retreats are more magical encounters than self-exploration

<classe étendue="légende">Being aware of the people you are meditating with is an integral part of the process.</span> <span class="attribution"><une classe="lien " href="" rel="nofollow noopener" cible="_Vide" data-ylk="slk:Evgenia Kostiaeva |  Shutterstock">Evgenia Kostiaeva |  Shutterstock</a></span>” src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTY0MQ–/ -~B/aD0zMzE7dz00OTY7YXBwaWQ9eXRhY2h5b24-/” data-src=” YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTY0MQ – / https: //–~B/aD0zMzE7dz00OTY7YXBwaWQ9eXRhY2h5b24-/https: // “/></div>
<p>Retreating seems to be the very definition of a solitary experience.  You leave behind your friends, family, and co-workers, letting go of everyday life, responsibilities, worries, and frustrations, to spend some quality time alone.</p>
<p>The form this takes may vary.  You could spend your time reflecting, practicing mediation, taking a walk in a forest, or simply being silent for a week.  You could stoically endure the heat of a sweat lodge.  Whatever the method, research has generally portrayed retirement as the ultimate in “me” time, a prime example of contemporary self-obsession.</p>
<p>My recent research, however, suggests that retreats can be much more collaborative.  Through in-depth interviews with 27 people, conducted in the UK over six months, I was struck by the importance of encounters with other people in the experience.  People have told me about the unexpected connections they’ve made, which they’ve called “deep”, “inexplicable”, “mysterious”.</p>
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Unexplained connections

A 54-year-old man, Simon, started doing retreats after his wife left him and he lost his job. The effect they had on his life was intense.

His first experience was a silent retreat. One evening, after spending the day meditating next to a young woman (a stranger), they walked together to a nearby lake and swam, then returned – all in silence

Then we went back to the retirement home in silence. And we walked in, silently, sort of soaked and panting. God knows what others thought. And then we had a cup of coffee in silence and went to our separate bedrooms. And we didn’t talk about it for the rest of the retreat.

When they could finally talk, at the very end, Simon discovered that his companion was Latvian. They have stayed in touch ever since and remain friends. “It was a common bond that no one else would understand,” he said. “People would probably have thought that was incredibly weird.”

Research highlights the importance of a group for retreats. Even during long group meditation sessions, supposedly focusing on the inner workings of the mind, an individual’s attention often rests on other people in the room. We watch our neighbors or listen to the sighs, laughter and coughs. It actually helps the meditation process – it reduces our awareness of how we usually behave with others and synchronizes participants’ attention to the present.

Anonymity is also important. Support groups work partly because people don’t know each other. This gives participants a chance to experiment with their own identity – being kind to themselves, for example, or talking about difficult experiences – in a safe space, without too much risk to their daily sense of self.

A similar principle could apply to retreats, but in terms of relationships. Retreats offer people sustained contact with a group of complete strangers, usually around seven days. Without much information about who you will be retreating with, you are free to connect with others in ways that would otherwise seem impossible. You have what could be considered a relational blank slate.

Simon, for example, was not a “recently divorced man”, with all the baggage that a new encounter could bring. He could connect with another person free of assumptions and expectations. He felt a sense of camaraderie, or even just connection, that had otherwise been very difficult for him to access in his day-to-day life.

People run in the sun in a desert setting.
Unfamiliar surroundings help make the relationships forged on a retreat even more mysterious. Jed Villejo | Unsplash, FAL

mystical connectedness

Another interviewee, Lorelei, who is a 37-year-old health official, described her participation in a “sharing circle”. This is a common activity in which the whole group has the opportunity to reflect on how the retreat went and talk about their feelings with each other. She looked into the eyes of another attendee by chance – a man she had never met before – and told me that somehow “I didn’t see them. ; I saw their soul. And it made me cry tears of joy.

Lorelei couldn’t explain the sense of connection and intimacy she felt with this stranger. It is true that empathy is a common feature of support groups, where participants share their own feelings and listen to the feelings of others. But the feeling that they were meant to connect persisted for months afterwards.

Anthropologists have described the mystical sense of connection that emerges during rituals and festivals, where people report a sense of community and shared humanity. This phenomenon also appears in everyday life, for example in the context of raves and dance culture. But in retreats there is also a sense of unexpectedness and surprise, which seems to be an important piece of the puzzle.

British sociologist Jennifer Mason points out that casual relationships with strangers can take us out of relationship habits and routines. They can change our perspective on life, which can make them so powerful – they might even hint at feelings that we might be connected in deeper and more mysterious ways, in ways we can’t easily grasp.

Likewise, the actual setting of a retreat can also explain why participants feel excited and emotional. Retreats often take place in beautiful, remote countryside.

If the retreat takes place in a sacred space – a monastery, for example, or a Buddhist retreat center – religious iconography could add to the mystical atmosphere, heightening the feeling that you were destined to meet a mysterious stranger. This could give added weight to the striking and surprising similarities you discover with a meditation partner.

Research increasingly emphasizes the importance of relationships for well-being. Going on retirement, for many, is a way to re-enchant their relationship life. Bringing back to life a sense of mystery and surprise that otherwise might have been lost along the way.

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This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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James received a School of Social Sciences Small Grant Award (£2,000) from the University of Manchester to conduct this research.

About Shirley A. Tamayo

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