The Spiritual Retreat-What It Is and What to Expect
When I tell people I work with that I am going on a retreat they immediately begin to tease about me having a weekend R & R, (rest and recreation). I then stop to explain that it is a spiritual retreat, not one where I am being massaged and pampered, as in a spa; but, rather one that is a ‘working’ retreat. In some ways it may indeed be similar-by all accounts, it is the pampering and massaging of the soul.
Retreats have been popular for centuries. In Catholic circles, where I was raised, we were required to go on retreat prior to making the sacrament of Holy Confirmation. I remember that retreat. I was about twelve and joined a group of young women, like myself, to a Catholic Church that was not in our parish. I don’t recall spending the night in the dorms, but we probably did. It was intimidating because I did not know what to expect and those nuns, whom I had only weekly contact with through catechism class, really made me nervous.
Yet, I also felt a deep sense of reverence for the ritual and routine; and a sense of prevailing peace. I didn’t realize it at the time how important retreat would become in my life.
Questions about retreats
Since I attend retreat regularly, as part of my spiritual practice, I have friends who ask what it is that I do. The underlying question is, “What is a retreat?” While each organization may have specific routines they follow, there are commonalities that I will share which may offer an understanding of ‘retreat’.
First, anyone can go on a retreat and it does not have to be at a specific place or with a particular organization. One can simply decide that they would like to set a particular amount of time to get away for spiritual contemplation.
Second, there is no set time that is specific to being on retreat. If you join up with a particular organization, their time schedule will dictate, according to the housing accommodations. A short retreat could be a one day ‘get away’ into the mountains, woods, or a secluded area near the ocean. Ideally, however, you are extending your time in seclusion for more than 12 hours. I have been on weekend retreats, week long ones, and even longer.
Third, one can join an organized spiritual retreat-many are offered through churches; or there are often organizations that welcome people interested in experiencing retreat. Some ‘retreat facilities’ hold retreats at certain times of the year for special groups of people, i.e. women, or single women, etc., and there is a focus or theme that is followed.
Fourth, the focus of any spiritual retreat is to deepen your individual spiritual experience. So, whether you will be listening to a spiritual teacher, at some point, along with specific teachings, or sitting in silence during prayer or meditation, it is important to remember the purpose is not primarily a social gathering or time to read the latest novel by your favorite author. Save that for the R & R get away.
Peace and Serenity await you at a Spiritual Retreat
What to expect at a retreat facility
If the retreat you take is not one you are individually embarking on, such as a weekend at a beach house or cabin in the mountains, then your meals will be cooked and served to you at regular times. This usually takes place in a dining room or cafeteria, although I have been on one retreat where breakfast was continental style and people milled around eating in the hallway.
Housing varies and can range from sharing a dormitory room, doubling up with a roommate or, when available, paying for a private room. Rooms can also be anywhere from very sparse, with only a bed, pillow, chair and lamp, with linens provided; to being a hotel room with luxuries such as a television. Sometimes, a business center will provide computers with internet connections. It seems such a contradiction to even write this, but that is the reality of some facilities. Mainly, because the housing often serves more groups than just the particular ‘spiritual’ group you may be included in.
Spiritual retreats are, more often than not, held on grounds that are soothing and serene-wooded areas with paths and a lake, perhaps; a mountain side with a beautiful view of a natural setting below; an outdoor meditation area, etc. In other words, the aesthetic beauty is as appealing to the eye as the inside work is to the soul.
If you join a group for the retreat you will be given an itinerary to follow, according to the material the leaders wish to cover. In the organized retreats that I’ve attended, including the group I am currently involved with, there is a period of teaching, question and answer time, and meditation. There may also be exercises that will nudge the sleepy soul into alertness.
At the end of the retreat your experience may continue to ‘follow’ you into your home and work environment. This is an expected outcome of retreat work. Like church, the spiritual connection does not just stop after the sermon as you get back into your car and drive away. The advantage of leaving your familiar surroundings is to bring a deeper awareness to yourself as a spiritual being. It is used as a supportive means to ‘shift’ your awareness from the patterns that are so easy to fall back into.
Meditation and Prayer may be part of a spiritual retreat
What to take with you on retreat
Unless you are with a specific group which has requested material, the best thing to take with you is an open mind, especially if this is your first experience. Not sure what to expect? Stay positive. Have special needs, such as handicap access or dietary specifications? Be sure to let your facilitator know in advance so you can be accommodated.
Other items that may be useful would be a journal, notebook or other writing material to jot your experiences down; a camera; comfortable walking shoes; bathing suit, where appropriate.
If we can stop for a brief moment to clear our minds, turn our focus to our inner voice, and sense into our experience in the present moment, we give ourselves the gift of connecting with our heart’s desires. In that place of connection there rises a deep sense of belonging to ‘something’ greater than us. It is from that place of universal connection that peace and love dwell. Our world is filled with distraction. The solitude of retreat offers a moment to reconnect.