Our human nature is like a garden of myriad colors and blooms. Weeds pop up here and there and, with practice, we can mindfully tend to them. Like any garden ours requires light, nutrients, and water. A wakeful attention is the light that warms our growth. Self compassion, kindness and care are the fertilizer that feeds our blossoming. And regular meditation practice is what waters our garden, keeping it fresh and alive.
The many responsibilities and demands of day to day life can easily deplete our vitality and health. In a poorly tended garden, weeds grow, soil becomes depleted or dried up and our plants and flowers wither and become dis-eased.
Regular meditation practice is like digging a shallow trench to fill with water and irrigate our garden. Stress and busyness, multitasking and a lack of self care, can easily take us away from tending to ourselves. Our trench dries up, and we may feel a sense of longing and separation from who we are and what is important to us.
Meditation practice is always in dynamic relationship with the rest of our lives – a push and pull; a flow between resonance and dissonance. The many demands – work pressures, family dynamics, screens, media, blessings, challenges — can pull us away from this garden, even as we return time and again to our breath, to this moment, to our self. As any seasoned gardener knows, caring for a garden is a process of leaving and returning, gently working with nature to nurture life and creation in an intentional way.
Retreat is an opportunity to come home again to our true selves. At a meditation retreat we practice formal sitting and walking. We are more quiet and slowed. We eat mindfully and our attention is turned within as we explore and deepen our relationship with ourself. Retreat is not a moving away from, but is rather a returning to who we really are.
While daily meditation practice continues to fill our trench and irrigate our garden, retreat is akin to digging a deep well. On retreat we deepen our practice through a process of coming back, time again, to this breath, to this step and to this moment. We return to self with kindness and curiousity, and in this way, create a compassionate space for whatever is here – challenge, blessing or circumstance. On retreat we have the time and space to surrender into the practice and process of healing and insight. While this digging of the ‘well’ can be uncomfortable, physically and emotionally, it is also what allows us to reinvigorate ourselves and our practice. We often leave retreat feeling refreshed and filled. We dig the well during retreat, fill it with our dedicated practice, and this is what quenches our thirst and sustains our vitality and presence.
I recommend attending a teacher led retreat, if possible, at least once per year. This may be as little as a couple of days, or as long as a month or more. At Living This Moment, we offer regular retreats for physicians and other health care providers in order to deepen one’s experience of meditation practice and to nurture a sense of a mindful community. In addition please refer to the Resources section of the website for other retreat suggestions.
Making time for retreat in a life of competing priorities and busyness can be challenging. And yet it is also a radical act of self-love and of coming home. We tend to our garden, time and again, so that it can sustain us for a life that is lived with presence, love and insight.