As we calm our minds and begin to unravel the knots of stress that are wound throughout our bodies, we can ask, “what do I really want from this life, and will that make me truly happy?” After all, happiness is what we are after, and all the money in the world cannot buy it.
More and more, as time progresses and the perceived mandate of “business” increases, we forget about the value of taking a real break from the endless stream of “to-do’s” and social engagements. When we take the time for a deep, honest look at ourselves it doesn’t take long to see the tiring effects of life on our mind and body. When we’re at our wit’s end, the initial response is often to think: “I need a vacation!” I would like to add “spiritual” to this common quip and propose that we change our thinking to, “I need a spiritual vacation— or what I’d like to reframe as an opportunity to ‘advance’ in our practice endeavors.”
A “spiritual vacation” is like a “retreat,” but it offers a significant shift in our perspective regarding what this time means for our lives and ourselves. When we retreat, our thoughts often revolve around shutting out our daily life and escaping daily responsibilities. While it is not inherently wrong to think like this, it is, perhaps, more useful to consider this time away as a spiritual vacation and an opportunity for self-improvement. From the perspective of a spiritual-vacation-type-of-retreat, or “advance,” we move towards a self that is better, kinder, and more evolved. And our time away from the daily grind becomes a lot more restorative.
“An Advance” is the new retreat
During an “advance” we offer ourselves a new routine and an opportunity to drink from the well of the present moment and dive deeper into our yoga practice. As we advance our practice through a spiritual vacation, we are freed from the normal roles and responsibilities of life. We are invited to refresh and, ultimately, touch a place in ourselves so powerful that when we return to life back home, our view of “home” has completely changed - our perspectives and our minds have changed. If we take a normal vacation, without considering our motives (or spiritual needs), we risk simply going to a foreign land to create another list of to-dos, i.e., action items to check off in a new place. This is tiring and often leaves us more drained than we were before our trip.
There’s a common saying, “I need a vacation from my vacation,” which means the vacation made me feel so tired that I need more time to chill out and do nothing, but I can’t because I have to go back to work. In the US, we are only given a paltry two weeks’ time off per year, an incredible injustice to the needs of our minds and bodies! According to a recent study by European scientists, it takes us a minimum of two weeks to de-stress from the daily grind and, on average, about three weeks to truly relax. As lay practitioners with day jobs we often think, “it would be awesome, and very yogic, to take a 10-day mediation retreat instead of that beach holiday, because I’ll be more enlightened afterwords,” right? (I say this tongue in cheek). If we do this, and we are already drained from the day-to-day grind, we often discover by day three that we feel extremely tired and painful in the body.
This exhaustion is a clear reflection of a true state of being and should not be ignored. In fact, it may indicate that you need some quality time to relax and enjoy life. Don’t get me wrong, meditation retreats are great, and are a very important part of yogic inquiry, but they ought to be properly contextualized before jumping into the deep end. We should be properly rested and relaxed. In a proper spiritual vacation, we can both advance and relax!
What if time was all yours?
To play the devil’s advocate, have you ever considered the value of doing nothing, resting afterwards for a week and then taking a retreat? Have you ever considered allowing yourself the freedom to do what you need when you want to? To sleep and eat when you wish?
We have been taught to be strict masters of our minds and bodies, and although discipline is extremely important for those of us interested in the path of awakening and yoga, we sometimes need to loosen our grip and just relax. Relaxation of the mind and body is a prerequisite for beginning a time of deep investigation - of beginning a true retreat (which is really your time to advance, as we’ve said).
Take time to pause and reflect on your life. As we calm our minds and begin to unravel the knots of the stress woven throughout our bodies, we can ask, “what do I really want from this life, and will that make me truly happy?” After all, happiness is what we are after, and all the money in the world cannot buy it.
Only you and your mind, breath, and heart can touch the core of lasting, resounding happiness.