Eight Steps in a Retreat

Did you ever attend, or think of attending, a retreat? They are often run by religious groups, spiritual teachers, therapists, and others. Found in remote areas and surrounded by natural beauty, they are perfect havens, sanctuaries, and refuges from the clamor of city life. There in the midst of silence, one learns how to release stress, quiet the mind, engage in reflection, and rejuvenate the spirit.

Did you know that the nearest retreat in your area is just eight steps away? That is, if you follow the eight steps shown below, you will be able to build your own retreat in your mind. By harnessing the power of your imagination, your mental retreat can deliver the same benefits of costly, remote sanctuaries.

The easiest way to learn the eight steps is to record them in a small, handheld, tape recorder. After, familiarizing yourself with the PAUSE (or STOP) and PLAY buttons, sit down in a quiet area where you will not be disturbed. Take a few deep breaths, relax, and press the PLAY button of the tape recorder, listening to the instructions for Step 1. Press the PAUSE or STOP button after the instructions, and carry out what you were told to do.
Repeat this for each step.

Here are the Eight Steps:

If you could choose the location for your sanctuary, where would it be? A lush deserted island? Soothing Hot Springs? A quiet Zen monastery? A tropical beach? A canoe floating on a placid lake? Pick a location, real or imaginary, that is comfortable for you.

2. BUILD THE PICTURE. Now that you have chosen a location, fill in the blanks with more detail. Are you inside or outdoors? Is it morning, afternoon, evening, or night? Is it spring, summer, fall, or winter If outdoors, are flowers in bloom or is a waterfall nearby? If indoors, are there chandeliers, candles, or a fireplace?

3. ENTER THE PICTURE. Place yourself in the scene. Are you sitting on a chair, on a rug, on grass, or lying in a hammock? If the sun is out, is it directly above, in front of you, behind you, or to the left or right? What are you wearing? What is immediately behind you, beside you, and in front of you? What do you see in the distance?

4. ENGAGE YOUR OTHER SENSES: a) Touch. What do you feel? Warm sand? Moist grass? Silk drapes? The warmth of the sun? A cool breeze? b) Hearing. What do you hear? Rain? Flowing water? Rustling leaves? Birds, insects, or frogs? A crackling fireplace? A creaky door? c) Smell. What do you smell? Burning wood? Incense? Grass? Flowers? Fruit? Burning candles? d) Taste. What can you taste? Cold water? Hot tea? Delicious food? Dew-soaked flower petals?

5. OVERALL SENSATIONS. Allow all the sensations of your senses to sweep over you. What are your overall impressions? Are they delightful, delectable, pleasurable, or relaxing? Spend a few moments enjoying the pleasures of your retreat.

Now that you have created a wonderful retreat, how can you improve it? Should it be bigger, or would you like to make it cozier? How is the sound level? Would you like it to be quieter or would you like to boost the sound. Whether it’s a piece of furniture or a waterfall, you can move things around. Keep fine-tuning your sanctuary until you are happy with it.

7. MEASURING YOUR FEELINGS. Do you remember how you felt when you first started? How have your feelings, thoughts, and sensations changed? Are you more relaxed? Have all or most of your worries and problems receded into the background? Do you have a warm tingly feeling? Did you notice your retreat grow clearer and clearer with each step? Did you experience any new insights?

8. ESTABLISHING A TRIGGER. Reexamine your sanctuary. Reexperience the sights, sounds, tastes, textures, and fragrances. Look around and pick one object that easily fits into your hand. Choose an object that you can easily identify with your personal sanctuary. This object will be used to trigger future visits to your retreat. It could be a cherry blossom, mushroom, bead, gemstone, unlit candle, or anything else that is meaningful to you. After selecting your trigger, hold it and study it carefully. Is it smooth or rough? Hard or soft? What does it smell like? Is it damp or dry, warm or cold? After absorbing the image of your trigger into your mind, return the object to its place in your sanctuary. When you wish to return to your retreat in the future, all you have to do is relax and visualize the image of your trigger. It will then propel you to your retreat. The first time you try, you may only get partially there. That is okay, just improve the image until you are completely back. Each time you use the trigger, it will become more and more effective, so be patient.

The most obvious use of your sanctuary is to have a place where you can experience deep relaxation and pleasure. It is a place where you can shed needless stress and ‘recharge your batteries.’ But it is more than that. The quietness of your inner sanctuary makes it easier to hear the voice of your inner wisdom. You can visit it to obtain new insights, get inspired, and obtain answers.

It is also a palace of transformation and healing. For example, let’s say there is someone at work you cannot get along with, but you wish to change the situation for the better. Enter your sanctuary and in your imagination, invite your coworker to join you there. Become her friend, find out what is bothering her, cheer her up, share stories and jokes, have fun together. As you become good friends in your sanctuary, you will be amazed to find the same thing happening in real life.

Here’s another example, if you are too shy, visit your sanctuary and populate it with people you would like to meet. Then in your imagination transform yourself into a confident person, and speak to everyone there.
Since this all occurs in your mind, there is nothing to fear. You can be as brave as you would like.

As you practice being the person you would like to be in your sanctuary, you will slowly change to that person in real life! Why is that? Well, when you practice visualization (also called imagery), you are speaking the language of the subconscious. Although our conscious or rational mind thinks in words, the language of the subconscious consists of images, feelings, and sensations. By practicing visualization and repeating your role-playing in your sanctuary, your subconscious will interpret and accept it as real life experience. In other words, you will be reprogramming your mind.

If you carefully follow the eight steps, by the time you enter your sanctuary, you will be in the alpha brain wave state. Another term to describe the state is hypnagogic or light hypnosis. So, with practice and experimentation, you will discover your retreat is a powerful tool that can bring about inner change. If you are interested in learning more about visualization and imagery, here are three web sites to get you started: