In an essay for Tricycle (Spring 2005) entitled “The Power of Solitude,” author Reggie Ray discusses the efficacy of retreats. He describes not only the lack of familiarity with the practice today but also the fact that
not only has the typical Western person spent little or no time alone, but many of us have an underlying fear of solitude. Possibly driving some of the midsunderstanding of retreat is a deep-seated fear of being alone without distraction, without entertainment, without “work,” without other people around to constantly confirm our sense of self.
Ray notes that Westerners live in a “very extroverted society,” and driven by consumerism and the feeling that unless we are producing in an external and material way, our worth as people is in doubt.
As an example of the long-range efficacy of retreat, Ray cites his own shortcoming in his first retreat in his late twenties. Rather than tranquility and solitude, he discovered that he had “the most agitated, chaotic, neurotic mind” that he could have imagined, and after a week quit in despair. But afterwards, Ray realized a clarity and openness that he had never experienced before. And every year, therefore, he has continued to do a retreat.