Retreats: A Guide to being Alone

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Solitude retreats can bring you back to a better frame of mind. Eric Sweigert photos.
A solitude retreat can bring you back to a better frame of mind. Eric Sweigert photos.

A Room of One’s Own: A Guide to Solitude Retreats

Sometimes you just need to getaway. Really away. Not to some exotic destination; not to do anything too active. Just someplace quiet, where you can relax, get in touch with your spirit and hear yourself think.

Yoga is one of the things you can do on a solitude retreats.
Yoga is one of the things you can do on a solitude retreat.

You need a room of your own–a retreat from the world for a few days. There are thousands of peaceful retreat places around the world designed for helping people get away from it all.

From monasteries to retreat centers, convents to unique spiritual communities, these special places offer room and board to retreatants, along with a good dose of peace and quiet.

Use the guide below to help you choose a retreat that’s right for you.

What is a Retreat?

A retreat is a place of contemplation, prayer, and spiritual renewal, often run by a religious group that extends hospitality and warmth to those who seek a room of their own. Monasteries, castles, and even college campuses in the summer can all be turned into retreats. some retreats are nonreligious, however.

Retreats offer accommodations and meals to retreatants, and many offer spiritual guidance, classes, yoga, meditation, prayer services and wonderful grounds through which to hike, walk and think.

In most cases, retreatants do not have to share the same religion as the community, but it’s a good idea to check.

In general, a retreat is not a hotel; it isn’t to be used by travelers as a place to sleep while out exploring the area. It also isn’t a place to seek psychological counseling. The purpose is to give shelter and peace to those who need it, not to be a concierge service or therapist.

Types of Retreats

There are three types of retreats available:

Monasteries/Abbeys/Convents/Spiritual Centers

These retreats offer rooms and meals to retreatants, as well as the opportunity to join the community for prayer, meditation or classes. Most are functioning institutions, where the community members are busy with their daily lives.

Some of these retreats offer rooms for one gender only and/or require that retreatants attend services or classes, but others don’t. Some of these retreats also have “quiet times” and require silence during some part of the day or evening.

Retreat Houses

These retreats are often non-sectarian and non-denominational, sometimes incorporating a wide range of spiritual beliefs or none at all. Often there are classes and workshops that retreatants may attend, as well as communal meals, but solitude, reflection, and contemplation are respected and encouraged.

Intentional Communities

These are communities of people living and working together around a common belief or goal that offer retreats to people of similar ideals. Usually, a retreatant will be required to participate on some level in the daily working of the community and maybe helping to build, construct or help in the kitchen or gardens in exchange for room and board. Classes and other learning opportunities may be available.

How Long is a Retreat?

You can visit a retreat for any length of time, from one night to several weeks, depending upon the specific retreat. Many offer guided retreats that last from a weekend to a week or two. It is vital that you make reservations for your retreat well in advance of your arrival, as many retreats may be closed or full with a group function.

Who Can Join a Retreat?

Retreats accommodate singles, couples, men, women and even families with children. While some are single-gender only, most welcome all people to come and share their special place. In some cases, men and women will be housed separately.

Retreat Accommodations

Most retreats offer single rooms with shared baths or dormitory-style housing. Others have doubled for couples and many have hermitages–isolated cabins–for those who want complete solitude. Linens and towels are often provided, but sometimes, you may have to bring your own.

Because retreats aren’t hotels, don’t expect luxury: you won’t have saunas, whirlpool tubs, and minibars, or even in-room phones or Internet connections. However, most accommodations are far from monastic, providing comfortable beds, reading lights, a desk, chair, and even some books! You may want to bring a flashlight if you plan to stay in a hermitage.

Meals are served communally at least once or twice daily. In some cases, breakfast and lunch may be “pick-up” style–available in the kitchens for self-service. In others, food may be brought to the retreatant.

Hermitage residents can often take food back to their cabins if they don’t want to be social. In some retreats–especially those that keep silent–meals are served in silence. In others, they may be accompanied by music, prayer or readings. Most meals are vegetarian and ample. In some hermitage retreats, you may be required to bring your own food.

Participating in Classes and Workshops

It depends upon the retreat, but in most cases, participation is optional. If you choose a guided retreat, you may be required to participate in certain activities. Individual retreatants are often invited to join the community for services, yoga sessions, meditations, work or classes, but it’s usually not required. It’s a good idea to attend at least a few activities, however, as it will give you a fuller sense of the place, and perhaps another perspective.

What is a Guided Retreat?

A guided retreat is an organized retreat in which the retreatant is guided in his or her spiritual quest by the community. It could mean that you take some classes, attend some services and meet with a spiritual leader during your stay. Of course, there will always be time for solitude. In other cases, a member of the community will be available to you upon request.

Cost

Compared to a stay in a spa or hotel, a retreat is inexpensive. Most U.S. retreats run between $25-$125 per night, including meals, while those overseas can cost less than $10 per night. As most retreat centers are self-supporting, an extra freewill donation is optional, but a good idea.

Behavior on the Retreat

Again, it depends upon the retreat, but always respect, consideration, and quiet are expected. Modest dress is also a good idea. Don’t bring loud musical instruments, CD players (except an iPhone with earphones) or other disruptive items. In most cases, alcohol and drugs are also no-no items. Be prepared for early mornings and evenings.

Choosing a Retreat

To begin, decide what you want from your retreat: solitude and inactivity, or an opportunity to learn or practice a spiritual or communal belief. Decide when you want to go (some retreats aren’t available all year) and how long you want to stay (some retreats have limits). Do you want someplace close to home, or far away? Do you want to be in a rural area or urban? Is there a particular religious belief you ascribe to or want to avoid?

Finding a Retreat

Once you have made some decisions, search the web to find a retreat that works for you.

Other resources include your own local religious and spiritual institutions and magazines that cater to spiritual topics or groups.

After you find your perfect retreat, you may find that these retreats become addictive: after all, it’s always nice to get away from it all for a while in a room of your own.