On returning from 3 weeks in Plum Village, I thought it would be fun to talk about retreat - what it is and why it’s important.
Retreat differs from vacation. When we take our ideal holiday it often includes indulging our desires - in my case, my love of warm tropical beaches. But retreat challenges us to stop chasing our desire and be with life as it is. We give up our individual preferences and flow with the Sangha river.
Retreat in the Plum Village tradition includes a balance of practice, study, rest, and play. We practice sitting, walking, and eating meditations, study relevant texts, leave time for naps and lazy days, and have fun together doing ‘pointless’ activities.
Because I had the time to let go and rest in the Sangha, this 21-Day Retreat deepened some important aspects of my practice. I touched the realization that nothing brings happiness like dwelling mindfully in the present moment. Trips to the beach are great, but they usually end in a disappointing flight home and a credit card bill. Being fully present in the here and now, however, brings a happiness not contingent on circumstances. No matter what’s going on, I have enough conditions to be happy if I simply notice.
I also deepened the joy of flowing with the Sangha. In my individual life, I have the freedom to choose, but I also have constant responsibility. When I let go into the Sangha, I am held and cared for: The bell is invited, so I eat; The bus arrives, so I get on: It’s work time, so I chop vegetables. I am a cell in the Sangha body and benefit from the care and efforts of all the other cells without the responsibility of running everything.
Finally, I learned that I like quiet solitude. Upper Hamlet is a more active place than my still island home and sometimes felt more like a summer camp than a monastery. I learned that it’s ok to be me and dwell in my quiet nature. The Sangha body isn’t made up of only one type of cell. Specialized cells are needed for a healthy whole. My tendency to stillness and depth gives the Sangha something important. Other’s gifts also bring important qualities. Sangha unity doesn’t have to be Sangha conformity.
I hope you too have a chance to enjoy retreats. It’s sometimes hard to make space for them in our modern lives, but they are beautiful opportunities to open our hearts and deepen our happiness.