How To Go On Retreat

Set the date and choose a location

Leroy was scheduled to travel to Omaha, Nebraska in June so I decided this would be an excellent time to attempt my first solo-retreat. I searched online for local retreat places and booked my trip.

Set Your Intention and Plan Your Retreat (or Don’t)

My original intent was to plan extensive study and writing time, but a (wise) friend suggested I just go listen to God. It was good advice. I didn’t realize He would set me up ahead of time by having me read the book “Digital Minimalism” but looking back on the experience, I think the purpose was for me to unplug and learn to live in silence again. There were times when I loved the disconnection (no social media or robocalls), and there were times when I hated it (I missed the random texts from family and friends.)

Spend Time In Nature (or Don’t)

I was attracted to the San Damiano Retreat Center in Danville, California by the maps and descriptions of their extensive trails and paths that wander through the hills. Upon arrival, I was advised to “watch for rattlesnakes” on the trail, so this immediately canceled all plans of wandering in the wilderness. (I hate snakes.) Ultimately, avoiding the outdoors did not keep me from the snakes. One day at lunch, there was a small rattlesnake in the dining room, and I was within five feet of it. I was appalled to see the Franciscan Friar throw it back into the woods. (St. Benedict would have skinned it and served it for dinner.)

Commit To The Entire Duration (or Don’t)

The silence was great for a while, but I have to admit that I escaped “paradise” and went to a shopping mall. (I know, I know, it probably wasn’t part of God’s plan, but it did feel good at the time.) I don’t regret it. I spent the entire time inside a Barnes & Noble reading up on the differences between the Franciscan, Dominican, Jesuit and Benedictine Orders and I didn’t buy anything.

Engage With Others (or Don’t)

There were a group of nuns on retreat as well. They ignored me for the most part, but one did speak to me in the hallway one day. She was very kind and answered all of my questions with patient tolerance. Towards the end of my time, I was joined (at the “Personal Retreat” dining table) by a couple of other people. One guy (who never made eye contact) and a young mother who loved to talk.

Keep A Journal (or Don’t)

Sometimes it takes a while to process what happens to me, so the notes help with my follow up reflection. I also knew I’d be asked to share the experience with my dear friend, so I wanted to remember the details. I read a lot of books and highlighted a lot of text that I want to remember too, but I also realize that writing was an escape for me. (Although I prefer to call it “mental-processing.”)

Make A List of Things To Do Differently Next Time (or Don’t)

I probably won’t do a retreat this way again. If I go to an official retreat center, I would prefer a schedule of lectures, liturgies, etc. Left to my own, I tend to flounder. As for future personal retreats, I’ll probably schedule time away at a nice hotel near a church and restaurants (and a working thermostat in my room.) The time away to be quiet with nothing else to do but read and write was a real treat, and I’m already looking forward to the next time. (Re-treat. Get it?)