Retreat – the act of moving back or withdrawing. The act or process of moving back or away, especially from something hazardous, formidable, or unpleasant: made a retreat from hectic city life to the country.

This is the dictionary definition of the word, but it means something completely different to me, and indeed to millions of other people around the world.

Retreats are becoming very popular, and to go on ‘a retreat’ for a long weekend, a few days or even a week is the latest wave in the pursuit of wellbeing.

These ‘Retreats’ often take place in a country location, by the sea side, or high up in the mountains, where you can find positive eating, high nutrition, relaxation, spa and quality-lifestyle themes. Sometimes its exercises, stretching or yoga session; sometimes its lectures, workshops or a talk that makes up the format, or perhaps silence, cleansing or even fasting. The focus can be on breathing, walking, stillness, or mindfulness.

I myself am a big fan of retreats, and have been attending them for nearly two decades, as well as hosting and facilitating them for over eight years. For me, they are a times of peace and tranquillity, of space to reflect and reconnect with myself, away from the normal routine of things. A chance to practice extra yoga or meditation that is not normally possible in the busy lives that we lead in urban city centres, surrounded by responsibilities and expectations, and others vying for our constant attention.

I have recently returned from a trip to France, where I attend a retreat three times a year. These retreats are normally for 5 days or so, and take place on the edge of a small village 50km south of Paris. These particular retreats are very much meditation based; with a short class in the morning followed by a healthy breakfast, and a walk in the surrounding countryside and fields. The rest of the day is made up of introversion, reflection and meditation.

The meditation is the ‘open-eyed’ version called Raja Yoga, and lasts for a full 12 hours each day. It is, quite frankly, mind-blowingly powerful! Although the expectation is not to stay sitting in meditation constantly for the entire period of time, the ‘fire’ of yoga remains ‘alight’ as it were, and acts as a cleansing energy that eliminates the inner self of negativity. Whenever I am present in the ‘bhatti’ or ‘furnace’, there is a real feeling of purification of the soul, and a subtle harmonisation with others who are participating in the group. This creates a sense of unity which becomes the foundation for great things.

The energy created within the bhatti is amazingly powerful and energising. It is like plugging into the Supreme Source of power and positive energy that is constantly radiating light onto the Earth.

In fact it was so strong during this last retreat that I was only able to sleep 2-3 hours per day. There was simply too much energy in my body to sleep any more than that! I actually had to allow this energy to flow out of me into the world, and indeed into the elements, as well as other souls. In this way the bhatti worked like a power receiver/transmitter that was energising the planet with Divine light.

My personal experience was that of euphoria, bliss and lightness. There was, at one point, a peak-experience of ‘perfection’, whereby, everything was in its highest state of potential; everything was harmonic, completely clear and beautiful. I was suddenly overwhelmed by both joy and understand.  I realised that the experience just could not get any better! Then, just as that thought came, after a 4 and a half hour session of almost no thoughts, a warm wind blew through the open windows and caressed my skin, and my entire body was cradled in a perfect embrace with nature and the elements. It was as though the entire Earth was co-operating with me in those timeless moments. It was a gift, a wonder…

In those moments, I realised that the ‘true’ retreat is a state of awareness, and in that spilt second, I could see with clarity that it is not a location, building or a place. It is the reconnection with the spiritual self, and its relationship with the Source, nature, and others. It is the dance of life itself.

So, when is your next retreat…?

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