I’ve been going on solo retreats for the past 19 years. My experience is limited to Assumption Abbey, a Trappist Monastery in Southwest Missouri, in the heart of the Mark Twain National Forest. I write a lot about retreats in my book. For the past 5 years I’ve been staying there not as a guest on a retreat but as a Family Brother. That means I follow the monk’s prayer and work schedule starting the day with our first prayer service at 3:30 am. It also means that I live with the monks on the cloistered side of the abbey not the guesthouse. I stay in a tiny sparse room called a “cell”. It’s a completely different experience.
This time of year is perfect for thinking about taking a retreat. I am talking about the noun kind. Maybe you’re wanting to take stock of the past year and spend time pondering 2019. Or maybe you’d like to rest. Remember that? A time of prayer and meditation? What about taking a few days to breathe and think? Here’s a revolutionary idea: what about doing simply nothing?
Whatever your intention my suggestion is that you go alone. There’s an endless list of reasons for a community retreat with your people. But there’s something uplifting, purifying, challenging, and peaceful about going it alone. Make no mistake, one of our great fears, me included, is being alone with our thoughts. Sometimes it is downright scary. The Buddhists call it “monkey mind.” As we fill our hearts, minds, and souls with more podcasts, books, streaming TV, social media and blogs, noise and distraction abounds in our lives. Silence and simply being are such rare commodities they seem out of reach. We’re thirsty for this distant notion of solitude whether we know it or not. We need it.
For your consideration if you’re thinking of a retreat:
- Where do you want to experience this solitude? The possibilities are endless and not expensive. There are over forty Benedictine and thirteen Trappist monasteries with guest ministries in America alone. A quick search will reveal many Buddhist monasteries and retreat centers in the United States. Assumption Abbey is just one of many options. And you don’t have to be Catholic (I’m not) or a Christian.
- What is your true intention for your retreat? These days when I go I’ve learned to leave my agenda at home. That does not mean, however, that I do not have an intention.
- Monastic guesthouses are not the Four Seasons. But you don’t need a luxury hotel to experience silence and being. I’d say such a place would inhibit your time away.
- Finally, there is a benefit to retreat centers at religious sites even if you’re not interested in something religious or spiritual, and it is that you are in a place where other people have gone before (in some cases for decades or centuries) with similar intentions. You’ll be in a place where fellow retreatants are doing the same things you are. This shared seeking and resting is holy and contributes to the overall experience of a retreat.
My challenge to you: There are only so many days or opportunities to take time for ourselves in the year either personally or professionally. The next time you’re tempted to sign up for that 4 day super cool conference in fill-in-the-blank city for $3,000 please email me and let’s discuss what a retreat might look like for you instead. Depending on your goal for the conference and what you really expect to bring home it’s quite possible that your rest, healing, prayer, discovery of True Self might yield soulful results in a way that the conference cannot.
Digging Deeper: Spend 20 minutes in the next few days alone with a pen and notepad. First, write a list of the times you’ve spent time alone, from only an hour to days, and loved it. Maybe you didn’t love it at the time but upon reflection you now treasure it. Next, write a paragraph pretending you’ve just returned from your solo retreat. How do you feel physically, emotionally and spiritually? Give details. I am not saying that this is how it will actually be but this exercise will help you discern if this is what you need. Read Chapter 6 in our book, Meaningful Work: The Quest To Do Great Business, Find Your Calling, And Feed Your Soul. You will find more details and further things to consider before going on your own retreat and what it’s like to be a Family Brother in a Trappist Monastery.