Rohan Gunatillake has a good post challening the label of “retreat” to describe what people do when they form communities for silent reflection.
As anyone who has gone to sit a meditation retreat with any level of sincerity knows all too well, a retreat is anything but. For where is there to hide from the mind as the heart rests back into the silence? Our minds and our lives follow us to the cushion, chase us up and down the walking paths and all the rest.
He goes on to quote Ethan Nichtern:
…the view of meditation as a retreat from life is not helpful at all. The reason for meditation is to systematically and progressively bring the practitioner to a place where she or he is more and more able to live in the world.
I think this cultural bias can be seen in the frequent championing of “action” over “reflection”, the pooh-poohing of the “touchy feely” and the sneaky labelling as “soft” of any skills related to relationships. Rather like Rohan, I don’t think these practices deserve to be stereotyped as if they’re easy options and escapes from “reality”.