Do you find it tough transitioning from your working day back into your home life? Or going into work on Monday morning after a weekend with friends and family? Perhaps you have strategies to deal with that.
It’s a whole other shift of gears to transition into the energy of a retreat center. Retreatants need time to adjust, and then re-adjust when they leave. And yet at Clear Sky, we now have several residents who leave the property on a daily basis to go to work, and then transition back into whatever is happening on site, such as a retreat, workshop, or just an average day of running the center. In a sense, they go in and out of retreat every day.
The one who has been doing this the longest is Maureen, who moved to the property as caretaker shortly after it was purchased more than a decade ago. She has mostly lived there ever since, engaging fully in the life of running the center, while on weekdays she transitions to her counselling job in nearby Cranbrook and then back home.
What this “home” looks like has varied widely over the years. Many times, Maureen has arrived home to dinner with 30 people in silent retreat. She has also come back to groups of people, mid-workshop, who were renting the space for a day or more. In a quiet season during the early years she may have eaten alone or with one or two others, and is now more likely to be sitting down with the 15 or so other residents and karma yogis on site.
They say it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at something. While we haven’t exactly done the math, we’re still going to award Maureen symbolic expertise in “transitioning from the outside world into retreat life.”
We asked her to offer some advice for those of you coming from a city, or otherwise busy life, and transitioning into the energy of a retreat.
“I know that your life might look really different to mine, but the point I’d like to make is universal – there are golden opportunities in transitions. Every morning I wake up in an awakening center, or conscious community. On four of those days each week, I go to work in a nearby city and come back to the center at 5pm, in time for eating dinner with my chosen family.
When I first started doing it, I often found the transition between those two very different environments to be rough. Like everything else, I had to make it into a practice of mindfulness. Gradually, I found there was less adjustment needed, and I learned things that helped me. In other words, these transitions became a big part of my practice.
What makes a transition uncomfortable? Who or what needs to adjust?
We often don’t even acknowledge them, yet transitions can be uncomfortable. Adjusting to a shift in our environment can bring up challenges. We might feel out of control, overwhelmed, or just a little irritated. We might react by withdrawing or by blaming other people because we can’t communicate our needs. Rather than judge ourselves, we need to be aware of the exact nature of the discomfort, and that’s all.
The challenges become more familiar and easier to deal with the more we do this. We see the patterns and can accept what’s happening without clinging to comfort, while also coming up with ways to helps us transition more smoothly. It’s part of getting comfortable with being uncomfortable, and this is invaluable when we’re trying to grow ourselves and push our edges. So, how do we make the best of this great opportunity to practice moving from this to that, from creation to dissolution, from giving birth to noticing the passing away of phenomena?
If we are able to be in the moment – active, alive, engaged with radical mindfulness – then transitions are a breeze. In fact, there is no such thing as a transition if we are radically mindful. Every microsecond is just as it is. Now. Now. Now. Always now. Staying conscious through these repeated transitions, we get to see what throws us into discomfort, into negative feelings that take us into our stories and our mini fight, flight, or freeze responses. We get to see the patterns of what takes us away from flow, from simply accepting the present moment.
Advice for transitioning into retreat
These were reflections on transitions in general. I also have some practical tips for you if you’re coming from the outside world to a retreat setting and want to make the best of your time and a experience a smooth transition:
Essentially it comes down to two things. Planning ahead, and flowing with whatever is happening, whether in a busy city or in quiet retreat. After all, transitions happen, whether we like them or not.
Before you come:
- Book your retreat well in advance. This gives your psyche time to adjust to the idea and prepare for the adventure ahead. Sometimes we wait to book or register for no particular reason, and that can leave a sense of non-commitment in the body.
- Get all your affairs in order. You want to completely immerse in the retreat. This doesn’t mean you have to write your last will and testament before you come. You just don’t want to have to skip out to answer emails or texts on some unfinished issue. Use vacation reminders and make sure everyone knows you’re out of touch for the duration.
- Pack well in advance. This gives you time to reconsider and fine tune what you will bring with you, and helps avoid a sense of rushing that can make the transition feel bumpy.
During your trip
- Use the outer changes along your trip to prepare your inner landscape. As the traffic gets lighter and the buildings more sparse, for example, imagine your busy-ness inside also getting sparser, lighter, and drifting to the background of your consciousness.
When you arrive
- Enjoy some deep in-breaths of that welcoming, clean, sweet country air.
- Just as importantly, exhale out that stale, used, depleted air from your lungs.
- Consider making a list of things you are going to let go of as you go into retreat, like daily chores, worries, people, pets, to-do’s. As you write them down, know that they will be there to pick up again when you are back out of retreat, recorded on paper. You won’t need to hold them in your mind for fear of missing something.
- Give your body a physical shake-out. Wiggle your head, neck, arms, shoulders, hands, torso, belly, legs, ankles, and feet. Imagine letting go of the city life and busy fast activities, making room for slowing down, going internal and allowing quiet in.
Coming Soon: Advice on transitioning out of retreat and back into daily life
By Maureen Smith and Andrew Rogers. Edited by Andrew Rogers.