"In the world of spirit, if you take the smallest step, ten thousand steps come toward you."
-- John O'Donohue
Spiritual retreats give us a chance to think and to dream, to rest and to rediscover nature, to learn and to listen. There is time for solitude and silence and for opening up in a way that may not be possible in the midst of a busy life. The seeds that you plant on such a journey can nourish you all year.
Ideally, we could all live a deeply spiritual life all the time. But as the world moves at a faster pace, it can be harder and harder to hear our truth amid the noise and confusion.
Through the years, my spiritual journeys have included trips to India to sit with a spiritual teacher, many workshops at Esalen, writing and yoga retreats.
I always come home rested and re-committed to weave my spiritual life back into my daily life. I have a new perspective on problems or issues that seemed difficult before I left.
This spring, I attended a ten-day retreat in the west of Ireland, with writer and Celtic philosopher John O'Donohue. Through a combination of hiking, lectures and the magic of the landscape, we explored ways of healing our relationship with time--how to come home again to our own rhythm. O'Donohue invited us to go deep, to use our time away to "search out who we have lost of ourselves, or parts we have made silent".
As we hiked around the verdant countryside, visiting sacred wells and sites, passing baby sheep and newly born calves standing close to their mothers, we'd many times walk in silence. I can still hear the wind whistling through the crumbling stonewalls of an abandoned village or the waves pounding against the cliffs of Moher—the experience magnified by our silence.
Other times we'd chat and sing as we wound our way up over hills and down into valleys, forming new and deep friendships.
We shared traditional thatched roof cottages along Galway Bay. On the few rainy days, we met in front of a cozy fire. There was time to read, write and meditate. We were taken care of, with meals, driving and guides, so we could relax. And being Ireland, we also got to hear some traditional Irish music in the local pubs. Everyone on the trip shared the respect for the power of the journey. There was much laughter and great conversation.
Spiritual retreats give you time to stand back and consider the big questions in life. O'Donohue said: "These ten days, it is great to be free enough to allow yourself to be disturbed. Find a way to take your place again in your own life."
Here are some of the questions he asked us to consider during our retreat:
- Who am I?
- How should I be?
- What is the nature of my silence? When did I last rest there without fear?
- What am I making of myself?
- What have I against myself?
- What am I putting up with from another, from myself?
- What is the true form of me?
- How faithful am I to the call of my own heart and soul?
- What are the one or two changes I could make to let my time slow down a bit?
I loved Ireland—the country and the people--and the experience of being with like-minded fellow travelers. And yes, I did shift my relationship to time. On morning and evening walks, I marveled at the tide coming in and going out in Galway Bay. I rediscovered the wonder of sunrise and sunset, savoring how the light changed moment by moment.
There was so much richness in the journey; it will take me months to digest it all. But I'm reassured by O'Donohue's words that "in us, the depths keep watch."
I googled 'spiritual retreats' and came back with over 11 million results in .11 seconds. So how do you know how to find the right one for you? Here are some ideas that could help you to narrow the search.
- Go with a leader who you know and trust. I had heard John O'Donohue speak and his book 'Anam Cara' always reconnected me with my spiritual self. You can visit his website at www.johnodonohue.com.
- Check out well-established retreat centers like Esalen Institute, in Big Sur www.esalen.org, or Hollyhock, in British Columbia www.hollyhock.ca/.
- Consider a yoga retreat, a great way to combine body, mind and spirit. Look on the Internet or in the Yoga Journal magazine.
- Create your own retreat by taking a few days off, turning off the phone and dedicating that time to read, write, do yoga or whatever helps you to go deep. Enjoy the journey.
Diane Covington is a writer and life coach. You can visit her website at www.dianecovington.com.
Diane Covington © 2006