Retreats Take You Out of Your Daily Routine
One of the major benefits of retreat is that, while on retreat, you’re removed from your everyday environment and placed in circumstances that support your spiritual growth. In your everyday environment, it’s easy to get caught in the habits, stresses, and demands of daily life, and to lose sight of your larger spiritual goals. But on retreat, you’re temporarily released from those habitual patterns, in a peaceful and quiet place where all of the practical details are taken care of for you, so that you can just focus on your practice. The extra mental space makes room for change to happen.
You Have Access to an Experienced Teacher
Another benefit of retreat is that you have personal contact with experienced and inspiring teachers. Practicing under the guidance of a teacher can offer new methods of cultivating the heart and mind, and can help answer your questions about how things are going in your meditation. In addition, an experienced teacher will offer ideas and perspectives based on their learning and accumulated wisdom that can help you to make spiritual progress. Contact with a teacher offers a personal connection and responsiveness that can’t be gotten from a book, an audio file, or a YouTube video.
You Are Supported by Others
Another significant benefit of retreat is the support you receive from other retreatants. The energy created by a group of people meditating together often allows you to go deeper in your meditation than when you’re practicing alone. In addition, being in the presence of people who share your spiritual goals helps you to know that you’re not alone in your values and aspirations. Sometimes, the connections made with others on retreat continue as friendships long after the retreat is over.
You Can Make Long-Term Changes in a Short Period of Time
The final benefit of retreat is really a consequence of the first three: By freeing yourself from your daily patterns, following the guidance of an experienced teacher, and being in a community of like-minded practitioners, you create a full range of positive conditions for transforming the heart and mind. And, under such conducive circumstances, you can make long-lasting changes even in a relatively short period of time.
The Buddha tells us that what we think about at any moment forms our personality. In the Discourse on Two Kinds of Thought, he says that “whatever a [person] frequently thinks and ponders upon, that will become the inclination of his mind.” Majjhima Nikaya 19. Thus, when you fully immerse yourself in wholesome habits of mind in the way that you’re able to do on retreat, you shape your future thoughts, as well as your future experiences.
Even the practical arrangements you have to make in order to attend retreat can have long-lasting benefits for you. Setting the intention to devote a period of time for practice and taking care of all of the things you have to do to meet that goal is itself wholesome. That intention, combined with your good efforts prior to and during the retreat, work a change in the mind and help establish priorities that continue after the retreat has ended.