Co-written by Jennifer & Gary French
At times, life can feel a bit overwhelming. Maybe there is some new life challenge that unexpectedly disorients us. Or perhaps we feel worn down with a general feeling of fatigue, built up gradually over time from our day-to-day obligations and routines. Sometimes we may even seem to have lost track of ourselves. Even when our lives are running smoothly along and we are feeling fine, we may want to take ourselves in for a tune-up, a kind of routine health maintenance and preventative soul care to recharge our life force. These are all times when it might be in our best interest to create some space from our day-to-day life, leave our worries behind, and reset ourselves. Ah, yes… a retreat.
A retreat is an occasion to step back from our mundane world and find the time and space to focus inward. There are many types of retreats to meet a wide variety of interests—writers’ retreats, artists’ retreats, spiritual retreats, walking retreats, silent retreats, and more. The common element among all of these is this concept of “retreating.” The word retreat itself comes from the Latin retrahere, which means to pull back. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines retreat as “the act or process of withdrawing,” and the Oxford Dictionary defines it as “a quiet or secluded place where one can relax and rest” or “a period of seclusion for the purposes of prayer and meditation.”
These definitions lead us to the heart of what going on retreat is fundamentally about: taking the time to pause and go inward to get in touch with our deeper selves, needs, desires, and goals. It is a time to readjust our perspective on life, climbing upward out of the twists and turns of the dense forest path into the crisp, blue mountain air. It allows us to rediscover clarity and a bit of peace, which we bring back into our daily lives, allowing us to again meet our more immediate challenges with grace and equanimity.
As we may imagine, the longer the retreat, the more intense our experience tends to be. Some longer retreats tend to be designed with plenty of unscheduled leisure time throughout the day, so we may stroll and nap as we please. Others can be intensives that might have full day schedules, carefully designed for participants to get the very most out of this precious, self-care time.
Just as there are many styles of retreats, there are also many ways of approaching a retreat. We can travel faraway, or we may choose a shorter more convenient experience close to home. There are lots of opportunities to pack up our bags, get on a plane and travel miles and miles away, creating that much-needed clear boundary of space around us that is so often hard to find when at home. This is what comes to mind for most—an exotic spa in a faraway place. In an ideal world, we would be able to jet off several times a year to foreign lands to refresh and replenish. Does this mean that we must travel long distances to have an effective or transformative retreat?
Closer to home, we could attempt to simply turn off the phone and the television, let our friends and family know that we won’t be available for the next few days, and create the space right where we are. But all too often this can be a disappointing challenge as we are so easily drawn back into the world around us and the things that need to be done… the floor that needs to be cleaned, the emails that need to be answered, the dinner that needs to be made, and on and on it goes…
The day retreat is a fantastic way to keep both the fun and the adventure and, at the same time, greatly benefit from the structure and guidance of a formal retreat leader. Through her knowledge and experience, she helps to create a truly healthy and revitalizing opportunity. These day-long retreats often offer participants a kind of reset, a pause that we can more easily sneak into our life to help keep us centered and balanced. A shorter day-retreat tends to be a bit more focused, with practices and activities to help direct the experience and enhance the intention of going inward. Sometimes these practices are self-practices. Sometimes they are group practices, such as yoga classes or meditations. There may be periods of individual silence; other times there may be opportunities for group connection. Day retreats combine the best of the faraway with the best of the closer to home: the critical separation of personal space with the ease, affordability, and focused guidance of a retreat leader.
In the end, the why, where, and how long of going on retreat is as unique to you as anything else. Whatever your reason for wanting to retreat, for wanting to pause and connect inward, it is your reason, and it is right. The new and unexpected challenges, the disorientations, the loss of one’s sense of self, and the general fatigue of routines and obligations often push us toward the great need to get away from it all. Yet once we realize the power of retreating, we can then use this profound tool as a form of preventative self-care, allowing us to find the ability to meet all that life brings us with a sense of peace, clarity, and equanimity.