Part of the modern condition is the constant lurch toward burnout. The grinding hours at work are long and stressful. Deadlines for important work projects never seem to stop piling up. Commitments to family and for networking events and the demands to have an active life on the social scene places so much pressure that people are forced to spend nights away from significant others or, indeed, one’s sense of inner tranquility.
Indeed, much of the burden of contemporary society is placed on those who are having the most difficult time trying to navigate their way in the world. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of institutional support — and barely any spiritual support — for those seeking to escape from the dispiriting obsessions of work. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Certainly, one of most effective ways to reorient oneself is to travel away from the constant din of pressures. While not everyone needs take to the woods like Thoreau, there is a logic to taking some time away from the demanding pressures of work and life. It is only natural to reconnect with something greater than ourselves when we take time away from distractions and diversions that thwart our greater chances at actualizing our souls.
At Valley Beit Midrash, we’ve found that one of the most effective means to reconnect to the greater purpose of soul exploration, to cultivate mindfulness and to redirect one’s intentionality is through immersive spiritual retreats.
Last year, when we held our first spiritual retreat for young professional men in the community, we didn’t know exactly what that might entail. It was a gamble for us; we had never undertaken Jewish learning through this form of pedagogy before. Yet when the day was done, after hours of tranquil exportation into mystical and practical Jewish texts, exercises in mussar (character development) and just some time away from the hustle and bustle of our greater metropolitan Phoenix, every one of us walked away recharged, connected and inspired.
As a matter of course, people who attend immersive spiritual retreats gain so much more than they realize at first glance. It is not simply that someone spends a few hours away to learn some esoteric Jewish texts and then returns to civilian life. No, the power of immersive spiritual retreats is the opportunity to pause, to reflect, cultivate new meaningful relationships and to gain a sense of introspection in this social media-obsessed, unceasing churn of a world. Spending time away from thinking about the elements that turn our attention outward is not only healthy for the physical body, but also spiritually nourishing. The seemingly endless amount of time we spend worrying about our career, or where we sit on the social scene, or wherever our heart wants to take us Jewishly, needs a remedy that produces positive results.
Rav Kook wrote: “You know the teaching of our Sages that there is not a single blade of grass below, here on earth, which does not have a heavenly force (or angel) above telling it, ‘Grow!’ Every sprout and leaf of grass says something, conveys some meaning. Every stone whispers some inner, hidden message in the silence. Every creation utters its song.”
In these moments of communal peace, we find that we are given the space to grow as fully rounded individuals. Immersing ourselves in moments of potential, personal revelations is rare and becoming rarer. Without time to clear our minds, our hearts become weighed down with burdens that are — in the long of arc of our lives — inconsequential. But through rediscovery of our true selves away from the strain of daily life, we grow as spiritual beings. We grow in our Jewish wisdom. And we grow as human beings. JN
Valley Beit Midrash's second young professional men’s retreat will be held at the Spirit in the Desert Retreat Center in Cave Creek on May 6. For details, visit valleybeitmidrash.org/mens-retreat. Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is the president and dean of Valley Beit Midrash.