One time or another most people have wished that they could just take “time out” from their lives for a breather and step back and consider their future direction. Religious groups have a history of providing retreats for people to reconnect to their spiritual lives. When someone “retreats” they never really know what they will find and I’ll venture to say they most of the time there are a few surprises in store.
Last week I had the opportunity to visit a retreat center in Sonoma County near Cazadero in the coastal redwoods. The name of the Center is Ratna Ling and it has a Tibetan Buddhist origin although many non-denominational yoga retreats are held on the site. I have a history with the community that oversees Ratna Ling so it is always a special pleasure to go there and see people I’ve known over the past 40 years. This is not however the primary benefit of going there to take my “time-out”.
At home there is always the cat to feed, the dishes to wash, the projects to get involved with (or feel guilty over not getting involved with). Although I am retired and supposedly have all the time in the world, I actually feel most of the time like I have no time at all. Helicoptering (figuratively) into an entirely new setting sets me free from all my self-imposed busyness. My mind and heart have a chance to consider things that are obscured by the everyday round.
When you are surrounded by breathtaking beauty on a meticulously maintained property all that care penetrates into you providing a steadiness lacking in everyday life. Cared for by the staff and fed a generous and jewel-like vegetarian diet some of which comes direct from the onsite gardens it is possible to feel again like a child with a good mother. This in itself provides a profoundly relaxing experience. Within this relaxation clarity of mind arises that is very nurturing. The constant distractions that seem to keep us away from peace of mind start to fall away. In a way we come home to ourselves.
This time of year looking out at the coastal range you see the straw color of sun-scorched grass, the brown of the earth, the green of the trees and the blue, white and gray of the sky and clouds. This pallet is somehow very soothing. There are no really bright colors unless you move up close and come upon a butterfly, flower or bird. Maybe you see deer and marvel at how it’s coloration blends into the soft colored landscape so completely as to make them almost invisible. There is a lot of sky up there and it makes you feel like breathing deep. A vast unbroken horizon gives you the uncommon sensation of being alone in the world. What a privilege and one that few ever have a chance to experience. We in northern California are so surrounded with beauty, in this way we are truly blessed.
The hand of appreciative humans is seen in the care taken in the construction of the buildings here many of which are built with the finest clear redwood you will ever see. It reminds me of the care taken in building the great cathedrals and temples of the world. Best materials, highest level of skill. Some of the woodwork features no-nails construction with precisely milled lumber being carved to fit and then drilled and pegged with wood into position. Anyone who loves fine woodwork will shake their head at the quality work. It strikes me that any time humans do their very best work and share it (as happens with all the best applied and the fine arts) inspiration happens. A best effort is an offering to the universe. I vow to aspire more often to giving my best effort. I realize how rarely I really do my very best. It does take more energy but the return on best efforts is certainly a reward in itself.
Sitting quietly and seeing what your mind comes up with is interesting. Sometimes it’s a lot like dreaming while being awake. The things your mind drifts onto can be surprising or dull. You just never know. Once in awhile a startling insight will pop out and maybe give a while new direction to life. We are like cauldrons full of stew that is constantly moving and changing.
If you attend a program there will be discussions and studying of material that also is grist for the mill. Being with others and getting a peek at their inner lives is revealing. We are all in this life together after all. A good leader can really open things up for the group and for each member of the group individually.
Some groups work with the body, like the yoga retreats, and some with the mind, like the book based study groups and some work with both. It is up to you how to approach the retreat experience for renewal and greater clarity for your own life.
Many places offer retreats and I have no wish to promote the center I attended over any other. If you do want to learn more about Ratna Ling Retreat Center you can look up the name on the internet for more information about the place and the retreats they offer. It is located about 45 minutes inland from Stewart’s Point, which is on Highway 1 driving through some of the most beautiful landscape you can imagine. It is very curvy with steep ups and downs and sometimes just a paved logging road (though well-maintained) so make sure your car has plenty of gas and is in good shape before you attempt the trip.
I will probably never be able to travel widely, but right here in California I can travel more deeply into myself than I normally do and come home refreshed and positive. I think that is the same result good travel provides. So, if you are so inclined, take some “time out” of your busy life and see what you find.