I’m currently preparing to go on a 3 day retreat and am really looking forward to it. It’s an opportunity to step outside my regular routines and habits and enter into a different kind of space, one that’s removed from the hustle and bustle of daily life. People go on retreat for many different reasons; mine is about wanting to look deeper at certain life themes that are cycling around again into my awareness. Albert Camus noted that ‘in order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion.’ Along those lines, this retreat symbolises a turning away from my everyday world in order to understand it – and myself – a bit better.
This is my first personal retreat, and while I’m excited, I’m also a little unsure of how to make the most of it. There are many types of retreat out there, and I’m inclined to try something that combines meditation and outdoor activity. Seeking some advice, I turned to a trusted friend and mentor, someone who has been on numerous and varied retreats over the years. She kindly offered up several pointers from her over 15 years’ experience of going on retreat, and I thought I’d share them here. Keep in mind these tips are specifically for retreats that are self-organised and self-led.
- State your intention – Take some time to prepare for the experience. In doing this, you may want to come up with specific questions to help frame the retreat experience. Think about it this way: if you were going to an oracle, what would you ask? What would you like to explore and discover about yourself or your life right now?
- Opening and closing rituals – A retreat needs to be a contained experience. It’s book-ended by a beginning and an end, allowing the bulk of the action to happen in the middle. An opening ritual helps create sacred space, and keeps the retreat feeling safe, contained, and secure. A closing ritual helps wind down the energies, and helps initiate readjustment back into the everyday world. Lighting candles, burning sage, reciting quotes, playing music…all these things may serve as suitable rituals. Do some research, and do what feels right.
- Bring a journal – And not just any old journal. Have a dedicated journal just for retreats. Along with being a method for creative expression, journaling is also a way of witnessing and documenting the process. Write down dreams, insights, and anything big or small that occurs. My friend said she often refers to her retreat journals for validation and inspiration.
- Be creative within the process – Express yourself. Whether through drawing, painting, writing, playing music, dancing, singing, or any other method that appeals, it’s vital to engage with the energies that are invoked by the retreat. Creative expression means taking what’s occurring in the inner world and manifesting it in the outer world in your own unique way. My friend likes to do collages with photographs, cuttings from magazines, drawings, and anything else she picks up along the way. She finds that making the collages help her to focus and deepen her process within the retreat.
- Stay open and just go with it – It’s important to have some structure and intention assigned to your retreat, but not to the point that it becomes rigid and constrictive. Have a light touch with your planning and programme. Go for a walk if you feel the urge. Get into your creative process when the feeling strikes. An important aspect of any retreat is to open and strengthen connection with intuition. This means cultivating an open, receptive position within in order to receive information in whatever form that may take – insights, dreams, images, emotions, etc. Because of this, you may be in for some surprises, and led in a different direction than what you first expected. This has happened to my friend on more than one occasion during retreat. She said that ‘just going with it’ was always the best thing to do.
Hopefully these tips provide some additional food for thought when planning your own retreat.