Sometimes you have to retreat to advance
By Ken Root
I spent the past weekend on a men’s retreat at the American Martyr’s House in Cedar Falls, Iowa. It has stood since 1960 as a beacon to bring in people who have chosen to step away from their hectic lives to draw strength from within, refocus their energy and move back into the world. I found it to be empowering to stand apart from daily life for forty hours and then emerge with a more relaxed body, a more energized spirit and greater clarity of thought. This “time out” doesn’t have to be done in a formal setting; it can be just about any time or any place one can seek out solitude and meditation.
I’ve said before that being alone, when you want to be, is a wonderful experience. I love people and activities of all kinds, but there are times that life becomes jumbled and priorities get out of place. Even morality gets blurred and the inner spirit becomes confused. That is when contemplative time is in order. It can be accomplished when driving alone or doing fieldwork. It can be in a solitary ice fishing hut or a deer blind and has a great therapeutic value.
Has life always been this way? Is this why Moses went up the mountain, why Jesus wandered in the desert or why holy men of the east can only be found by going to the most remote regions? Physically stepping back from the work-a-day world allows us to see what we cannot when going at a frantic pace. I don’t wish to live a monastic life, but I have always found a few hours of peace and quiet rejuvenated me and increased my tolerance when I returned.
In my retreat experience, we were encouraged to pray. That has always been a statement of ministers and priests but I have discounted it most of the time. In the setting of a retreat, where no event is pending and ample rest has been achieved, it is revealing to try to communicate with God by thought. I found myself communicating with my inner being and going back to my core where the first teachings of right and wrong, work and kindness were instilled by my mother and father. Once there, I advanced to the challenges of life and the problems that had weighed me down for many years. I started to forgive others and forgive myself. I felt peace as I realigned my goals with the values I possess deep within me. At any age, we have unfulfilled ambitions. When I was young they were fame, fortune and family, now the former have dropped away but family comes to the fore. I want to have a good relationship with my children and grandchildren. Being the youngest child of youngest parents, I didn’t know my grandparents so I want to be a part of the lives of my grandchildren while encouraging my daughter and son to put their values into the hearts of their offspring. I believe civilization is a continuum that links us all together and allows appreciation of things that we’ve never personally experienced because of the passing of generational knowledge.
I found that this retreat was good for me due to the Spartan surroundings and the beauty of the landscape. That can be said for packing in or an elk hunt or walking a trail to an overnight hut with just the supplies on your back. We are so overwhelmed with infrastructure that it is hard to have a simplistic moment, let alone deprivation. I found more satisfaction in what I did not have during the weekend than what I possessed. It also allowed me to enjoy simple things in nature that are out there every day but seldom experienced except in passing.
I am expressing my experience because I was a little “high” when I emerged and drove home. It felt good to be recharged and cleansed in such a manner. I also made friends with our retreat leader and the men who were involved. I was not anti-social during the event. We encouraged each other and our initial anonymity gave us a chance to open up and talk about things we probably would not have discussed in our home communities. Our bonds strengthened as each unique personality was revealed and enjoyed.
Now I’m home and working feverishly to get to the farm broadcaster convention for the 39th consecutive time. Many pressures and many responsibilities swirl around but I’m going with a better frame of mind. I think this recharge will keep me from killing someone in the hectic week ahead!
Editor’s note: Ken Root has been an agricultural reporter for 39 years. Root now does daily radio and television programming and is a columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com.