I’ve been thinking what experiences from the solitary retreats I can take to this time of social isolation. During the past two decades I had over 40 solitary retreats, most of them short, but the principle is the same – total isolation from any interaction from external world, sometimes for weeks, sometimes for months. Has it been useful for the present time? Yes, definitely, but not in the way that might seem on the first glance.
Here are my personal experiences. Each retreat was different, but they all shared the goal and the outcome. For me, the surprise was in the outcome.
Our lives usually consist of a whirlpool of samsaric distractions that leave little time for focusing within and developing our capacities. It can be very hard to change this, not so much because of the objective external conditions, but primarily because of our internal decisions. Consequently, we are not used to being alone. When forced to it, our minds can experience confusion, disorientation, changing moods, frustration, anxiety and other forms of discomfort or suffering. How can one maintain stability?
Let’s take an example from classical ballet. When a ballerina makes pirouettes, she could get dizzy and fall, but she doesn’t. The secret is in the focal point. If her head was turning together with her body, she would get dizzy, but instead her gaze is pinned to a focal point at the opposite side of the stage – an immovable focal point – and so she can turn and turn. Similarly, we need a focal point in a solitary retreat and in our lives in general.
Our goal gives us a sense of stability, focus, dedication and purpose. Buddhist goal is not oriented to samsaric endeavors which are bound to vanish, neither to me-and-mine, not even to family and friends (from the point of view of reincarnation, family-and-friends and so-called-enemies are interchangeable terms, there is no essential difference between them, they are all mother sentient beings). All Tibetan Buddhist retreats are structured around the goal or motivation of personal spiritual growth (enlightenment) for the benefit of all sentient beings. The stronger the goal, the stronger the focus and dedication and the stronger the effect in transforming our minds for the better.
I’ve noticed an impressive contrast between people who have been cultivating a goal that is larger than me-and-mine and those who have been merely living day by day or for selfish purpose, particularly at the time of crisis. A clear goal is a strong support at any situation, it is like a guiding star, it offers a perspective that helps us to use any type of situation as an opportunity to mature and thus to benefit better. Human beings are happy when they grow, and unhappy when they stagnate, so it’s highly beneficial to find one’s goal and nourish it through our whole life.