The busy pace of the Western world keeps most of us stressed out and off balance—moving us at breakneck speed from one activity to another, and pushing us through an endless schedule of outside obligations. This frantic pace takes a toll on our bodies, minds, and spirits, making us weary and in need of rest. Going on a retreat is a time-honored custom that can bring spiritual renewal to even the busiest person.
There are many benefits to be found in spiritual retreats. We take retreats to re-energize our bodies, refocus our minds, reset our emotions, clarify our purpose, and refresh our spirits. A retreat is a time to put our mundane concerns on a back burner for a brief while and reconnect with our own inner self. It's an opportunity to spend quality time with ourselves.
Anyone of any age can benefit from this practice. From stressed-out teenagers to senior citizens undergoing major life changes, retreats create the space where healing and renewal can take place. Retreats are for anyone who feels over-burdened by obligations, uncertain of their spiritual direction, or merely swept away by the pace of life.
Do you think that your life is simply too busy to allow you to take time off? Do you feel like your obligations make it impossible to leave home and go on a retreat? Consider this: a retreat can be whatever you need it to be. A retreat can be as short as an hour or as long as you have. The retreat can be taken in an exotic locale, or within your own bedroom. Even an unexpectedly free afternoon offers the opportunity for retreat. For most busy folks, a weekend get away is within reach, and it can result in a rejuvenating experience.
Getting Away From It All
A retreat should ideally be a time away from obligations and expectations, and it's up to each one of us to create the space for that to happen. We need to start with the firm conviction that taking quality time for ourselves is good both for ourselves and for those around us. Clearing our schedules to create time for retreat starts with the idea that our own inner lives deserve equal attention to the demands of others.
Caregivers of all kinds—especially parents of young children—tend to have a Superman/Wonder Woman idea of themselves. We forget that in order to truly serve the needs of those who depend on us, we must first start by taking excellent care of ourselves. We're not doing anyone any favors by allowing ourselves to become burned-out, emotionally drained, and physically exhausted.
How long your retreat should be depends totally on your circumstances and your needs. Even a few hours on a weekday evening can be just the break your spirit was looking for. However, in order to begin to tap the true depths of renewal, longer retreats of at least several days will bring the most benefits. A retreat that lasts an entire weekend can truly transform the outlook of even the busiest, most distressed spirit.
Home Retreat Solutions
Although taking a formal retreat at a location that specifically caters to that purpose can be a deeply empowering experience, a successful retreat experience can be found right on your own doorstep. And even if you share your home with others, the solitude of a retreat can still be found.
It would obviously be ideal if arrangements could be made for family members or roommates to be elsewhere during the weekend of your retreat. However, with your family's cooperation, you can still make a successful retreat happen for yourself even if they remain at home. Explain to them what you hope to accomplish and seek their active help and cooperation.
Prepare for your retreat by clearing your calendar and setting a date. Once you set the date, treat it as a high priority and stick with it. Do not cancel your plans for anything trivial. If you show others that you value this time for yourself, others will more likely honor your retreat by supporting your efforts. When the day of your retreat arrives, be mentally prepared to set aside all of your worries for the duration.
Tell people ahead of time that you will be unavailable for the weekend. Turn the telephone answering machine on and turn the ringer off. Unplug yourself from the outside world by switching off computers, television, and live radio. Suspend newspaper delivery. Step away from the world. For the length of your retreat, satisfy yourself that the world will keep turning without you for the time being.
The next step for a home retreat is to help create an environment suitable for contemplation and relaxation. Designate a room for yourself where your family can guarantee you won't be interrupted, typically a bedroom. Create a large "Do Not Disturb" sign to place on the door to remind them. Perhaps there is an attic or basement that is already apart from the general family living space that can be transformed into a suitable retreat spot. If climate and location make it possible, a tented area in a back yard might also be used as a retreat space.
Whether it is a single room or an entire house, turn the space into a sanctuary where you can be comfortable and relaxed. Clear the space of clutter, and fill it with things that bring comfort and inspiration. Bring in fresh flowers, light candles, burn incense, heat scented oils, play soft music, and dim the lights. Be sure to hang that "Do Not Disturb" sign on the door where it won't be overlooked. This is your time.
