Whenever I start to feel overly stressed, I know it’s time for a break from my hectic schedule. Recently, I felt the need for a period of silence, meditation, and soul-searching, so I headed up the beautiful California coastline to a quiet retreat center in order to find the peace my soul was craving.
My drive took me up Highway 1 along some of the most breathtaking scenery on the West Coast. The sanctuary I was seeking was hidden away, marked only by a small sign at the bottom of a winding driveway that led up to the wooded refuge with its panoramic view of the Pacific. My room turned out to be small but comfortable, with its own private garden on the hillside overlooking the ocean far below. I went out for a walk after dinner and caught sight of numerous birds, rabbits, and a couple of deer out grazing shortly before sunset. Retiring early after my long drive, far from the sound of traffic, I was lulled to sleep by the chirping songs of the crickets.
The first day of my retreat, I awoke at 5 a.m. and, after quickly washing up, made my way to the meditation hall. It was still dark outside when I left my room and the sky was filled with stars. Having lived for so many years in population centers, I had forgotten just how incredible the Milky Way could appear against the natural inkiness of the night sky. After several periods of seated and walking meditation that beckoned in a new day, I returned to my room during a break and looked down to see fingers of mist lifting up and dissipating along the shore.
Although I have practiced meditation faithfully for years, I have found it takes a while to settle the mind’s incessant chatter during a retreat in order to be able to reach the inner stillness of the heart. This time was no exception—on my first day, I was reminded of how little control I have over my thoughts as time and time again I found my attention wandering rather than maintaining the mindful, present-moment awareness I was striving for. Gradually, however, my mind was stilled, probably due as much to my peaceful surroundings as to my own attempts to bring my mind back to the moment.
During my meditation retreat, I was able to slow down, reconnect with nature, and become better able to appreciate the beauty of the world around me.
The benefits of meditation are truly incredible. Although subtle at first, the advantages become more and more evident through regular practice. Some of the many ways meditation can help in our daily lives is by decreasing stress levels, improving overall well-being, and helping to develop a greater sense of awareness and spaciousness. This can increase problem-solving abilities and assist with remaining calm even in the midst of difficult situations.
Going on a meditation retreat can be even more rewarding, as we unplug from our electronic devices for a while and learn to “stop and smell the roses” again. We then become able to reconnect with our hearts, as well as the world around us, on a deep level.
During my meditation retreat, I was able to slow down, reconnect with nature, and become better able to appreciate the beauty of the world around me. I took pleasure spending some time outdoors, watching a couple of lizards as they sunbathed on a large rock in the sun, and studying the antics of a blue jay that spent its time noisily cracking open and eating nuts from one of the garden trees. I also enjoyed observing a family of quail I encountered while out walking one day. These moments in nature were precious and felt deeply healing.
Retreats such as these are a balm for the soul. Returning home afterward, I felt regenerated and at peace. Meditation and reconnecting with nature are both wonderful therapeutic practices that can benefit all of us in our hectic lives. I encourage you to make time for both in your life.
Corliss, J. (2014, January 8). Mindfulness meditation may ease anxiety, mental stress. Retrieved from http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/mindfulness-meditation-may-ease-anxiety-mental-stress-201401086967
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