A personal retreat can be one of the most calming and challenging experiences you might face in your life. Though it sounds peaceful to get away from people into the silence, if you have the intention to confront the interior of your heart, you will find your time to be challenging.
Our heart, mind and soul are wonderfully complicated systems. I am not speaking about human organs, rather, the metaphors we use to see and lead ourselves through life. When we consider our heart, we are engaging in an act of considering our feelings. When we consider our mind, we are considering our thoughts. When we consider our soul, we are considering our inner self or as the ancients would say, the interior self. The inner self is the voice of our true self, our unadulterated self, whom we unwittingly protect with great ferocity.
All that being said, the journey inward, for the purpose of “knowing thyself” is like any other journey worth taking. It is difficult, it is wrought with twists and turns and can be dangerous. The journey itself is not restful, but the product of the journey is a heart, mind and soul at rest.
There is much to be said here, but for the sake of brevity and to help you get on the journey, here are some things you need to know.
One: There are different kinds of journeys.
You can plan a retreat for a couple of hours, a couple or a few days or even several weeks. Think of your retreat as a retreat of hours, days or weeks. If you plan on taking a two day retreat, you will need a plan and some tools specific to that journey. The same is true for a retreat of hours and of weeks. The point here is that you know you have options and that each option will require a different plan and different set of tools.
Two: You will need a plan.
I like to think of the plan as a map. If I were going on a journey in the wilderness or an ocean voyage, I would need a map. I need to know where I am going. This is to say that you should have an idea of where you are going to be retreating to physically, as in your destination, but also spiritually, emotionally and intellectually. You should have in your mind the place you want to go with yourself.
Different destinations will dictate the time you will need to spend on retreat. The deeper the dive, typically, the longer the time you will need. As you consider your heart, mind and soul, be thinking of where you are headed and take some time to jot down ideas of where you would like to go physically, emotionally, spiritually and intellectually.
Three: You will need tools.
Personal Retreats that dive into the interior self require a specific set of tools. The tools that come to mind for me are mainly that of pre-work by way of listening, reading and writing. The tools of present work which include fasting, pondering, praying, walking, reading and writing. And the tools of post work which include pondering, writing and reporting.
The tools are your thoughts, writings and reflections and the guides (authors/directors) that will lead you.
Pre-Work: Take some time and read or listen to some audio books on what it means to dive into the interior self. My recommendation is Henri Nouwen’s book titled The Way of the Heart. As you listen to the book, write out some thoughts you may have as you reflect on the teachings presented. Also, before endeavoring on a journey of communing with your inner self, it would be helpful to write out a page or two or ten on thoughts and feelings that have affected you. This need not be long if you are opposed to writing, it just needs to act as a map of sorts that will help prime you for your journey. If taking a two day journey, maybe write out one page of feelings that come to mind.
Present-Work: The idea here is to put yourself in a place where you can eliminate distractions. As you will find, distractions are everywhere, they surround us. To make the journey inward, you must do your best to be free from distractions, this will vary person to person however, stripping away the things that bring us comfort is typically the clearest way to remove distractions from your life.
On your retreat, take a journal to write in, something to write with, make sure to gather your supplies to minimize distractions from having to go purchase items, a spiritual books such as the Bible and perhaps a book by an author who can act as a guide, comfortable shoes and clothes to walk in and something that will help you to fast from your electronic devices. As you work through your day, find your rhythm. It will be there. Look for your thoughts, try to feel, listen, and let the feelings flow. Afterward, write about it. When you need to walk, walk. When you need to take a break, take a break, however, do your best to stay present in your feelings and allow your mind to ask the questions of God and yourself that you need to ask. A good book while you are on the journey might be The Return of the Prodigal by Henri Nouwen. Limit your reading to a couple of hours in the day. The majority of time should be spent on thinking, feeling and recording your experience.
Post-Work: The post-work predominantly consists of sharing with your trusted people, the work which you feel comfortable sharing. This is to say, your thoughts, feelings and insights which were revealed and uncovered in your time away. This should not feel like a book report, rather a report from a journey of discovery. If you have writings to be shared, share them. If you have ideas to convey, convey them. If you choose not to share anything at all, do not, however, you should find a way to process your findings from the journey of the inner self. We all need help on this journey of discovery.
If you have questions, let me know, I am happy to help.