Two weeks ago I spoke about a few contemplative practices that can be supremely beneficial for well-being. One of those practices is retreat. No matter who we are or what we do, we all need a little down time; time focused on oneself. This is especially important for big-city dwellers.
Now, I’m not talking about veg’ing out in front of the television, or having a few margaritas. Those activities can be great, but they are not what we would call retreat. They are escape. What’s the difference? The difference is the perspective and consciousness surrounding the activity. When we escape, we are not only escaping the world around us, but we are trying to escape ourselves. We want to forget about the difficulties of our job, our circumstances, our relationships. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as there is moderation and we are making the conscious decision to escape.
Retreat, on the other hand, is turning inward. It involves intense presence and focus on one’s beingness. Retreat usually occurs when we realize that the difficulties in our life require more than a simple escape. In New York (or any large condensed city), it is very easy and natural to get sucked into the unremitting flow of city-life. Sometimes we feel lost in the masses and it can diminish one’s sense of self. So when someone says, “I need to get out of the city for a bit,” whether they realize or not, it is a desire for retreat.
Like meditation, retreat is a time to be with yourself. This can be anything from a day spent at home in meditation and contemplation to a weekend retreat at a meditation center to a week’s hike through the mountains. The only criteria are that you take a break from the circumstances of your usual life and dedicate the time to finding presence and centering yourself. That part about taking a break from routine life is a requirement. We cannot hope to truly be with ourselves if we are worrying about that business deal, that upcoming performance or project, or that person who hurt us. We must make the choice to let it all go for the allotted time of retreat. Sure those things will spring up, but we then remind ourselves what we are doing and why, and we let those thoughts and feelings fade away again. Furthermore, it is very difficult to retreat with technological distraction. Leave the iPads, and computers at home. Turn the phone off.
Here are a few ideas along with some links to NYC-based organizations that provide opportunity for retreat. If anyone knows of similar organizations in other cities, please feel free to leave them in the comments section:
- Meditation retreat: Just as it sounds, the New York Insight Meditation Center and Kadampa Meditation Center both offer day-long retreats.
- Be in Nature: Discover Outdoors is a great organization that provides guided hikes, rock-climbing, and even an occasional visit to Chuang Yen Monastery just north of the city.
- Art: Dedicate an entire day. Go to a museum or two, go to the theater, or make your own—paint/draw, or write. If you’re a person who claims to be inartistic, I’d urge you to try it. It doesn’t need to be good. It just needs to be contemplative, and feel good.
Any other suggestions? Feel free to leave them in the comments section!
By Terence Stone
Chief Editor and Founder of Urban Spiritual, I’m a classically trained singer and actor living in New York City, who has performed in the U.S. and Europe. I’m also a writer, traveller, meditator, arts-lover, and well-being enthusiast.