The Good Retreat Guide Online

Mountains and lake graphic.

What is a retreat ?

Retreats are a modern answer to modern living. Going on a retreat means taking time away from your ordinary life and situation. It is a special time to give yourself some peace and calm. You might be stepping away from a hectic lifestyle full of being too busy. You may be taking a break away from the responsibilities of children or caring for someone. You may be escaping from a bad emotional situation. You may just want some quiet and to be left alone for a day or two. You may just want some tranquility in which to consider where you are in life.

A retreat lets our feelings open out and gives us access to both the light and dark corners of our deep feelings. It can bring understanding of where we are in relationships too. All the great spiritual traditions are about discovering ourselves in ways that help us to grow in happiness and love. For many people a retreat will be an awakening to the presence of God in their lives.

Is going on a retreat a new idea ?

Men and women have always needed at times to withdraw temporarily from daily living in order to nourish their inner life of the spirit. Moses retreated to Mount Sinai. Jesus went into the desert. Buddhists annually make a retreat. Moslems go for a day of prayer and fasting within the mosque. The Hindu withdraws to the temple or wanders alone across the land. Native Americans journey to the spirit world. In our ordinary lives, the kitchen or the shed at the bottom of the garden may be where we go to retreat from the world.

What is an ‘inner journey’ ?

In opening up your interior self, you may find an empty inner space you never knew existed. Suddenly, there is no constant background of human activity. No gossip, no grumbling, no meetings, no decisions, no interference in where you are inside yourself. You are faced with you alone. At long last! You begin then to slip into a slower physical, mental and emotional gear and start to think differently. Your body gears down. Your mind drifts from thought to thought. Slowly deep feelings arise. Some may be good. Some may be bad. All of them are from within your interior world. All of them belong to you. What you do with them is up to you and a retreat is one of the best places to start to deal with what these feelings mean to your life.

In such moments your retreat truly begins for this new consciousness starts a meditation about yourself that is the giving of undivided attention to your spirit. Some say that it is opening the door to God.

Is this spirituality just stuff inside my head ?

Going on retreat is not necessarily about having spiritual. You might have one but most people don’t. It is about refreshing yourself, relaxing, and taking a journey into the deeper self. Reassessment about your life and relationships and values can happen. And why not? What other time have you ever had to do it?

It does not matter how many spirituality books you have read or how many self-development courses you have attended or what spiritual techniques you have practiced for deepening your inner awareness. Unless you stop and let go of your ordinary concerns, the spirit can not speak to you. The present moment is where the spirit lives so you have to let go of yesterday and cease to look toward tomorrow which has not yet arrived. You need to stay in the present moment long enough to listen to your inner spiritual voice. Be like the flowers in the field, Jesus told us. They do not worry about this or that but just live. The Buddhist say that this state is the place of reality. Going on retreat gives you a chance to explore these dimensions of yourself. Not in your head but in your soul.

Is silence necessary on a retreat ?

It is not true that you have to be silent all the time on a retreat. Many retreats have little or no silence and there are retreat houses which can seem busy when fully booked. If the combination of silence and stillness is too much on a retreat for you, you may find that a quiet physical activity such as walking, sewing, or painting is the best way to regain a sense of peace. That is why there are now so many kinds of retreats on offer.

Who goes on retreats ?

At a retreat centre you will meet people of all ages and from every kind of background – factory workers, unemployed, students, housewives, grandparents, business people, millionaires and famous celebrities. A retreat is a kind of spiritual club with membership open to all. A group retreat can be fun and a time of making new friends. Even on a private retreat you are likely to meet interesting people.

Do you have to be religious or be a church-goer ?

You certainly do not have to be religious to go on a retreat. Men and women of all faiths and those of none go on retreat. You do not have to be a Christian or Buddhist to go on a retreat even in a monastery run by monks or nuns. You do not have to believe in God. What is vital is your positive decision to take time for your spiritual life. If you want to go to places of the Islam faith, you must enquire first as to the situation. You should also enquire first at places of Hindu worship and study. While you may not have to be religious, you must respect the faith of the people in the place you are visiting. For those in Britain, The Inter-Faith Network can be helpful. Go to Helpful addresses

What kind of people will I meet on a retreat ?

Almost everyone comes back from a retreat feeling good about the people they met there. But it is true to say that you may meet people you like at once, those you do not want to know better and those who may make a nuisance of themselves. There are people who will hammer away about God and salvation or the greening of the planet or why vegetarianism or raw juice or deep breathing is the secret key to good living. This is apt to annoy even the nicest person. If cornered by this sort of person, just excuse yourself go away at once to your room or for a walk. You are there to listen to another voice - your inner spiritual one.