South Central WI Archive
  • South Central Wisconsin
  • January 2014
Written by  Jill Carlson

What to do on a personal retreat — Taking time out for yourself

Face it. Life is hectic. The job, the kids, the extended family… home, bills, finances, friends, emails, texts, pets and other obligations all add up, not only to make life full, but also to bring stress and anxiety to our bodies and minds.

Taking time out for a personal retreat to provide some solitude in your life is helpful to “reboot” your coping mechanism and quiet your mind. A web search for retreat centers garners a list of locations to choose from.

So you’ve made the reservations, made arrangements for childcare, taken time off from work, covered any other commitments and traveled to the retreat location. What do you do once you get to the center?

“Slow down and rest,” says Jody Crowley Beers, a Madison-based student of spirituality, counseling and natural science. “Most of us live at a running pace, never having enough time to do all of the things we want to do.”

Crowley Beers added that sleep is one way to guide oneself into a retreat environment: it’s ok to give yourself permission to sleep before doing anything else.

Some of her other suggestions for what to do on a personal retreat include:

  • Do nothing. Sit in a comfortable position with your back straight and feet on the floor. Pay attention to your breathing. Draw in peace with each breath and breathe out negative energy.
  • Take a nature walk or sit outside in a location with a pleasing view. Let nature help your body feel its way into a slower pace.
  • Write a letter to yourself. Ask, “Where am I at this point in my life?” or “How am I feeling about myself, about my relationships?” Or write a letter to a wisdom figure, an ancestor, yourself as a little child or an older version of you — say, yourself in 10 years.
  • Do a life review. Divide your life into decades; give a descriptive name to each decade. Write down life-changing events by decade. Discover how you feel about these now. What do you want the next decade of your life to bring?
  • Make a list of your values. List what is really important to you and where that value came from (your mother, a childhood experience, church, etc.). Look closely at the list. Are there some values you want to reinforce? Can some be released? Are there some that have faded with time?
  • Paint or draw as a way to get in touch with your inner reality. Remember that you aren’t creating a masterpiece, but getting in touch with a part of yourself.
  • Have a dialogue with your body. While in a comfortable position in a quiet space, ask yourself, “What am I feeling in my body at this time?” Focus on areas that call out to you, such as a pain somewhere or tension in your back or neck.
  • Take a life inventory. Think about the happiest times of your life and write them down. Think about when you’ve felt the saddest, the most alone, the most confident, the least confident.
  • Write in a journal. Include responses to the question, “What am I feeling?” while journaling so that you are attuned to your feelings.
  • Meditate. Focus your mind to reach an inner calmness and a sense of tranquility.
  • Observe silence. Rather than feeling like you need to make conversation with others, take the time to fully engage in your own thoughts and feelings.

During a personal retreat, you set your own schedule. While meals are usually at a set time, your time is your own to use as you wish. While it might be difficult at first to settle your mind down and actually relax, reminding yourself that calmness is what you need can be helpful.

Some people take more than one day to fully calm the mind to relax while on a retreat because of new surroundings. Reserving more than one overnight is a good idea to help reach a state of relaxation and forget the stresses of your life.

Jill Carlson is the director of guest services at Holy Wisdom Monastery, 4200 County Road M, Middleton. Holy Wisdom offers personal retreats with overnight accommodations in the Retreat and Guest House and hermitages (small cabins), each with a personal bath. Four nature trails are open to the public. Visit for more information.

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