From time to time, periodically or seasonally, I take a three-day break. It can be a long weekend or any three days that work for me. My most recent personal retreat was a Sunday to Wednesday in the small mountain village of Manitou Springs, Colorado.
The three days can be anywhere you choose. Setting is important as I want to get outdoors and enjoy a walk in the woods or hills as part of my meditation and schedule. Yes, I set a schedule and stick fairly close to it in order to give time to what I want to accomplish, and receive the gift of what dedicated time can give to me. The schedule is not as important as the content and outcome although I believe the discipline of following a routine contributes to a rhythm of intake and response.
Sense of place is important and it’s best if it is serene, clean, orderly, simple and uncluttered. Sometimes I go to a monastic retreat center, at other times I find my own private room in a beautiful setting, free from any encumbrances, expectations or obligations. Quiet is essential and with the small exception of some music at appropriate times, the only sounds I usually hear are from nature. It rained on Tuesday and there was an exquisite rainbow arching over the mountains.
I begin and end each day with meditation, or a prayer, sometimes guided, sometimes not. This time can include breathing and stretching exercises, many of which are easily available. Some people like yoga which incorporates both. This kind of easy, simple meditation is a good practice every day. The Buddha puts it this way “You should sit in meditation 20 minutes every day unless you’re too busy, then … you should sit for an hour.” And occasionally, three days seems to be a good practice too.
Short inspirational passages can help focus this kind of meditation. Other time is given to longer reading periods whether a book, the written works of some whom I admire for their dedication to the life of the Spirit. Making notes and other, longer writing periods can also be included in this dedicated time.
The authors I look to include people such as St. Francis, some desert fathers and mothers, and others from Ghandi to Bonhoeffer to King and more recent works from Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton, Thich Nhat Hanh, Wayne Teasdale and others. I tend to avoid dogmatic prescriptions, a personal preference from times past. Reading may also include works of fiction. A recent study has shown when you read fiction, your body feels the same effects as a session of meditation.
The purpose and focus of these three days is a personal renewal of body, mind and spirit and reintegrating those energies to nurture my personal resources – mental, emotional and physical. It is an act of dedicating time for what I need and everyone is free to structure such an experience to fit one’s own needs and preferences. Some like to join a like-minded group in this type of experience while others prefer to engage in such an activity as a solo experience. And, as many practitioners know, it is not necessary to retreat in order to be in a meditative state of mind.
The benefits and blessings that flow from such an immersion include, but are not limited to 1) a revised perspective on priorities; 2) a deepened sense of gratitude for the available time and resources; 3) rejuvenated energies for moving forward; 4) commitment to purpose and passion for travel, writing, and sharing; 5) considerations for enjoying and celebrating whatever time remains; 6) continuation of good health practices in exercise and nutrition, and 7) more compassion for the suffering of others.