and mental health. We often end up desiring a break from the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life. A break that would enable us to recharge our batteries and help rejuvenate the senses.

The thought itself is such a welcoming one that it is no surprise that spiritual retreats are becoming increasingly popular. When we speak of a retreat, in modern parlance, it would indicate a getaway to a quiet place amidst serene environs where we can revivify and essentially be at peace.

Our perception of spiritual retreats today and its original meaning are diametrically opposite, but the essence and basic concept remain unchanged. 

The concept of a spiritual retreat has existed in several cultures and different religions have all embraced it in their own way. Spiritual retreats are at the very core of many Sufi, Buddhist, as well as Christian beliefs. Many pagan cults also believed in this philosophy.

Buddhism sees spiritual retreats as a way of reconnecting with the inner self. Sometimes, we get so caught up in the mundane that we forget our true purpose and digress from the path that we are meant to tread. Our true purpose. The Buddhist philosophy centers on the belief that by reconnecting with the self, through introspection, meditation, and prayer, one can be more grounded and centered. To understand the self is a step in this direction. Moreover, a sense of discipline is inculcated as well.

A spiritual retreat or “sesshin” is a time for reflection in Zen Buddhism. Retreats can both be a solitary or communal experience. They may advocate silence or revolve around conversations – depending on the philosophy and established practices. They are often held privately in remote locales or secluded monasteries and are exclusive to the practitioners. The Dzogchen practice in Tibetan Buddhism embraces the “dark retreat” philosophy. The practitioner is confined to a dark place and the retreat can span anywhere from hours to years. Ancient cultures like the Mayans and Egyptians too practiced a similar form of dark retreat, whereby people entered the center of a pyramid, which were devoid of light and sound. The men would get visions and the secrets of the universe would be revealed to them in these visions. The retreat usually lasted up to ten days.

The idea of solitude helping one overcome spiritual obstacles has been a popular one.

Ancient Greece was known for its medical prowess and many people came looking for healing. The healing sanctuaries or Asclepions, were established in idyllic settings where nature’s splendor dominated every corner. Epidaurus was one of the main healing centers for the Greeks, where priests practiced a form of spiritual healing that was centered on dream therapy. After a series of cleansing rituals the patient who was seeking help was confined to a dream chamber or Abaton for a few nights. In the darkened chamber the patient would receive healing via the dream itself.

Spiritual retreats were also popular in Christianity and were established by St. Ignatius of Loyala. People took off a few hours from their routined life to reconnect with God through prayer. The mystical path of Islam – Sufism – too believes in spiritual retreats or “Khalwa”. The term literally means seclusion; however, for Sufi mystics it is akin to the act of self abandonment, an inner journey and path through which the Divine can be reached. The Khalwa spans a 40-day period.

Even though modern terminology has diluted the original notion of a spiritual retreat, it continues to be a way of disconnecting from the travails and trivialities of life and finding the inner self. In essence it is a vacation for the spirit away from the distractions of the materialistic world. A journey where time alone helps regenerate the mind, body, and spirit. It is holistic healing in every sense of the term.

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