The Power of Retreat

I don’t want to “adult” right now. By that I mean I don’t want to be responsible, I don’t want to run any errands, I don’t want to show up and engage in life. What’s interesting is I don’t want to go somewhere else, I don’t want to swim with dolphins in Maui for instance. I want to withdraw completely. In yoga, the term for withdrawal is pratyáhára.

Pratyáhára is not the same thing as hibernating. In its true form, pratyáhára means the conscious endeavor to withdraw the mind from mundane qualities and attractions and direct it toward something subtler. It’s considered a crucial first step in meditation.

Sometimes it's important to retreat from the world.

Sometimes it’s important to retreat from the world.

I won’t claim that I practice perfect withdrawal, but the space I’m in right now is a melancholy one. I don’t want to engage or connect. I want to retreat from the world, which is highly unusual for me because my name literally means to bind. I’m all about connection, presence, and form. I love making things happen, turning an idea into reality. But right now, that doesn’t interest me.

I could start to chastise myself because I place so much value on engaging, but when I think about pratyáhára, I remind myself it’s possible this, too, is OK. This, too, is a part of the spiritual process. I know my spiritual teacher discusses the term in relation to meditation, but I wonder if for me right now the desire to physically withdraw is also a call to go inward. To turn toward my inner self and practice communion with the loving presence within me that’s also within everyone.

All things in moderation of course – the world cannot function if we all retreat all the time, but maybe retreating also has a place. Maybe I don’t have to be “on” all of the time or responsible all the time or aware all the time. Maybe it’s OK for me to check out. I struck a nerve there because typing that I started to tear up.

I’m learning to become a more balanced human being, but to do so I have to spend time at either end of the spectrum. To paraphrase my spiritual teacher, meditation is an effort to remove one’s internal distortions – to extract the gold from the alloy, in order to experience merger with the divine. The distortions should not be cast aside, but should be smelted in the fire of meditation and restored to their pure and original form. And withdrawal is a part of that process.

I dream of a world where we strike a balance between withdrawal and engagement. A world where we give ourselves permission to retreat every once in a while. A world where we understand there is a place for all things.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

Meet the Author

Rebekah
2 comments… add one
  • Victor M Nov 7, 2016, 9:43 am

    Some very good advice in there, my friend. Sometimes it is hard to give oneself permission to go to ground when our inner voices accuse us of copping out. Words really have meaning, dunnay?

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