Going on retreat
To retreat is to run away from the enemy – but only if you’re in the army. To retreat in the spiritual sense is to run towards the enemies within yourself who prevent you from enjoying the richness, complexity, and magnificence that reality has to offer us.
A retreat is a spiritual business when you take a break from your routine, your work, your stresses and strains to replenish yourself spiritually. The main, though not exclusive, purpose is, in Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s words, “To get in touch with the silence within yourself”. And to achieve this, there are several places where you can find a space, an atmosphere, and a process ideally suited to satisfying this need for internal stillness.
All the retreats we shall be mentioning here are each rooted in their own particular spiritual philosophy, whether Buddhist or Christian, and you should bear that in mind when contemplating a destination. Although Buddhist retreats welcome members of all faiths, some Christian retreats prefer to welcome people of only Christian denominations. At the Buddhist retreats generally, the food is lacto-vegetarian, no intoxicating drinks are allowed, certainly not havens for recycled hippies or people in search of a place for a naughty weekend. A further point: retreats do not offer five-star luxury for yuppies – or anyone else, for that matter. Accommodation is functional but often relatively basic. At some retreats, you will be expected to wash your own dishes and cutlery after meals.
To begin, the Buddhist retreats. These are to be found in Natal, North-West, and the Western Cape. So, let us head south first, to KZN.
A few kilometers from Ixopo in Natal is the Buddhist Retreat Centre, which overlooks the valleys and hills of Natal hinterland. It offers Structured Retreats, varying in length from a weekend to a week or more. As the name suggests, these retreats follow specific programmes and schedules. It also offers Self Retreats, which allow individuals to follow their own needs with meals times as the only structures in the day. Some individuals undertake their own Silent Retreats, sometimes a week or two in duration, during which they choose not to speak. For the first –time visitors, these highly disciplined processes may seem strange or even discourteous.
Off now to North West Province. About 100 kilometers from Johannesburg, on the slopes of the Magaliesburg mountains, you will find the Emoyeni Buddhist Retreat Centre whose facilities and beautiful environment are most conducive to contemplation, meditation, and simplicity. Here too, you may undertake Conducted (Structures) Retreats or Individual (Self) Retreats. Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike are welcome, but it is essential to book well in advance as the Centre’s Zulu name means “Place of the Spirit”.
Robertson in the Western Cape is our next destination, where we find the Robertson Dharma Centre. It is unique in being the only full-time residential Zen centre on the African continent. The Centre offers a variety of programmes, ranging from a daily practice schedule to monthly retreats, varying in length from two days to a week. Once a year, the Centre conducts a month-long retreat. The Centre’s vegetarian food is created by its own master chef.
Then in Cape Town itself, you can find the Ronderbosch Zen Dharma Centre where regular practice and meditation instruction can be had. During these sessions, you will do both walking and sitting meditation as well as chanting. There is also a monthly non-residential Sunday retreat to which you should take your own lunch. Refreshments are provided.
On to the Christian retreats. These may prove more suitable for those who seeking more familiar or predictable spiritual environment or for individuals seeking to further their Christian religious beliefs and practices. As with all other retreats, it is essential to make contact with the centres, establish what retreats they offer, and the costs involved as well as their day-to-day expectations of retreatants. Bookings are always essential, even for day visitors, if only to make provision for sufficient catering. It is also important to know what clothing to take with you on retreats, and what sort of weather you can generally expect.
Near Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape, uMariya uMama weThemba Monastery and Retreat is run by Benedictine monks, known not only for the delicious liqueur they created bearing their name but also for their hospitality. Individuals and groups wishing to share the monks’ daily routines or to relish the peace of the monastery gardens can book a retreat throughout the year. For more serious spiritual questers, the monks also hold organized retreats of prayer and worship. Full board is available while the accommodation consists of singe or double rooms and communal dining area. Also consider the Marianhill Christian Monastery in Pinetown (tel: 031 700 4288).
And then there are many places throughout the country that bring spirituality into the realm of wellness, offering meditation as well as all the obligatory accoutrements of New Ageism: massage, yoga, aromatherapy, reiki, astrology, palmistry, reflexology, and much besides. Here the quest for spirituality often is rarely the primary focus, falling a long way behind the sheer indulgence of luxuriously pampering the body (and the inevitable costs that go with it). In addition, there are countless hydrotherapeutic spas, wellness centers, labyrinths, and sacred places scattered all over the country, from rustic African settings to urban-chick hotel complexes and wellness centers. With more than enough venues to cater for the broadest range of tastes, needs, and incomes, can you really afford to keep your body finely honed and tuned in the gym and let your soul, your spiritual core become weak and enfeebled through lack of attention?
The Emoyeni Buddhist Retreat Centre, tel: 014 574 3663.
The Ronderbosch Zen Dharma Centre, tel: 021 686 3698.
The uMariya uMama weThemba Monastery and Retreat, tel: 046 622 8111.