what's a retreat

I set up a table at a local pizza place the other night to promote Renewal in the Wilderness. When people came in for supper I handed out stickers. And, if they wanted, I told them about what we’re about.

I’ve been telling the same tale for four years now. I keep it short and tight at first. “We guide wilderness trips and nature retreats for people doing good things in the world.” If their eyes don’t glaze over, better yet, if their eyes spark a little, I flesh out my tale with some of the particulars.

One person, a fifth grader who had just finished up her first day back at school, looked at me with curious regard and asked, “What’s a retreat?”

Indeed.

I didn’t tell her this exactly, but something like it:

It’s a temporary autonomous zone where those closest to the centers of despair can gather with anonymity and safety to voice their doubts and express frustration. Where they can stop being part of the solution for a while, stop fixating on the fix for a bit. It’s not a threshold from one place or way of being to another, but a sort of non-place where being is suspended. The purpose is not to surge the self with a boost of adrenaline, but to heighten the senses by dulling the rhythms of movement through a day. It’s stepping out to get away from straight lines and abstractions of space. It’s getting healed by the redundancy of the natural world. It’s space to be a human animal, and not much else. It’s reciprocity with the elements. It sustains the world’s healers. And it’s where wild nature becomes a friend. Where wild places, labeled as such or not, become vital relationships. Vital and mutual.

She nodded, took a sticker, and walked away to finish her math homework.