In Retreat And On Reflection

In Retreat And On Reflection

By Roger O’Halloran

There are many laudable suggestions about how to cope with enforced lockdown.  Get a routine!  Learn something new!  Exercise! Connect through social media!  Because we’re all different, no one way to manage fits us all and some combination of all is probably better than their opposites. 

As I was growing up I shunned the retreats offered; no; enforced by my school.  Do we still expect 12-year-olds today to remain silent for 48 hours?  Aside from the silence I’m sure we were presented with some awesome Christian doctrine, but that was part of the daily routine at a Catholic school, so I don’t remember distinct references to such on retreat as much as I remember taking every opportunity to breach the expectation of silence.

Collective vs Individual Tussles

This was the 60’s; a time of great social and cultural change.  I generally embrace change and I welcomed the emerging personal freedoms.  I appreciated the value of the collective, but when the preceding generation thought they needed to force this and the value of silent retreats down our throats, or into our backsides, there seemed to be an equal and opposite force pushing me to a more individualistic, and before I knew it, self-indulgent life.

Despite an attraction to strong peace and justice values and collectivist hippie culture in the 70’s, I experienced the malaise typical of our self-indulgent boomer generation.  Collectivist values were lost in a failure to identify and organise a coherent path to achieve the all too loose objectives.  Reflection encouraged by the music of the era drifted slowly into hazy navel gazing.

By the 80’s self-interest was reinforced with what appeared to be the whole of Western culture acquiescent to, at least sub-consciously, the Greed is Good mantra.  As a teacher I was running student retreats (not silent) to inspire, rather than enforce personal reflection.  There was some fulfilment in the students’ appreciation of the process, but it started to feel like giving lip service to, rather than delivering, authentic and effective action, capable of challenging the prevailing ethos.

My discomfort with being part of a “privileged”, resource-depleting culture demanded personal change.  This provided the motivation for packing up our family to embark on a two-year sojourn with Palms to a collectivist culture.  I am now one of the many returnees from this pilgrimage who claim it as one of the most profound life-changing personal developments one can experience.

Challenged on a Pilgrim’s Sojourn

The culture jolts are a challenge that one can choose to fight, or accept as an invitation to growth.  My observations over 20+ years suggest that to varying degrees we all initially look to fight the invitation to slow down.  Even those who decry the injustices arising from Western individualism are ingrained with its hectic character and struggle to resist becoming prophetic examples of single-handed efforts to “make a difference”. 

Becoming poorer eventually changes one’s capacity for resource depleting distractions and entertainments. They are replaced by simpler activities: reading, rest and quiet reflection, often under the ocean surface with fish and coral, or in the rainforest.  Interdependence develops where skills and produce are swapped and shared without money exchange, or explicit bartering.

When we’re not forced to retreat and reflect will we want to anyway?

COVID-19 also demands interdependence, but the collective action required is unusual in that it involves us retreating from one another and from the usual distractions and entertainments that bring us together.   However, news from around the world seems to highlight greater solidarity with daily examples of empathy for others.  I suspect the break from the competitive culture in which we are normally engaged is giving us more time to reflect and more space to do more for one another.

I believe we can and will be advantaged by integrating retreat and reflection more permanently into our culture; without the enforced lockdown of course.  One or two years in another culture gives Palms sojourners exactly that.  Palms program asks us to reach beyond every barrier of culture, religion, nationality, gender, class and individualism, to cooperate in achieving a just, sustainable, interdependent and peaceful world free of poverty.

It’s a profound and challenging retreat; a critical opportunity to reflect seriously on the way we live.  It starts with knowing you have skills to share; becomes a pilgrimage when you realise you have wisdom to gain; and offers an opportunity to share that with your home community.  Palms provides comprehensive preparation and the guidance and support necessary to meet the challenges throughout the journey. 

We expect assignments to meet the requests of Australian and overseas communities to begin again next year.  You need to enrol in our January Orientation Course now.  To inquire about how you can get ready in the meantime please click here.  Please also share this link with all your friends.  And, for those who’ve engaged in this retreat and reflection previously, you’re always welcome to do it again.