I have recently returned from a two week meditation retreat at the Tibetan Buddhist Society here in Perth, Australia, where it’s my privilege to have been a member for the past fourteen years. While I was up the hill, I heard a story which made me think of ‘retreats’ in a completely different way.
One of my fellow retreatants had been explaining to her elderly father that he wouldn’t see her for two weeks because she was going away. I have never met her father, but in my mind’s eye he is very much of the old school – tough and conservative. When she told him where she was going his reaction was emphatic: ‘Retreat? I would never retreat!’
Strangely, up until I heard that story, I had never thought about ‘retreating’ as the opposite of ‘advancing.’ But that seemed to be the old boy’s meaning. And once it was out there, it made me think.
Why do we withdraw to our centre for two weeks, forsaking all our normal activities, phone calls and Facebook updates, and focus instead for seven hours a day on meditating, if not to improve our concentration? To deepen our understanding of ideas, so that we understand not only the meaning of concepts, but experience their meaning? To attempt, step by step, to realize our own Buddha nature, ideally not just for our own sake, but for the sake of all living beings?
Even if our progress towards these lofty goals is modest, it is still progress. Still an advance. Which is why, from now on, I suggest that meditation ‘retreats’ should be banned. Let’s have meditation ‘advances’ instead!