Silence is a great help to a seeker after Truth. In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in a clearer light and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness. Our life is a long and arduous quest after the Truth, and the soul requires inward restfulness to attain its full height.
Mohandas K. Gandhi (Mahatma Gandhi)
The Webster’s dictionary defines “retreat” as a “period of retirement or seclusion, especially one devoted to religious contemplation away from the pressures of ordinary life.” The word “spiritual” can be defined as “the higher intellectual or endowments of the mind, intellect, consciousness or the moral feelings or states of the soul.” When a person chooses to go to a spiritual retreat, the person chooses a place of peace, calm and quietness so as to rediscover the divinity that exists within them.
Silence is an important aspect in spirituality. It renews us and provides us with a perspective that “the solitude of a retreat will provide an interval of stillness and gentle concentration, a pause in the constant and unremitting demands of our daily lives.” It is believed that by practicing silence, we would be able to nurture or listening skills and find our true self. A retreat provides the seeker with an opportunity to experience a variety of approaches to communicate with the divine. One’s channel to God may happen through meditation, contemplation and prayer. Silence means that one can’t hide from one’s problems or from God. The simple regularity of prayers, meals, rest and communion keeps one spiritually and physically healthy. A retreat allows us to break out of our ordinary pattern of daily life. When we turn off the television and cell phones, we are in an environment where we can affirm and strengthen our commitment to spiritual priorities. It is in the silence and stillness that we are able to nourish our life with solitude, silence, meditation and prayer. A retreat also provides us with the environment to rest our mind, body and soul.
Meditation is where there is stillness of the mind and body. There are several meditation techniques which range from Vipassana Meditation to the Buddhist to the Christian meditation which was set out by Dom John Main (1926 – 1982) which now enjoys worldwide following among Christians.
Meditation begins by relaxing the body into a state of stillness, the mind is then relaxed into inner silence. Once there is silence, one should start with a deliberate breathing pattern. It is believed that breathing is the bridge which connects us from the known to the unknown. A mantra can be used to regulate breathing. Meditation is one of the ancient ways to reach the spiritual realm. This is due to the fact that with constant meditation, we are able to heighten our concentration and those changes in the mind and body which can release the hidden realms of consciousness. While the use of meditation as a spiritual practice has never ceased in the East, the art and technique was mostly lost in the West, certainly to the average person. Christianity has always understood meditation to be one of the exercises of spiritual life or prayer. Starting in the 1960s, in the world of atomic bombs and the cold war, there was an interest in anything which might provide a new vision of the future, an insight into the meaning of life which was more hopeful and less frightening than the prospect of world destruction. The answers were, as always, to be found in spirituality and the West rediscovered Meditation. Christians spirituality emphasises the simplicity of biblical meditation based on the reading of scriptures or the writing of the early church fathers. Non-Christian methods are also used in meditation while holding on the specific idea of being animated by the Holy Spirit and the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.
Meditation is known as a way of letting go of all worries and for releasing yourself from the constant activities, ideas and emotions of the mind and body. It is a way to clear out the unquiet, to clean up the self and to use your inner space to become calm and refreshed and restart your life.
What Happens in Meditation
When one goes into deep meditation, there is a sharp increase in the rhythm of the brain with a concurrent decrease in the breathing rate and oxygen consumption. The heart rate decreases as well and there is a fall in the blood pressure. The skin has an increased electrical resistance. High lactate levels in the blood are associated with stress and these falls during meditation. Yogi masters use meditation to control and master by conscious effort. Involuntary bodily functions such as pulse rate, digestion, metabolism, kidney activity and body temperature can easily be controlled by constant meditation. All meditation techniques have a single goal which is turning our attention inwards, away from external concerns which demand your attention. This involves concentrating our mind on a particular object or idea. The mind is slowly cleared of all thoughts. The thoughts would gradually fade away until our mental involvement with thought is suspended. A clearer, calmer experience of oneself then takes place. The immediate effect of meditation is the significant release from tension and meditation is known as a powerful gateway to self-realization.
There are many ways of meditation in which one can achieve the inner state. This depends on which practice of meditation which we choose. Different kinds of meditation may be useful for different purposes or for different people. Tibetan and Hindu spirituality concentrate on breathing to focus your attention and insists on the importance of breathing. In Zen meditation, there is no object of concentration at all. One is supposed to be aware of your changing thoughts and feelings as they pass through one’s mind. The Zen priests in Japan believe that by doing this meditation, one may increase and sustain the body to more than 10 times longer than the average person who meditates. There are walking meditations where concentration is on the body and the processes involved as you move. In Sufi, vigorous whirling and dance movements as are also known techniques of meditation.
The benefits of meditation are that one should feel calm and relaxed. Meditation is an excellent way of combating stress. Once practiced frequently, it is an excellent way of combating stress and should increase our ability to concentrate and generate a sense of a calm centre from which you may direct more of your energy into living more creatively in your personal talents and gifts. As we discover more about ourselves, our tolerance of others increases. Meditation can take you into different aspects of consciousness where new insights may come to you.
What to Expect from Meditation Retreats?
Yoga originated thousands of years ago and is said to be a practical way to deal with the stress and strains of modern life. Anyone at any age can practise yoga and it can be done anywhere. The yoga elements of posture, breathing and meditation make this possible because they are so adaptable to the individual. Attending regular yoga class helps maintain good general health by improving the efficiency of the body. It tones the muscles, loosens up the joints, helps lessen back stiffness and improves overall physical strength and stamina. However, the ultimate benefit of yoga is to unite the body, mind and spirit through certain practices and movements. It is the fusion of these three elements of our human nature which has given yoga such lasting appeal and made it popular.
Yoga should always be taught by a qualified and insured instructor. Any equipment used should be safe and appropriate for the activity being done. Yoga students should always discuss any medical condition before enrolling in a yoga course.
There is no one perfect school of yoga. Most yoga classes held in western countries fall under the general heading of Hatha Yoga, but there are many other schools and forms such as Hatha Yoga, Iyengar Yoga and Ashtanga Yoga. Lesser known styles range from Kripula to Bihar. There are different yoga methods and yoga systems to suit different people. It is important to find out what yoga is right for you before starting a yoga course.
When doing yoga, one has to remember that yoga is a way to awaken the spirituality within us. In this sense, meditation is an integral part of yoga. Its purpose is to move forward in our search for the vision of the hidden self.
Yoga retreats can be near home or in distant shores. They can be for a weekend, a week or even much longer. Yoga retreats always contain the holiday element so that one gets plenty of rest and relaxation and fun as well as the retreats would combine yoga teaching and practice. A yoga retreat is an excellent and healthy combination for increasing fitness and getting an emotional detoxification.