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Saturday, Feb 4, 2023

Give yourself a break: Why I recommend going on a retreat

I have always wanted to go to a retreat. For a lot of reasons like desires to escape and heal, and for no reason — just because my heart said so. I also had many hesitations before going. My logical mind had criticized and evaluated the opportunity as unnecessary and even self-indulgent. However, my experience last summer at “Touching the Earth” — a three-week immersive program for young adults on a secluded Vermont homestead that combines Buddhist meditation, ecological learning and various outdoor activities in a small group setting — made me want to urge everyone to go to a long retreat like this one if, or when, opportunities allow.

My retreat was a beautifully impactful experience with a focus on Buddhism and ecology. Other retreats may offer different things, ranging from spiritual healing, fitness through meditation or yoga, family or marriage counseling, etc. Out of the many reasons one should go to a retreat, here are two that are dearest to me based on my experience:

1. They are an opportunity to obtain experiential knowledge.

I think there are many kinds of knowledge in this world, and I categorize most of it as “experiential” and “theoretical.” Theoretical knowledge is what we learn in primarily academic settings, such as understanding cellular respiration by doing readings, attending lectures and completing worksheets in class discussions. Experiential knowledge is the embodied knowledge that is addressed little in the “Western” paradigm of learning and is difficult to teach in language or writing, such as the knowledge of self-love, deep listening and nature connection. As students who spend a lot of time listening to lectures and analyzing readings, devoting time to exploring experiential learning is fun, necessary and beneficial. We think, listen and speak so much with our heads that we need some time to practice doing so with our hearts. More people doing and learning to do so nourishes connection, resonation, sincerity and love.

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2. They are an opportunity to feel fully supported by a loving community.

Retreats attract like-minded people with similar interests, values and intentions. The mirroring of mindsets, behaviors, emotions and care creates a special and safe place to support every participant. During my retreat experience, connecting with people felt like cutting right into the heart of an onion, whereas in my everyday life people get to know each other by gradually peeling away the layers. In addition, participants have access to professional guidance to move through their journeys, which cultivates a feeling of being held, loved and cherished by flowing compassion and wisdom. It is an opportunity to be vulnerable and be seen as you are.

So, if your mind needs to unwind; if you are curious about changing your lifestyle to include devoting more energy to connecting with nature, other beings and yourself; or if you have some mental or physical pain, numbness and stuckness that you feel needs to be tended to, consider retreats. You will be surprised how much your body and mind both need and love it.

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It might not be now or in the near future, but if your heart feels something when you ponder the idea of going to a retreat, take good care of this budding seed, water it when necessary and take the courage to let it burst out from the earth when the time is ripe.

Going to a long retreat takes courage and determination. If you are not ready for one, perhaps start off with something small. Consider joining the Scott Center’s upcoming half-day Winter Mindfulness Retreat on Saturday, Jan. 21, or sitting with us on Sunday-night Prajna Meditation Club meetings and sipping some warm chai. Regardless of what you choose, I hope you breathe out, letting go of everything that does not serve you, and breathe in, bringing some awareness, space and ease into your beautiful life. Invitations are out there, and you may accept them when you are ready.

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Yanruo (Alice) Zhang is a member of the class of 2023 and president of Prajna Meditation Club.


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