After attending Mindfulness Meditation Centers (MMC) programs and retreats here in Florida, I was determined to go somewhere remote, far enough away from home and my everyday activities to allow myself to fully embrace retreating.
What is retreat? And why bother?
My earliest memories of retreating are associated with military tactics. Probably watched too many Westerns and war movies as a kid. There was always an overwhelmed, somewhat bloodied and fatigued band of brothers pulling back from the action to rest, dress their wounds, and rethink current strategies. They were not giving up the fight, but rather, taking the time to reframe their views to reduce the pain and suffering of their men. And they did not appear to take sufficient time to rethink war or battle. But that’s a topic for another day.
Many of us live as if life itself is a military operation. We set a plan, we execute it, and we take two weeks vacation in the summer to replace internal batteries worn down by endless activities. We have a vision of how our lives “should” or “ought” to look, and gosh darn, we’ll do whatever is necessary to get what we want or what we deserve. We’ve built fighting and striving into the very core of who we are. There’s a lot of suffering associated with our military style tactics but we learn not to complain because who likes a complainer? My mom used to say, “I’ll give you something to cry about!”
Or we learn to compartmentalize the painful or inexplicable experiences we endure. We believe that by controlling or suppressing our emotions, or our relationship to what we experience, we will better survive the experience itself. As if life itself has to be survived.
There is no gentleness for self or other in this particular lifestyle. That’s why retreating for a month in Nova Scotia held such appeal for me. Of any quality, I wish to regain, relearn and share with others, it is gentleness—a concept that includes:
1. Kindness towards oneself
2. Kindness towards others which may include:
• Forgiving oneself for being a particular way
• Forgiving others for the way we believe they’ve been towards us
3. Experiencing gratitude for every precious moment/breath. Flipside. We could be dead.
Military style thinkers don’t value gentleness as the word implies softness or pushover. We want to win the war at any cost. That’s why retreating now is even more important because the war we fight is with ourselves. Plus we take this anger to the streets where we sew hostility to others. Whether the wounds we heal are emotional, physical, intellectual or spiritual, healing does lead to wholeness. And there is not one among us who does not want to be whole.