In Western society, we don't generally have retreats, we have a holiday, but a holiday is only taking time off from work, not time off from our usual way of being in the world. On holiday, most of us do everything we normally do, or go somewhere else and do everything we normally do. We don't generally retreat from the world, and even if we go deep into the bush, away from everyone else, do we take a break from our usual way of being?
The idea of a holiday in Western society came from holy days where people took time off for religious festivals. They spent the day in prayer and worship. We still have religious holidays, but at some point, the idea of taking a holy day became that of taking a holiday, just time off work. What if you brought the holy back into your holiday?
I'm not talking religion, just taking time to spend with your true self, a time to put your usual life aside and concentrate on meditation. Giving yourself time for this is perhaps the greatest gift you can give yourself.
If that sounds like the height of luxury, then a retreat is for you. Leave your internet and mobile phone behind, and go somewhere inspiring and peaceful.
But there's more to a retreat than just taking off. What do you do when you get there? What will help you make a shift away from your habitual patterns. Without some inspiration and guidance, it's easy to remain in your normal mind state, or to, unknowingly, solidify those habits even more. The way to be sure that your retreat will help you make a shift is to go on a formal retreat, run by people practiced in the art. If you don't want to, or can't, do something formal, then take some teachings by an authentic master that you have a connection with and let them guide you. Intersperse listening to teachings with periods of mediation and then practice integrating meditation into whatever you do in the breaks.
Even if you can't manage a week or more, you could treat yourself to a holy day every now and then. That's what Sundays were for.
Have you ever been on a retreat? If so, what was your experience?