Wednesday, April 25, 2007

How to have a day of retreat

A couple of people e-mailed me and asked what one does on a day of retreat. I can't speak for all folks who take a day or more of retreat and it varies for me depending on whether or not there's a specific focus of the retreat or if it's just a generic day to be quiet and listen, but here's what my day consisted of yesterday to give you an idea...
  • Arrived at the retreat center and met a couple of the nuns who help run the center. They exuded the kind of hospitality that Benedictines are known for. The center director showed me to my cabin for the day and acquainted me with the community's schedule so I could decide what, if any, of the activities I wanted to participate in.
  • I sat down at the desk in my cabin, opened the curtains over the window in front of the desk and found four deer grazing outside my window, so I watched them for a long while, and noticed several squirrels and birds moving about in the forest.
  • I journaled for as long as I could stand to sit....mostly just a free associative kind of writing in which I just write whatever comes to mind without any regard for grammar or useage or anything.
  • I went for a long walk in the woods, and at one point, sat down in a chair at a point which overlooks a lake. While I sat looking at the lake, an eagle flew into my view and circled high above. So, I watched it until it passed from view. I prayed some while I sat there, practicing a breath prayer I learned years ago.
  • I hiked some more, and found a turtle on the side of the trail that I stopped and stood still to watch for awhile. He poked his head out and slowly started extending his feet to walk away, but was oh-so slow in making any move at all.
  • I returned to my cabin to find a wonderful cat outside my door. I sat on the porch and petted her for awhile and then went to lunch. Had a wonderful vegetarian lunch with the community and enjoyed the chatter, then helped wash dishes. During lunch I met the community's spiritual director and arranged to meet with her after lunch.
  • When I went back to the cabin, the cat was waiting for me. She followed me and climbed in the comfy chair to watch me while I journaled some more. So sweet. I had to pick her up and take her out when I left for my spiritual direction though. She wasn't happy about that.
  • I spent a half-hour in spiritual direction with a fantastic director who listened attentively to me talk about my life and the struggle I've had with prayer. She asked some great questions, then offered a couple of exercises for me to try. She gave me an image to work with that was absolutely perfect. And then invited me to come back anytime and visit with her again. I will be doing that.
  • I went back to the cabin hoping the dark clouds would disappear soon so I could hike again, but since they didn't I sat at the desk to write some more and felt a powerful sleepiness take over, so I laid down and slept to the sound of the rain falling, and the thunder reverberating through the forest.
  • When I awoke, I watched the rain drip off of a leave outside my window for a long while, and decided I would try one of the prayer exercises for awhile, and a bit more. I hadn't set a particular time to leave, so I decided the rain would be my alarm. Once it ended, I checked out and headed home.
It was a great day. Nothing mysterious or magical about it, but just right to help me slow down and listen. I was able, as a result, to see some significant movement with all of the grief I've been dealing with. One of the exercises suggested to me is one that was recommended to me by a minister at my church, but I resisted it when she suggested it a few months ago. When I started planning it this time, I felt a readiness for it that I hadn't before. I think it will be a significant step for me, involving some private ritual and ultimately a more public one.

That's how I do retreat. Anyone else want to chime in and describe the kinds of things you do?


PPB said...

sounds like a great day.

Marie said...


Linda said...

Gah! All of the repetitive use of words in this post is driving me crazy. I wrote it really fast before I went to church. I should edit it...but I won't!

jo(e) said...

I loved this post. It made me think of my own retreat experiences -- which are amazingly similar. I especially love that moment when I sit down at the desk and look out the window. That is when I feel like the retreat has officially started.

SpookyRach said...

Sounds really good!

Yankee T said...

I cannot even imagine a day like this. To have that much quiet must be amazing. Want three teenage girls?

Mary Beth said...

I don't have anything to offer, but I would love to know (if you wouldn't mind sharing) how you found that directed personal retreat center.

I have been looking for something similar but everything I can find seems to be far, far away...surely in the DFW area or driveable distance there has be something?

Heck, I could come up there.

I'm at marybeth at unt dot edu

thanks mucho