This is the second post in my blog series about recharging and resetting your life, what I call retreating.
I couldn’t get any rest, curled up in my sleeping bag on the hard floor of the church for the night. My empty stomach ached. My head pounded from low blood sugar. I hadn’t eaten for a whole day. I was only seventeen and desperately hungry. I would have given anything for a juicy hamburger and greasy fries. With each passing hour, my cravings grew but my standards lowered. At midnight I would have settled for just one bite of a burger. At 2 AM I would have welcomed a breath mint! My next meal was 24 hours later, and that beef broth was the best thing I ever tasted.
No, I wasn’t homeless or poverty-stricken. I chose to starve myself for an entire weekend, sequestered in my dad’s church with six other youth group members. We were on a fasting retreat to learn about starvation and poverty. The experience taught me that I really had no clue what it meant to be truly hungry. And it nudged me from selfishness toward empathy.
Sound fun? Maybe a fasting retreat isn’t your thing, but lucky for you, if you’re in the market for a retreat, there are countless options.
Retreating is taking a break from your current daily life to care for yourself in some way. We retreat because we need to regroup; to reset and recharge our lives. But retreating is different than taking a vacation. Retreating has the intention of personal transformation, large or small. Sure, you can be transformed by a vacation, but typically that’s not the intention. Vacations are for getting away; retreats are for moving toward something.
But what? Well, that depends on what you want to gain. You can retreat for spiritual, emotional, or personal reasons—or all three simultaneously. Your goal can be as complex as build my self-confidence by learning how to sail solo or as simple as get some quiet time alone. Knowing your intention matters because it will help you choose a retreat that’s right for you.
I’ve divided retreat options into three major categories:
- Spiritual or personal growth
- Working or volunteering for a cause
- Active or purposeful travel
These categories aren’t rigid. For example, you can have a spiritual revelation or grow personally while volunteering for a cause or traveling. Let’s look at each category.
Spiritual – Personal Growth
Often, but not always, retreating for spiritual reasons involves going to a place of quiet contemplation. There are plenty to choose from around the world, each with different programs, guidelines, and religious and secular flavors. Some offer structured programming, while others allow you to spend your time as you choose. You can meditate, study, write, walk, or simply just be. Staff are experienced in supporting your needs while you go on your inner journey.
A spiritual retreat might suit if you’re contemplating a career change or a major change of residence; grappling with partnership issues, a health-related situation, or other major life event. Or, you can delve deeper into a particular type of spiritual or personal practice, like mindfulness.
Personal growth retreats can also be spiritual or secular and focus on self-examination. Usually there’s a specific goal in mind, for example, confidence building or emotional healing.
Pilgrimages are an active type of spiritual or personal growth retreat, for example, walking the Camino de Santiago. (Pro tip: It’s popular these days, and there are plenty of other less-crowded options.) Travel can also help you grow spiritually or personally through exposure to other places and people.
Work – Volunteer
Volunteering for a cause has gained popularity in recent years. But despite the volunteer aspect, many places charge you for room and board. It’s only fair, given that these charities are short on cash and long on need. Not all places charge, though, and sometimes you can get room and board in exchange for work. In a future post, I’ll show you how.
Some large international charities don’t charge per se but do screen volunteers and require a hefty commitment. If you have desperately needed talents (think medical professional), you will always be in demand.
Causes are many and include
- conservation, environmental, science
- humanitarian, women and children, religious
- food growing, security, and independence
- medical, disaster relief
- business mentoring, infrastructure building
Many of these types of retreats in poor nations with difficult living arrangements. Try a working retreat if you want to pay it forward, walk a mile in another’s moccasins, or learn about our planet, other people, and other cultures. These tend to be powerfully transformative, and people have reported having their entire lives changed for the better.
Active – Travel
Even if you don’t consider yourself an adventurous type, or aren’t super active, you can design (or have designed for you) a travel itinerary to match your physical abilities and desires. You can travel abroad, in your own country, or around your home state or territory. You can choose guided or unguided trips, from easy and gentle to extreme adventures that test your mental and physical stamina. Travel can be about a destination (Antarctica, Italy, Namibia), or a topic (culture, history, nature), or an activity (biking, yoga, wildlife watching). It can also be a combination of these things.
Active or travel retreating is perfect for those who prefer movement to being sedentary. It’s also good for honing a skill, studying, or immersing yourself in a different language or culture. This type of retreat often gives rise to personal growth, such as building self-confidence or learning more about yourself by learning about others.
Solo or No?
One final consideration for retreating: should you go solo or with a companion? Spiritual retreats are often best done solo because of the self-reflection they demand. Sometimes it’s easier to be yourself among strangers than among people you know. Volunteering and travel can be fun when shared with members of your tribe, although you often gain benefits on your own as well. Your choice will depend on your intention, situation, and desires. I recommend trying at least one solo retreat in your lifetime. And if you’re feeling particularly daring, try traveling solo, even if it’s just a short getaway. I guarantee you’ll discover self-confidence you didn’t know you had. And it’s less scary and easier than you think!
Most importantly, select your retreat based on what you want to get out of it—your intention. Also consider what feels safe and affordable for you. Plus, it should be something that you’ll find enjoyable.
In future posts, I’ll interview others who have retreated in different ways for different reasons to different places. I’ll also post about how to prepare yourself for retreating, among other topics.
Read my memoir about a two-year retreat I took in Scotland.