Discerning During Retreat

Jun 9, 2013 | Field Notes

Last Wednesday I travelled by bus and ferry from Vancouver to Victoria in order to visit a niece who was attending a conference at the University of Victoria. Crossing the Georgia Straight by ferry, on a day full of splendid sun and warmth, set the scene for a great afternoon of visiting. Jessica and I walked a little, ate a little, and sat and chatted while watching buskers perform along the walkway around the inner harbor in front of the Empress Hotel. The time went by too quickly and before I knew it I had to begin the four-hour trip back home.

The last time I had taken the ferry to Victoria was in 2007 when I had gone over for a job interview. I remember that the weather was exactly the same, sunny and pleasantly warm. During the six years between crossings much has happened in my life. As I reflected during the ferry ride on the changes that have taken place within these years I notice how changes in my outer world and changes in my inner world are interrelated. Sometimes events in the outer world, like the death of my mother, caused changes in my inner self-understanding. Sometimes changes in my inner world, like a deepening recognition of my core non-negotiable values, helped me to make changes in my outer world. It seems that the inner and outer worlds are indeed deeply connected.

Beyond my growing appreciation of the interconnection of the inner and outer worlds, I found myself reflecting upon the importance of time itself. In particular, I have come to see just how important it is to take time to step back, to retreat, to disconnect from the everyday so as to reflect upon one’s experiences—in a sense to ‘drop out’ in order to ‘drop in’. Spiritual elders throughout the ages have pointed to the importance of taking time away so as to reflect deeply upon one’s self and to align one’s self with one’s purpose. Retreats are not necessarily wasted time; no, they can be an investment in one’s future. It is important during periods of retreat to listen to our experience, to assess our experience, and to allow our experience and assessment of our experience to inform how best we can act in congruence with our purpose in life.

Sometimes the interludes that come into our lives are given by outward events beyond our control. Sometimes we choose to take time off so as to retreat and reflect. Regardless of the cause, it is how we use the time given, or taken, which can make all the difference. In his letter to the Galatians the Apostle Paul mentions that he took three years to discern his purpose after his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus. Given the impact of his work it would appear that it was time well spent.


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