Some Thoughts on Making Retreat:
Hints to make your retreat experience special
Don’t try to do everything
Think of your retreat as wine tasting. When you go to taste wine you don’t drink everything, you don’t like everything and you don’t buy everything. The same can be said for your retreat-you are going to like some of the program and not like some of the program. And you are going to wonder which parts you should do and which you shouldn’t. Taste them all, or most of them but don’t “buy” the ones you don’t like.
- If you are in a religious center there are going to be services or periods of contemplation for the whole community. It is best to attend these services. They hold the retreat center or monastery together, so it is going to be difficult to be part of the place without being part of the basic program.
- Many retreat centers will have choices for you to make. Think about who you are. Are you a contemplative? Then stay away from the touchy-feely sessions where you are asked to scratch the back of the person next to you. Are you an overtly active and friendly person? Then you might want to avoid the periods of silence and prayer. Remember this is your retreat. Make it personal.
- When you go home think about the parts of the program you liked and perhaps find ways to continue doing them. When you get home at first you are going to have withdrawal, if your retreat has been powerful. Come ‘down’ slowly and continue some of what you did there and you will find it easier to re-acclimate yourself to your everyday life.
Spend time before you go thinking about what you are going to bring to help you in your retreat. Most often this is reading material. What are you going for? Why have you decided to make this retreat? Answers to questions like this can help you decide what reading material you will bring with you.
- Don’t take too many books. Remember you don’t want to go through the exercise of spending two days deciding which of the books you have brought you are going to read. Choose one or two ahead of time and only bring them.
- Make sure to bring more than one book though. Every once in a while, a book we expected to be wonderful turns out to be a dud. Make sure you have a backup so you aren’t on your full retreat with nothing to aid you in the journey.
- Bring your own and don’t depend on the library. Many retreat centers and monasteries have libraries. Few of them are very good because their content has been donated, meaning cast off by others. If you bring your own then finding a gem in the retreat center library is a happy surprise.
Keep a journal
Even if you aren’t a regular diarist, when you go on retreat think about writing down your thoughts and feelings. You’ll be surprised how much this can add to your time especially after you get home and re-read what you have written.
- Purchase a special book to record your thoughts. Make it part of your retreat to go to the bookstore or stationary store and buy a special book to be your journal. It doesn’t have to be expensive, just special. A spiral bound $1 notebook can work. And a beautifully leather-bound journal from Italy can work. As with so much of your retreat, make it work for you. Choose a special pen too…
- Don’t make it a job. Your journal is to help you. It isn’t supposed to be work. If you feel like writing, then write. If you don’t feel like writing don’t! If you don’t feel like writing the entire time you are there, so what. Write when the spirit moves you.
- Tell the truth. If you are going to write about your feelings, write the truth about them. Remember the first rule of journaling: no one is allowed to read it without your permission. Not your spouse, your brother, not anyone. That means your journal must be filled with how you really feel, and what you really experienced.
- Don’t read it for a while. Take some time before you go back and relive your retreat. You’ll find it adds to the reminder of a special time.
Limit time in the “Holy Hardware Store”
Almost every retreat center or monastery has a small shop that sells goods pertaining to the specific faith of the center or its discipline. Keep your visits there down to a minimum. Your retreat is not a shopping trip. It’s a time of silence and removal from the stuff you do everyday. That includes shopping. Now that doesn’t mean you can’t pick up a t-shirt or trinket to remind you of your time at the center, or a good book pertaining to the spirituality of the center. But keep it to that and you will be happier.
The last day is important
If you have had a good experience on retreat you are going to dread your last day. The final day means now you must return to the grind, and that means you must leave this place that has been important to you for however many days you have been there. Prepare for it.
- Plan your last day ahead of time. If you really enjoyed one aspect of your retreat-a session or program, a walk in the woods-make sure you do it on your last day. Make the special times what you do last, so you can remember them the best.
- Don’t spend a minute fretting about having to leave. You have to go! Don’t spend any of your precious time worrying about it. You can always come back.
- Make sure to get the email addresses or phone numbers of those you have met that you want to keep in touch with. The friends you meet at a retreat center or monastery can become very good friends indeed. Make sure you don’t smack yourself in the forehead on the way home because you forgot to get that special person’s information.
- On the other hand, don’t volunteer to give your personal information to someone unless they ask. Casual acquaintances are casual for some and not meant to be more than that.
Take it home with you
Many people now are deliberate in having retreat days at home. Some pick a day each week, or each month where they try to duplicate the feeling they had on retreat or at least adopt the characteristics of the retreat, perhaps silence or abstaining from some food or drink. You may want to think about that while you are on retreat. What part of this can I take home and do there?
If you want to—share your experience with your loved ones
You can also extend your time of peace by sharing what you did while on retreat with the people you love. In some cases, you are going to want to do that because they might not quite understand what you were doing or why you needed to do it. Don’t keep it to yourself: tell them and explain it to them. Make your loved one’s part of the experience so you remove any ‘mystery’ about your retreat.
Having time to retreat is a gift in itself. Make the gift even more special by planning your retreat and really thinking about what you want to get out of it. That will make your time away even more special and meaningful.