Everyone occasionally feels a need for inner rejuvenation. Whether you want simply to reclaim your inner peace in the midst of a hectic life, or do some soul searching over your life directions, or go deeper into your spiritual life, going on retreat can be a perfect solution.
A true retreat is much more than a vacation — it can be a time of conscious, spiritual opening, of making an enjoyable effort to rise to an entirely new state of awareness. Here are a few tips for a retreat experience that’s both relaxing and spiritually rewarding.
Find the Right Environment
Seek out a place that is harmonious with your goals. The right environment can give you a tremendous boost — while the wrong one can leave you feeling flat, or even work against you. So do your homework and ask some questions, because even similar-seeming places can have quite different emphases.
Do you want a highly structured retreat, or do you want freedom to do what inspires you? Do you think you might need some guidance in customizing your retreat, or do you know exactly what you want to do? Choose a retreat center that offers what you seek.
If it’s spiritual depth you’re after, choose a place with an established spiritual tradition. Then you’ll be like a surfer who chooses a beach with the best waves, rather than trying somehow to create waves yourself. Look also for a place that uplifts you with its beautiful natural surroundings, and with space to be alone whenever you wish it.
If you’re new to retreating, go to a retreat center that offers personal guidance. Optional, guided group activities are also a plus. Even experienced retreatants find that occasionally tapping into the magnetism of group activities can be invaluable for keeping their energy high and focused. For example, The Expanding Light retreat at Ananda offers twice-daily sessions of yoga postures and meditation.
Eat right and get rested before you go on retreat; otherwise, you may need the first day or two of your retreat just to pull yourself together. If you already engage in spiritual practices, get a head start by putting extra energy into them before departing. You’ll be glad you did.
As soon as you leave home, put all problems forcefully out of your mind. Preoccupation with problems can suffocate your retreat, while a worry-free retreat can actually help you solve problems more effectively by getting you into “solution consciousness” rather than “problem consciousness.”
Plan Variety in Your Retreat
Who wants to go on a retreat that seems like boot camp? Let it be fun, and plan a variety of activities. For example, you might use the mornings for your most interiorized efforts: prayer, meditation, journal writing, or spiritual reading. Then be more expansive in the afternoons: walk in nature, do something creative, or listen to uplifting music or lecture tapes. Reserve your evenings for lighter fare: a spiritual video, a humorous book, or simply relaxed, quality time with like-minded people. And always allow for the inspiration of the moment; don’t be locked into anyone’s agenda — even your own.
Your free time is precious, and it’s only natural to be concerned over whether you’re doing it “right.” But there’s no magic formula for a retreat. Just find a flow that works for you, and go with it. Remember, what you do is not nearly as important as whether your inspiration and “joy level” are high. You don’t have to pray and meditate all day long; few people can do that constructively, anyway. You don’t have to stay in silence or solitude, though many people find these beneficial. And don’t “over-retreat”: if you’re a first-timer, 2 — 4 days is plenty. Focus on enjoyment, rather than “should’s.”
Above All, Relax and Enjoy Yourself
Don’t put pressure on yourself to see immediate, dramatic results. When you go on retreat, you are planting a spiritual seed. If you water it by your own continuing spiritual efforts, in time it will surely sprout into the flower of peace and joy that you seek.