The Necessity of Solitude and Retreat

I say retreat as opposed to escape–a different state, more desperate-sounding. Retreat is a planned choice designed to improve the individual, to free up and clarify inner self, personal identity, and one’s place in and relationship with the world.

Let’s face it–the world today is a glut of sensations, distractions, and confusions, many of them ultimately unsettling to one’s inner self and overall well-being. I was at a crowded restaurant yesterday evening and the din was deafeningly constant. It is this sort of external physical thing that intrudes on one’s nerves and desire for civilized pleasure even if this just ‘an evening out’. I have often remarked that one needs to ‘cut out the noise’ in order to hear oneself think and in order to truly relax. And so solitude is sometimes necessary merely for that purpose.

But more importantly, solitude is necessary to refresh oneself (as in retreat), to allow one to hear oneself at a deeper, more reflective level, to get or stay in touch with oneself, to get a clearer idea of who one really is, to ‘feed’ the soul and renew the spirit, to process the external world as well as one’s own immediate situation or context, and to improve oneself for social company. I have also often said that One can’t be any good for others if one is not good to oneself. Indeed, it is hard to operate, function, to have confidence, to withstand external irrationality, and to be strong in conflictful situations for others if one is ‘half-full’ or ‘spilling over’ with unfocused, stressed-out energies.

One of the major turning points in my life was when I decided, while working as a nose-to-the-grindstone teacher, to retreat to New England in September early in a school year, something none of my colleagues ever would do. You always have to heed The Call when it comes and not be limited or intimidated by rules and others in making important life-giving/healing choices. (I stand corrected. There was a young Phys Ed teacher at our school who went even bravely further in following her bliss enough to shave her head and go to a Tibetan monastery for a year off! Now that is a much riskier, even more interesting, life-changing event. That is someone who truly knew/knows the value of retreat.)

Yes, solitude (whether it be a retreat to a sacred place or taking time to meditate on some level) and retreat are totally necessary aspects of the human journey. Both provide much helpful information and insights.

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