This is what separates a retreat from other forms of rest or vacation: your intention. When you go on a retreat, you make a commitment to engage in and deepen your contemplative practice. Since retreats are often lead by a teacher, they can also be valuable opportunities for you to ask questions and receive guidance on more personal spiritual matters.
The typical retreat experience involves staying away from your home, at a retreat center or spiritual community of some kind, such as a monastery or meditation center. But for many of us it can be difficult to get away from everyday life for an extended period. Fortunately, if you have good self-discipline and a little creativity, you can create a rejuvenating retreat for yourself at home by setting aside time to be used exclusively for your spiritual well-being.
The primary problem you face during an at-home retreat is that you are surrounded by your usual distractions. For the period you are designating as your retreat time, unplug the TV, shut off the phone, activate your internet-blocking apps (such as Freedom), and (this is the very hard part!) remind your family and friends to leave you alone as much as possible. If you want to read, write, make art or listen to music while on retreat, gather your supplies before your retreat period begins. You may wish to keep a journal of your thoughts and experiences. Or, you could try removing yourself from all distraction–no reading, no listening to music, no writing–and experiment with just being alone for a time. Learn to trust your instincts to spend your time the way you find most appropriate.
Residential retreat settings vary, and can include monasteries, campgrounds, spiritual or religious centers, or any rented space such as hotels and conference centers. The duration may vary, from less than one day to several months (or even years, in some traditions), but three-day, five-day, and ten-day retreats are common.
Although attending a retreat does require you to have free time and money for things such as transportation, food, and registration fees, retreats do not have to be very expensive. While some serve gourmet meals and house guests in lavish rooms, many others are more simple, providing dormitory accommodations or housing with local residents, or ask participants to arrange for their own accommodations and food. Additionally, many retreats offer scholarships, work exchanges, or “suggested donations” instead of fixed prices.
Disclaimer: These links are listed for your convenience. The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society is not endorsing the teachers, teachings, policies, politics, or activities of the organizations included on these web sites.
Retreats for Educators
Since 2008, we have conducted contemplative retreats designed to serve education professionals. Learn more.
Current & Past Staff and Board Members’ Personal Recommendations
Skylight Paths Publishing has a series of books exploring retreats in various spiritual traditions.