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Why Retreat The “Overview Effect”

Edward Gibson, astronaut and Skylab 4 pilot, explained his feelings when from space he looked back at planet Earth:

“You see how diminutive your life and concerns are compared to other things in the universe… The result is that you enjoy the life that is before you… It allows you to have inner peace.”

This is called the “Overview Effect,” a cognitive shift that occurs in astronauts arising during space flight -an altered perception of their home as a fragile and vulnerable ball of life. From this vantage point, worries that carried such significance vanish into thin air. This is how and why we must retreat every year. Human problems are made by humans. And by focusing on them with increasing passion and strength, we sap the energies which keep us connected to the magic of our existence. Carl Sagan said, “There is perhaps no better a demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world.”

It is written in the Vedas (books of truth from the Hindu tradition) that an adult should construct a sadhana (retreat) once annually of no less than 10 days. A retreat is different than a vacation in that you are conducting yourself in ways that recharge you in three ways: your mind, your body, and your soul. While on vacation you might be moving around a lot, eating great food, taking in entertainment, and talking a lot with a spouse or family member, gambling, etc. But during retreat, you are stopping all behaviors of extreme attachment and pulling inward to be still. You are alone, silent, studious with important, enlightening books, and maybe a bit creative also. A retreat is a disciplined space of 10 days wherein you can regain your yoga or meditation practice, catch up on sleep and regain a regular schedule of meals. It is a time to bring your body back into a natural state of existence, living and working with the sun and moon.

“We are looking for happiness and running after it in such a way that creates anger, fear and discrimination. So when you retreat, you have a chance to look at the deep roots of this pollution of the collective energy that is unwholesome.” -Thich Nhat Hanh

The retreat space is your opportunity to look back at your life, like an astronaut looking at the Earth from afar, and decide what’s important and what should be left to develop without so much struggle. It takes about 3 days for an astronaut to reach the moon’s orbit and look back at her home with this gift of awe. It will take about this long for you to pull away from the thinking habits of your daily life, and look back at your life with the overview effect. And another 3 days for you to take it all in – every magical gift and opportunity that has knitted your pathway to now. And another 3 days to make your peaceful stance in gratitude. And the final day is spent in the moving forward energy of coming back to the world.

These 10 days annually are the best gift you can give your family – a promise that you will come back clearer, happier, recharged, and ready to walk taller on your own path.

Sita Shreejan brings many guests from the U.S. to her wellness center on the campus of the north Rajasthan ashram where a fully immersive retreat is available every winter in the 10-day Yoga Lifestyle Workshop. She is an Ayurvedic Yoga Therapist specializing in the third phase goddess’s needs. She is just returning from India after a 6-year expatriation for education and work. Contact Shree with your wellness inquiries at: www.sitawellness.com

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