The conditioned world including this body of ours is contrary to our true nature which is unconditioned. By going into retreat we hope to lessen, somewhat, the temptation of desiring the conditioned. Let’s call it a kind of spiritual ‘cold turkey’—an abrupt reduction of dependence upon the conditioned. Some people are able to go into retreat, easily, while most people are not. They are too addicted to the conditioned life. But this addiction has a price. Even frugality is better that over-dependence upon the conditioned.
I have always believed that Zen training is incomplete without the adept doing a retreat of some length, the goal of which is kensho (seeing our true nature). I was lucky in this regard. I lived for a while in an old house with no electricity or running water—my nearest neighbor, Tommy, was 7 miles away. I had water wells and one natural spring whose water supplied me with plenty of wild watercress. I also had a small mine in which to meditate.
This retreat not only taught be invaluable lessons about my self, especially, how I was constantly deceiving myself but it also allowed me to focus, directly, on trying to see pure Mind. This retreat did not in anyway diminish my faith in such a Mind which was unconditioned. It only made me doubt more the conditioned mind eventually losing all trust in it in which I came to my wits’ end where one faces Zen’s gateless barrier.
I think those who are new to Zen underrate the value of doing a retreat because they don’t understand Buddhism, that one must awaken to the unconditioned by setting aside the conditioned. It should seem obvious that it is difficult to set aside the conditioned if one is caught up in the conditioned trying to make ends meet; living for non-edifying pleasures. Let’s call this the spiritually immoral life that leads to no awakening.