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Winning the revolution by retreating

I once attended a history class where the lecturer gently coaxed students to define a revolution as a "complete overhaul" of the status quo. The professor went on to suggest that it was the French Revolution that inspired his definition. He showed a series of paintings (easily found by Google-ing) depicting dramatic scenes of peasants continually moving forward as, on July 14 1789, they stormed the Bastille. It's sad to realize that, as the instructor argued, despite their obvious determination, it is unlikely that the peasant-soldiers ever comprehended in their lifetimes the extent of the change they had created.

We often fail, I think, to capture the full significance of events as we experience them. I'm certain that I've missed the true meaning of many important moments during my fifty-two years. I suggest that, contrary to logic, an effective way to advance the revolutionary moments in our lives is, precisely, to retreat.  

 
For almost a decade, I've been involved in an organization called Life's Door that brings couples to a resort near the Dead Sea for our "Partners-for-Life" retreats – couples in which one spouse suffers from serious illness. Ironically, there is no Hebrew word for "retreat".  Probably, Israelis aren't accustomed to this concept. And while the Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth, couples usually depart on an emotional high because, as our pictures suggest, the retreat is spiritually uplifting. 
 
       
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Photo by: Avi Morag



 
 
Photo by: Avi Morag

 Although we offer diverse groups and individual activities, beyond any specific event, the retreat process, itself, seems to inspire depth of reflection, perhaps because, in retreating, we take time to focus on the mundane, to observe how meaningful the ordinary can be, and to consider our response. How often, for example, do I tell my wife that she's beautiful? In what way was our last anniversary special? Did I thoroughly experience our grandson's school play or was I only partially engaged? 
 
At this year's retreat, we asked each couple to examine the building blocks of their relationship. Is one partner more inclined to lead while the other tends to follow? Is each spouse comfortable with their role or has the couple merely fallen into some pattern and remained there by pull of inertia? 
 
One man noted that since his wife had been diagnosed with a chronic leukemia, he had been rediscovering his abilities within himself that had lain dormant. Obviously the couple hadn't planned on cancer entering their lives, but with the disease having embedded itself in their marriage, the wife had begun to embrace her husband more and to acknowledge his ability once again to do more for her and for himself. At times, the couples were not sure that the new dynamic was a good fit for them, but having embraced the concepts of retreat and reconsideration, they became excited to improve their relationship. 
 
Being a staff member, I don't attend the workshops as a participant; however, on the first morning, I experienced something with my own spouse. Before going to sleep, Dvora and I had forgotten to close the drapes so that, in the morning, we were awakened not by the concierge's phone call, but by the sun's rays through the large window. In the retreat setting, the image of sunbeams poking through clouds and falling on the Jordan River beneath the scenic mountains of Moab took our breath away and humbled us. 
 
Photo by: Avi Morag
 
Surprisingly, neither of us had any inclination to feel angry about having been awakened two hours earlier than planned. Instead, we felt free, creative, and thankful. We wondered why we had so often tended to experience such moments as banal. We lamented the beauty that, so many times, we had missed noticing, then we had a revolutionary revelation!  We vowed to live, from that moment, in retreat – to pause often to truly experience life's wonders even in simple moments. 
 
Not a revolutionary revelation? Heard that kind of sappy resolution before? Perhaps made one or two yourself? Ah, but to be so radical as to take action to overhaul the status quo – now that would define a revolution! 
 
Shalom, Ben.
 
Please note, pictures that appear in the hyperlinks were taken by Avi Morag after consent was obtained to share the images. To find out more about "Partners-for-Life" Retreats, please contact 52@lifesdoor.org  
 
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