What Does It Mean to be On Retreat?

This trip to India is a gift from a client, who invited me on her yoga retreat to record the happenings as a PR fort for future offerings. My goal over the next two weeks is to write and photograph and post all over the social sphere about this wonderful, life-changing experience.

So it is a natural path to trod, wondering why exactly we go on retreat vs. taking off for parts unknown on our own.

Some of the answers are simple:

1. A retreat leader knows the terrain and can effortlessly lead you to locations you might otherwise miss or not feel comfortable venturing to on your own.

2. A retreat usually has a focus. This one is yoga and spirituality, so we will spend all day tomorrow visiting the Golden Temple, in this Sikh holy city of Amritsar. And after that, it’s a week straight of the International Yoga Festival.

3. A retreat infuses your trip with meaning and context, eliminating the aimlessness that sometimes happens for wanderers.

Of course, on retreat, you are thrown together in a group of people. People you don’t know. People unlike you or too much like you or somewhere in the middle.

A few weeks ago, I had a self-created retreat of my own in Sedona, Arizona, with a group of my favorite friends – few of whom knew each other before we went. I was the common thread, just like on this India retreat, Katherine Austin, owner of Karma Yoga, is the common thread.

In Arizona, we learned that just because I liked everyone on the trip, it didn’t mean they would all like each other. And also, we learned that just because you can be friends with someone in your normal life, it doesn’t mean you can travel with them.

Traveling brings out everyone’s stuff. Their personality flaws, their discomforts. The very act of traveling is to be out of your element – that’s the definition, for God’s sake!

So if you know you don’t do well outside your familiar life, then it’s probably a good idea to give your fellow travelers fair warning.

When traveling with people, you will have the Type A organized folks and the fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants folks and those who are homesick but won’t admit it so they sulk.

In a way, traveling with strangers can bring you to new heights of knowing  your self, and push your parameters to uncharted exploratory territory. 

And of course, the act of traveling itself can push you to your limit. You don’t fly the plane. You aren’t in control of departure times and you cannot limit delays. You hope your bag accompanies you all the way to your destination, but you cannot promise that it will.

And you never know if you will be able to sleep in a bed not your own.

The new sounds, sights, scents and flavors of a trip push us all to our edge. The question is the same for every traveler: will you embrace the different-ness, love the moment and truly savor the adventure of being in a foreign land? Or will you try to box your destination into familiar boundaries, make everyone accommodate you?

The question may be the same, but how we answer it is wholly different.

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