I have been drawn to transformative retreats for many years. For more than thirty years at least, I think… both taking part myself in a myriad of raw, healing, transforming searches for a mysterious something; and also loving to create magical alchemical spaces in which others could experience life differently…
My early executive retreats at The Stables, a holistic residential retreat centre I created over twelve years, were advertised with Marcel Proust’s words “It is not so much new landscapes that we require but new eyes with which to see them.”
In a way I live on a semi-permanent retreat in my house, now seeing it differently every day.
A friend asked me: Why would you go on a retreat?
I am in the habit of asking questions. A well-honed question is the tip of the arrow of the expression flowing as answers. So I asked myself the question… why would I go on a retreat? For three days I asked myself. What can I say about my endless fascination with retreats?
First of course there is the obvious layer of answers that we can find in the best spa and holiday brochures… all the well-documented positive benefits of relaxation, rest, health and wellbeing.
The definition of ‘retreat’
But there is much more to be expressed in answering my friend’s question. I looked for the origin of the word ‘retreat’, and our usage of it, in my favourite etymological dictionary:
Retreat (n) c1300 from O.Fr. retret noun use of pp of retrere “draw back” from L, retrahere “draw back,” from re- “back” + trahere “to draw” (see tract (1)). Meaning “place of seclusion” is from 1423; sense of “establishment for mentally ill persons” is from 1797. The verb is first attested 1422.
To draw back, to withdraw, is an extremely ancient practice. To go to “A place of seclusion”. We know of Jesus going into seclusion in the desert and I don’t expect he had soothing massage and beauty treatments.
The ancient Greeks would go to the oracle at Delphi for wisdom… Retreats were for increasing knowledge and awareness and direction. It was known that solutions came from the depths of the unconscious.
There is currently such a desire in the heart for release from the imprisioning structures of our conscious life, a longing for the seemingly disappeared, irresponsible freedom of early childhood… for something more… for resolution of the seemingly impossible demands and challenges of our personal and planetary impoverished 21st century life.
Hmmm… “establishment for mentally ill persons”… our culture with its frenetic conscious hurried activity, its increasingly demanding and controlling complexity, its depersonalisation and its entropic dysfunctional structures, can be seen as the precursor to a collective madness.
Maybe the crazy and the aged, and those presumed to be disabled, less useful or welcome, are simply retreatants, refugees. Our mental hospitals and our prisons are places to withdraw from our collective conscious obedience and dutifulness, overflowing containers where we store the vast resources of the ungrown seeds of our future treasure… ready for recycling when we have no room left for storing the shadow we have created, when the tsunami of the shadow finally rises and the linear mind is forced ultimately to let in the hordes of the athithi.
Athithi devo bhava (ADB) in Sanskrit translates as ‘The guest is God’. Thithi is planned time… Athithi is shadow time… the unexpected guest which is God, and in India is welcomed … the unexpected, unwanted, unwelcome,… the less able, the sick, the lepers, the prisoners, the poor…
Why Do We Go On Retreats?
Retreats are a return to gentle sanity, a way of inclusion, a way to let go, a relief of pressure, a release from the endless getting it right! A drawing back to a space which allows relief from the pressure of the relentless shadow of the ungrown. A shadow full of the unseen, the unremembered, the unconsidered possibilities, the dismissed dreams of earlier years and abandoned pleasure in the unplanned and unexpected. The loss of Santa Claus, fairy tales and angels. The feeling that used to be associated with Christmas morning, or the first day of the school holidays. The magical feeling that Walt Disney knew to cultivate. A way of uncapping the oil well. A retreat from the conscious planned way of doing things, of surrender of reductive linear thinking leading to entropy.
Retreats are the butterfly way… the non-linear, meandering way of a purposeless exploration of the face of the beloved, or wandering in the fields of scarlet poppies. Here today and gone tomorrow. To be enjoyed in the blossoming gift of this moment and no other.
Flying Crooked by Robert Graves (1895-1985)
The butterfly, a cabbage-white,
(His honest idiocy of flight)
Will never now, it is too late,
Master the art of flying straight,
Yet has – who knows so well as I? –
A just sense of how not to fly:
He lurches here and here by guess
And God and hope and hopelessness
Even the aerobatic swift
Has not his flying-crooked gift.
A retreat which consciously allows space for the growth of these insidious blades of couch grass and the weeds which will not go away, is the most intelligent and creative event… A retreat from living in a lemming-like culture of conscious controlled, willful, self-improvement, where only the clean and shiny and tidy and functional are welcome.
Individually and collectively the Heart is calling us to take a path less travelled. The human race is calling itself back home to wholeness instead of a pseudo sanitised version of our collective fairy tale.
Going on retreat or a vision quest is gradually becoming part of mainstream culture. A new meme. Allowing space for the ungrown, a space to integrate and rebalance. Newness is always born from the dark womb of the unknown. Conscious humanity and its individual expressions are called now to take this courageous step. Never before has so much opportunity been easily available for us to step out into the uncharted territory of our own heart.
On my own retreats I acknowledge the desire to create amazing magical spaces for this revolutionary culture of exploration of our unknown New Land. To go apart and then return to where we began, and know it in its emerging wholeness for the first time. To explore and tap the fossil fuel of the shadow, the underworld in our own psyche where the power and potential are stored in those who are ready to enjoy and release their full abundant flow of life in a new movie.
The corporate world of business typifies the control over how the world of recycling is viewed. The conscious linear thought being perceived to be top dog. It is being overthrown in the rising tsunami of the shadow world.
The way of exploration, the open secret, the ultimate solution to everything… is witnessing from the Heart.
Archimedes is reported to have said “Give me a fulcrum and a place to stand and I will move the world.”
Witnessing from the heart
This fulcrum is the art of witnessing, and a retreat can be firm ground, a place to stand, that tiny steady place in the heart that knows. Witnessing is our natural state, the way of the heart. Remember being observed by a baby in a supermarket for example… the are of witnessing is activated and made sustainable in authentic dialogue in Heart Communication.
Witnessing from the Heart is causal…. Creates miracles… is a miracle… the art of witnessing is everyone’s birthright… that it is not only possible, but also simple and sustainable is the good news we have to offer to all who want to hear!
The word miracle comes from mirare, to see, and aculo, a diminutive ending meaning little… a little seeing. Witnessing is the ‘little seeing’ which gives rise to wonderful results.
Witnessing is for… recycling, maintenance and creation of life!
It really makes sense to learn the art and to practice it.
Those adventurers who regularly retreat – reculer pour mieux sauter (definition: to run back in order to give a better jump forwards; to give way a little in order to take up a stronger position) are the pioneers of a new way beyond issues and division… a way of integration of conscious and unconscious, a way of the Abundant Heart. Whether you retreat to a luxurious magical desert island – or for an hour’s silence in your room to witness and digest the latest happening that has broken your heart…
Heart witnessing with no expectation is the way to release the flowing Power of the Intelligent Heart… the way to really live smart! It is a promise of something new and very real and sustainable… like finding the precise coordinates of the alchemical pot of gold at the rainbow’s end.
Jeanette Kishori McKenzie
Jeanette Kishori McKenzie BA Dip Hum Psy RPP is a luminary and visionary alchemist. For more than 40 years she has explored the nature of consciousness, combining Eastern Wisdom with Western Communication Skills, Alchemy and Yoga to create a unique invitation to Self-Inquiry.
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