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The Gifts of a Retreat

By Sacinandana Swami

Stop, where are you running?
The real things lie inside.
You might miss them
If you keep looking outside.

After a wonderful lecture tour through Germany, Macedonia and Serbia, I found shelter in a little house in the countryside built by a good friend. It’s near a monastery.

During the day, I go deep into my spiritual practice, and in the evening, I have kirtan events in the surrounding towns. Somehow, the monastery’s influence is spilling over the high walls which enclose the ancient buildings to touch my heart with a timeless message: The quieter you become inside, the more you can hear. All genuine spiritual traditions have encouraged us to stop and discover the universal mystery that lies hidden in the depths of the soul… There, we find the essential pure life where we tap into a deep sense of spiritual joy and contentment - an experience the fast-moving world does not know of.

When withdrawing into solitude and silence, one can encounter the greater person within, who is far superior to the forever insecure small person we know so well, always struggling for ego-centred gains. In spiritual practice, one can nourish that “greater person” – the soul - and make it strong so that it reaches beyond all limitations into the world of the spirit. When one returns from such inner depths, he or she has changed. Now, such a changed person brings the sacred world with him or her into daily life; occupied in “busy leisure” and resting in “tranquil activity,” as one monk from my neighbouring monastery expressed. With such spiritual empowerment, things seem to happen on their own accord, or by the strength of a different orchestrator – the Lord.

Almost effortlessly, one is in the flow.

What Happens While Being on Retreat?

When you position two mirrors in front of each other, one great and one small, whatever appears in the first mirror is reflected in the second, and vice versa. The only difference being that the first mirror holds much more content. The same can happen when we are in divine communication, far away from the noise of the world. Wonderful insights come to us, reflected into our heart from the heart of Krishna. We can ask Krishna to take note of the deeper things that are going on within us, and to respond to us as He sees fit. We then find that gradually, step by step, our life becomes characterized by divine communication, turning eventually into unceasing, delightful prayer.

However, to attain this state means to be willing to enter a joyful battle – a battle between one’s lower and higher nature. If one nourishes the higher nature by chanting, meditation on the revealed scriptures (which are food for the soul), and hearing about the life of saints with the intention to follow their example, our higher self progresses as easily as the light of the morning sun, thus gently driving the inner darkness away.

It is helpful to interrupt the more introspective parts of our individual worship (bhajan) by sometimes performing a little yoga, puja, kirtan, or work for Krishna. This can serve as a spiritual anchor for us amidst the coming and going of our thoughts, thus helping our heart to remain joyfully fixed on Krishna without mental exhaustion. When interrupting the more sedentary activities of our private bhajan, it is, however, essential to not become fixed on the activity itself, but rather to be fixed on who it is performed for. In this way, we don’t lose sight of the goal but remain united with Krishna throughout. Thus, the mind will think of Krishna, the heart will pray to Him, and the body will work for Him – even work out for Him.

Sacred Reading

He who thinks such a higher connection can happen without the nourishment of the sacred scriptures, which act like a mother who lovingly breastfeeds her children with liquid energy, is sorely mistaken. One should be intent to capture the eternal truths of scripture that have infinitely more substance than the froth of words whipped out of the thought-waves of the mind. Such truths also act like oil to nourish the flames of divine love. Only such love can keep our hearts bound to the Lord. If that inner flame flickers and becomes extinguished, however, one again is held captive by the miserable anxiety arising from self-centredness. Sacred reading can pacify the mind to turn it into a tranquil lake that reflects one image only – that of Krishna.

Spiritual Company and Kirtan

Spiritual practices tend to become stagnant when we do only one thing repeatedly while staying alone. Like electricity, there must be two poles to flow: practicing alone, and being or practicing with others.

Our solitude should therefore be moderated with spiritual company. Choose like-minded spiritualists and practice together abiding in the peace of higher consciousness. When being in such spiritual company, let us guard against argumentation, defending our views, or dominating the conversation. Instead, let us learn to listen and then see the world of spirit through the eyes of those we associate with.

Such spirited discussions strengthen our delicate natures just like walking through a charming countryside or a verdant forest refreshes us. They will fortify us with faith when doubts haunt us while being alone. There is a saying: “If you stay in solitude for more than four weeks, you might become weak.”

Raising our voice in kirtan is another way to go deep into one’s spiritual centre. Kirtan however should be sung in a spirit of devotion, for our singing is not only meant to reach the ears of the Lord, but to move His heart: “O, here is someone who sincerely wants My presence in their life.” We sing most effectively for Krishna when we long for the higher connection. By singing, we will thus fly into Krishna’s heart, and He into ours. This singing will at once unite us also with the fellow kirtan singers. We can hear their voices in us, and they can hear our voices in them.

Receiving the Gifts of our Retreat

In the beginning, being in solitude can be a daunting challenge. At first, we miss the excitement of our busy lives. But if we persist, our heart turns into a vibrant temple from which ascends true devotional feelings and prayers. Krishna then responds to our heart by showing us possibilities and answers beyond our wildest expectations. At that time, no one needs to convince us to go on retreat since we have been convinced by the gifts which are (among others):

• Tasting the sweetness of the Divine connection;
• Losing the smaller self and opening up to a spirit of compassion, love and service;
• Penetrating the message behind the words of scripture;
• Infusing our prayer with urgency;
• And, stepping into the living presence of the Lord, as far as our human condition permits...

Nothing is more beneficial than going on retreat. Please try to go on a retreat to see the immense amount of benefits a retreat can bring to your life.


 

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