Yoga and Retreats

A retreat gives sweetness, making it easy to be interior and do work. A retreat can facilitate a kind of medicine. Figuratively speaking, in our life, many of us have a sort of medicine that we need to take for ourselves. We might have stress that is largely psychological because we struggle with our own life and mind. We might wonder what we are doing where we are and in the present day, and we need to take a break and get perspective. But we can’t really take a break from ourselves. So figuratively speaking this is why we need medicine, to heal and overcome some things. A retreat is the sweetness that helps us take the medicine we really need so that life will be better for us.


Retreats are not about spoiling yourself. If you somehow end up on a retreat expecting only spa treatment and pampering, you might be surprised with what you actually find there. You want relief because you have to work so hard in your life and there isn’t enough time or energy left over to make things better. A retreat is a breath of fresh oxygen-rich air away from the polarity of drudgery and occasional relief. So many people work hard at their job and on the weekends finally try and have some time for themselves. I hope you do have time for yourself, but not everyone does. Society is not really set up that way. So you need a breath of fresh air. Just like in an airplane, the oxygen mask is there for you who sees it first. Immediately thereafter you help others, because you have oxygen to do the work. When you are wearing the oxygen mask, it won’t be your impulse to simply flaunt it and show the world how lucky or great you are for being able to breathe air. Your well-being is in line with what you need to truly help others, because you are doing the work — creative, spiritual, and holistic — that helps yourself.

This blissful fresh air of a retreat is not possessed at the burden of someone else. Instead it is bliss which burdens only the other things which you shouldn’t be doing anyway. Thus, the practice which is truly right for me helps me clear away the useless things in my life.

This work is yoga. After yoga you may feel very good. In yoga, there is a saying: to rub the sweat back into the body. If you try this literally, it may not work so well. But figuratively, at a retreat, you are offering the results of your practice as fuel for future effort.


The Three Aspects of Fulfillment

Retreats are a kind of productive vacation.

At our retreats, we often talk about the search for fulfillment and we discuss ways of realizing it. That’s sort of our idea of a retreat in general. You want some time in a beautiful and empowering place. You want to get some internal work done. And it would be great to produce something of your own while you’re on vacation. It’s time to do the kind of work that feels like play.

One of the most important parts of a retreat are the takeaways. What happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas — I don’t know. But when someone take a week or ten days or two or three weeks to go to Tuscany or Umbria or Tulum or Bali with us, I want him/her to be able to retain what happens there, energetically speaking.

Doing yoga, we don’t get to keep our postures after they have been done. You stand in warrior pose, and after awhile you move on to the next posture–whether you stood in a perfect warrior or not. I think there is a broader lesson here as well. Each moment is like that. Success in life is like that. Relationships are like that. Material things are, too.

It’s important to carry an introspective spiritual practice through everything that happens in life. As the great Hakuin Ekaku said, meditation in the midst of action is a billion times superior to meditation in stillness.

I don’t really think of myself as a bullet list kind of guy, but it’s helpful to break things down. I’ve found that there really are three components to the art of fulfillment:

  • presence of mind and a quality attention span
  • holistic well-being, which includes a physical practice
  • giving your creative gift, growing one’s art and artful engagement with the world.

Fulfillment doesn’t have to start and stop with the beginning and end of a retreat, and it shouldn’t. The aim is toward integration. In my experience it takes deep experience to counteract longstanding habit. A single immersion can be very effective, provided the practice is continued after the initial immersion, which in this case is a retreat. Even small carryovers can make huge changes against the momentum of habit.




Chogyal Namkhai Norbu’s The Crystal and the Way of Light

As a bee seeks nectar from all kinds of flowers, seek teachings everywhere.

Like a deer that finds a quiet place to graze, seek seclusion to digest all you have gathered.

Like a lion, live completely free of all fear. And, finally, like a madman, beyond all limits, go wherever you please.

– A tantra of Dzogchen

from Chogyal Namkhai Norbu’s The Crystal and the Way of Light