Would you like to get together and reconnect with yourself, with others and the world around you in the here and now? There’s a curiously restorative pleasure that comes from being in a like-minded community of other people for a limited period of time, away from the stresses of everyday life, supported in an organised setting and nourished by the energy of a group. So what’s on offer?
Experiences such as buddhist retreats, secular mindfulness holidays and digital detox breaks are hugely sustaining for the human spirit, most especially when you’re being encouraged to relax and slow down. The retreats, hotels and venues that offer them are also usually more committed to a sustainable planet too, offering home grown and locally sourced food, using natural materials for bedlinens and cleaning products, banning plastics, rewarding those who have travelled to the venue sustainably with discounts and treating their local staff and visiting practitioners with proper respect.
Promoting a way of living rather than a religion to follow, Buddhist retreats could be said to have started the trend. Available around the world, they are usually open to everyone regardless of beliefs or background, and to beginners as well as experienced practitioners. They provide a space for you to learn how to meditate and have guidance on how to live more peacefully. Most offer either Vipassana or Tibetan meditation as well as Buddhist philosophy, and require a real interest in meditation as well as self-sufficiency and a stable emotional state.
Meals are eaten communally at Buddhist retreats, food is vegetarian and often grown on site, and retreatants often have the chance of helping out in the gardens as part of a daily work ethic. Stimulants such as alcohol, caffeine and tobacco are not allowed, and sexes are usually segregated in simple accommodation – all with the view of helping you calm down and go inside.
Most Buddhist retreats charge a small fee for food and accommodation, with teachers paid by donation, making them accessible to everyone, but for those who like their creature comforts there are also now lots of secular meditation and mindfulness retreats, and group sessions and workshops run at hotels around the world, that don’t subscribe to any one view, and where guests can experience more luxurious pleasures alongside learning how to be in the moment.
A Vipassana silent meditation retreat is especially beneficial, when without daily chit chat and petty concerns your mind is freer to learn to meditate, and an increasing number of secular retreats have picked up on this and now offer periods of silence each day to enable you to focus on what’s going on in your lives, minds and bodies, get clarity on important issues, make a decision or just relax.
Such silent retreats are hugely beneficial, for though silence has been practiced in almost all monastic traditions for years as a way of reconnecting with the self and improving mental and physical health, it’s important that we choose where we experience it, as the ancient desert hermits would have done, so that we can use it to our advantage rather than simply feeling lonely. You’ll find that in a community, you feel an enormous connection with others without having to speak.
Turning off your devices and gadgets and the ‘noise’ that comes from them whether it’s social media, instant messaging or constant email checking is key for most of these retreats, or you can choose a dedicated digital detox break where phones, ipads and other gadgets can be totally surrendered (great if you have no willpower), where you are encouraged to pack them away, or where they are limited (you can only use them in one set public area, for example). Whatever you choose, even one weekend of it can result in huge benefits, enabling you to get perspective on life and actually ‘see’ and experience your fellow humans and the world around you.