Saturday, April 28, 2007


I'm writing this from the comfort of my bedroom at Still Meadow Retreat Center. I'm here for two days doing a qigong intensive. We call them "retreats" and I want to riff a little on what that means. Writing it makes me think re-treat as in a second treat and that is often what qigong retreat is...if you like qigong. I've done 8 retreats in the last 4 years and the retreats usually focus on forms or skills I'm learning in a regular weekly qigong course, so it's like a concentrated dose or a second dose, hence retreat.

Let's go to Webster's and see what he says about retreat:
1: an act or process of withdrawing especially from what is difficult, dangerous, or disagreeable
2: the process of receding from a position or state attained
3: a place of privacy or safety : REFUGE
4: a period of group withdrawal for prayer, meditation, study, or instruction under a director
(Military definitions excluded because I just don't want to go there - I'm tired of military analogies.)

So the meaning of retreat for us is clearly group withdrawal for meditation, study and instruction, but I like the rest of these definitions too. As much as I kick and scream about taking time out of my busy schedule to go on retreat, I also am so happy to leave behind the stresses of everyday life. Here someone cooks for me, cleans up the dishes and no one cares if I wear the same dirty sweatpants all weekend. It feels very nourishing and nurturing in that way. This also relates to the idea of refuge - the retreat center is pretty quiet and while my classmates aren't always on their best behavior, people are usually pretty introspective and supportive. The one I almost left out, but really want to meditate on in the next session is "the process of receding from a position or state attained," with the example of the retreat of glaciers. I was thinking, no, we're here to grow, but then I realized that sometimes growth means backing down a path to the last fork and going up the other way. Being on the path doesn't always mean traveling in a straight line and in fact, may never mean that.

That's my meditation for today - what fork in the road do I need to revisit?

Practically, though, I find it ironic that I'm typing on my computer, hooked up the Internet, with my cell phone plugged in beside me, while on retreat. There is something not very retreated about that. And the woman I'm sharing my house with just drove back into town to work at the clinic for a couple hours. I guess it's a matter of state of mind. Mental retreat. Okay, time for another session.

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