A spiritual retreat to disconnect from the world

A few months ago I did a intensive yoga class residential, i.e. I closed myself in a villa a Bali with 9 other women (as in the plot of Nine Perfect Strangers, HBO/Now) and stayed there for a month. It wasn’t the first spiritual retreat I’ve done, and as much as I like yoga – I’ve always practiced it and I teach it with passion, in small doses – yoga has never been the real reason why I sought these experiences. The first time was in 2011 and I was still working in an office. I had begun to meditate with Flavio Pelliconi, a gentleman whom many knew in Milan but who never entered the elite of the millionaire gurus of contemporary spirituality. Shortly after meeting Flavio, I used my Christmas holidays to go to England to do a Buddhist retreat. Was the course of Vipassana of 10 days, the one about which he writes Emmanuel Carrere in his book Yoga (Adelphi). In this type of retreat, which takes place all over the world with the same rules, one cannot read, write, exercise; one takes a vow of silence and meditates from 4 in the morning until the evening.

Like Carrère, I too was unable to finish that course, I stayed for 7 days, but when I returned home, I tattooed the word impermanence in the Pali language, badly traced by a tattoo artist from Rozzano, and I began to implement my plan to escape from the office job, which I left ten months later.

I have done various other retreats over the years; the most beautiful in India, in Kovalam, in Mysore, in Mahabalipuram; the worst in Zollino, in Puglia, a cold and windy Easter week, in a small prefabricated and perhaps abusive room. The air was unbreathable, Zollino deserted, the retreat dear, but perhaps what really made it the ugliest of all was the man waiting for me when I returned, resentful because I had left, incapable of rejoicing in my return. I adopted a large dog that year, a decision that changed my life as much as quitting my job.

Since 2018 the holidays in monasteries, convents and religious places of Christian tradition they have had a strong increase (they can be chosen on the Ospitalitareligiosa.it website): wake up at 7, meditation, mass. It is in this repetition and these rules that we seek refuge; not just a break from the “frantic western life” but also a transfer of responsibility, an abandonment.

In a life in which we are pulled from all sides by obligations, work demands, duties of adult life (children, our own partners, elderly parents, taxes), the withdraw is a portal where the time stops and expands, in which the days are all the same and above all marked by commitments that someone else decides for us. Isn’t it strange – or at least it seems less strange after having experienced this life – that someone wants to live for a longer period in these conditions, and thus the ashrams get bigger; in India I have visited several, and in some I have felt a nostalgic longing for something I would never experience (one of those feelings for which there is a strange Finnish word: kaukokaipuu).

Retreats are perhaps exercises in loss – of giving up power, independence, diversity and our tastes – of all the things, basically, that make us say I. It is above all women who want to experience this lateral step, because they are more likely to be “non-conforming” to our society on a man’s scale, which loads them with impossible demands.

In America, people go to rehab to treat addictions and mental disorders – a method that in Europe we often dismiss as ineffective because it’s easy to feel good as long as you stay away from life. However, our life as we know it today is so devoid of moments of pause and reflectionandthat perhaps to change something, to really look at it, the only way is to get away from it, even if only for a few days.

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A spiritual retreat to disconnect from the world