Every year or so, I like to take a few days off and make a retreat. I don’t go on holiday to some fabulous destination (although I do that too at other times).
When I go for a retreat, the one thing I look for is silence.
I like to find a retreat house in the countryside or wilderness and spend 3-5 days there without talking to anyone. I suspect many of us don’t realize exactly how noisy our lives are. The experience of spending a few days in complete silence is can at times be overwhelming, but highly beneficial.
Whenever I do such a retreat, I always come back to ‘real life’ way more focused, and with a renewed and positive attitude. Last week, I did this year’s retreat and as usual, it was a great experience. In fact, I’d like to make it a more regular thing. I’d also like to incorporate more elements of reflection and meditation in my daily life.
There are many retreat centers all around the world, what you need to make sure is that the center is one that helps you stay in silence for as long as possible. We’re not looking for a center that fills up your day with activities here, it should, in fact, be as boring as possible.
I prefer going to Christian retreat centers; one of my absolute favorites is the Montserrat benedictine monastary in Spain. The reason is twofold. One is that Christian centers tend to be centered around a really nice church or monastery that embodies the spirit of contemplation and reflection that we are looking for. Secondly, if you need it, you will also find monks ready to help you guide you along your journey.
If you’re attempting this for the first time, I would strongly recommend choosing a guided retreat. It doesn’t have to be religious, most monks and priests are happy to help you from a human aspect without necessarily involving religious teachings or readings from the Bible. If you do want to have a more religious experience, they are of course also delighted to guide you.
I’ve done both types of retreats and found them both beneficial. Ultimately, it’s all about what you believe and think about the world and your personal life journey. If you’re a religious person, it will help you to focus on passages from the Bible and spend time in prayer, while if you’re not particularly religious you will benefit from the solitude that breeds internal reflection. You can take an inspirational book with you to help out. Ultimately, both outcomes will be very similar.
A key element of my retreats is always the practice of journaling or writing. While the first day or two can be tough until I quiet down my mind, once I get settled thoughts inevitably turn inwards and I usually get lots of insights. It is essential to write things down and also write about all your struggles. This will help you remember the lessons you learned and also help you if you have someone guiding you to the retreat, as you will have a handy reference during your talks with the guide.
I’m still experimenting with the ideal duration of retreats and also their frequency. However, I suspect there are no hard and fast rules for that. If you manage to find a place that you like and is not that far from home, I think that would be a real good win, as you can go there whenever you feel that you need to. So far, I have tended to stick to 4 or 5 days as that gives me enough time to quieten down and be very productive while at the same time not staying away from my family and normal life too long.
Have you ever been on such a retreat? How did it help you?