Retreat Activities for Body, Mind, & Spirit
How you spend your time while on retreat will greatly determine your experience. The primary goal of a retreat is to refresh the body, mind, and spirit. With that in mind, there are many activities that can restore us to a better state of wholeness.
To nourish and re-energize the body, treat it well for the duration of your retreat. If you want your body to be the temple of your spirit, you need to treat it like the sacred space it is. Feed your body with wholesome foods made from the freshest ingredients possible. Eat slowly, and with intention, honoring the gift of nourishment that is found within each bite. Reduce or eliminate refined sugars, caffeine, alcohol, and other substances that stress the body. If you smoke, try to reduce the amount you smoke as much as is comfortable. Sip fresh water throughout the duration of your retreat to keep yourself well hydrated. Reconnect with the body by doing yoga, tai chi, or similar slow, gentle stretching.
Feel free to pamper your body as well. Retreats are a wonderful time to indulge in leisurely things like facials, manicures, and massage. You might spend some quiet time in creative play by painting personalized henna designs on hands and feet. Try soaking in a hot tub filled with bath salts or scented oils, and allow the water to soak away all of your cares, leaving your cleansed inside and out. Above all, pay attention to and honor your body during the retreat and you will emerge renewed.
Another important goal of a spiritual retreat is to help refocus the mind. Unfortunately, too many of us live life on autopilot. One of the consequences of living at the pace of Western culture is that we've forgotten the importance of introspection in a balanced life. Simply put, we've forgotten to check in with ourselves once in awhile and ask ourselves what's really important to us. We don't typically spend too much time each day getting in touch with what we're thinking or feeling. We rush from one thing to another, rarely pausing for reflection.
A retreat is an opportunity to reconnect with our thoughts and feelings in an empowering, growth-inspiring way. Writing in a journal is a powerful tool for connecting directly to what we're thinking and feeling, because the very act of writing forces us to clarify our thoughts enough to put them into words. Creating scrapbooks or memory albums are an excellent way to help us reflect on our past so that we can better understand our current situation. Building an album can also give us the opportunity to safely recall the memories that still weigh us down, in order to find ways to move past them.
While you're exploring your innermost thoughts and wishes, you might wish to dust off an old childhood dream and create a collage. Try creating a collage of images that relate to your dream. This contemplative activity can help you clarify your goals and inspire you to find ways to bring your dreams to life.
Other activities to help you reconnect to your mind and emotions include reading inspirational works or listening to evocative, uplifting music. Reading the sage advice of the masters, or absorbing the mood of a moving poem can lift our thinking out of the mundane cares of the world. Music can help us tap into and express emotions. Try allowing your body to move to the music in whatever ways you wish. See how dancing makes you feel. If you have sufficient privacy, you might also try talking to yourself. Simply carry on a running monologue of whatever thoughts pass through your head. Sometimes speaking our thoughts out loud helps us to examine our own thinking from a whole new perspective. A retreat gives you the time to make these explorations.
Although a retreat will help you refresh your body and refocus your mind, the biggest benefit is how it can renew your spirit. Taking care of the body and mind gives your spirit the opportunity to stretch forth and embrace life. We normally keep our spiritual needs stuffed far down on our priority lists, but a retreat gives our spirits the chance to be nourished and grow. Meditation, contemplation, or prayer should be a central feature of a retreat, since it gives each of us the chance to sit with our own spirits and find our purpose and direction in life. By slowing down, reducing the distractions of our busy lives, and focusing within, we're given the opportunity to quiet our busy minds and listen to the inspiration of the gods. Meditation is an opportunity for each of us to find balance and peace.
Holding onto the Peace
By the end of your retreat, you should be feeling refreshed in body, mind, and spirit. You've spent quality time in solitude honoring your body, clarifying your mind, and becoming reacquainted with your spirit. But how do you hold onto those peaceful feelings upon returning to the stress-filled life you stepped away from?
The best way to hold onto the insights you've gained and the peace you've experienced is to continue to honor your body, mind, and spirit in your everyday life. Take mini-retreats whenever you feel stressed. Light your candles, lock the bathroom door, and soak in a scented bath. Build a few minutes of meditation into your daily schedule. Continue to keep a daily journal of your thoughts.
By staying aware of our own needs, we can treat ourselves well, and hold onto the peace we found while on retreat.