Skip to main content

The Spiritual Retreat-What It Is and What to Expect

When I tell people I work with that I am going on a retreat they immediately begin to tease about me having a weekend R & R, (rest and recreation). I then stop to explain that it is a spiritual retreat, not one where I am being massaged and pampered, as in a spa; but, rather one that is a ‘working’ retreat. In some ways it may indeed be similar-by all accounts, it is the pampering and massaging of the soul.

Retreats have been popular for centuries. In Catholic circles, where I was raised, we were required to go on retreat prior to making the sacrament of Holy Confirmation. I remember that retreat. I was about twelve and joined a group of young women, like myself, to a Catholic Church that was not in our parish. I don’t recall spending the night in the dorms, but we probably did. It was intimidating because I did not know what to expect and those nuns, whom I had only weekly contact with through catechism class, really made me nervous.

Yet, I also felt a deep sense of reverence for the ritual and routine; and a sense of prevailing peace. I didn’t realize it at the time how important retreat would become in my life.

Questions about retreats

Since I attend retreat regularly, as part of my spiritual practice, I have friends who ask what it is that I do. The underlying question is, “What is a retreat?” While each organization may have specific routines they follow, there are commonalities that I will share which may offer an understanding of ‘retreat’.

First, anyone can go on a retreat and it does not have to be at a specific place or with a particular organization. One can simply decide that they would like to set a particular amount of time to get away for spiritual contemplation.

Second, there is no set time that is specific to being on retreat. If you join up with a particular organization, their time schedule will dictate, according to the housing accommodations. A short retreat could be a one day ‘get away’ into the mountains, woods, or a secluded area near the ocean. Ideally, however, you are extending your time in seclusion for more than 12 hours. I have been on weekend retreats, week long ones, and even longer.

Third, one can join an organized spiritual retreat-many are offered through churches; or there are often organizations that welcome people interested in experiencing retreat. Some ‘retreat facilities’ hold retreats at certain times of the year for special groups of people, i.e. women, or single women, etc., and there is a focus or theme that is followed.

Fourth, the focus of any spiritual retreat is to deepen your individual spiritual experience. So, whether you will be listening to a spiritual teacher, at some point, along with specific teachings, or sitting in silence during prayer or meditation, it is important to remember the purpose is not primarily a social gathering or time to read the latest novel by your favorite author. Save that for the R & R get away.

The websites: or lists various ongoing retreats across the country.

Peace and Serenity await you at a Spiritual Retreat

Hub #6 of 30 for May Hubchallenge

Hub #6 of 30 for May Hubchallenge

What to expect at a retreat facility

If the retreat you take is not one you are individually embarking on, such as a weekend at a beach house or cabin in the mountains, then your meals will be cooked and served to you at regular times. This usually takes place in a dining room or cafeteria, although I have been on one retreat where breakfast was continental style and people milled around eating in the hallway.

Housing varies and can range from sharing a dormitory room, doubling up with a roommate or, when available, paying for a private room. Rooms can also be anywhere from very sparse, with only a bed, pillow, chair and lamp, with linens provided; to being a hotel room with luxuries such as a television. Sometimes, a business center will provide computers with internet connections. It seems such a contradiction to even write this, but that is the reality of some facilities. Mainly, because the housing often serves more groups than just the particular ‘spiritual’ group you may be included in.

Spiritual retreats are, more often than not, held on grounds that are soothing and serene-wooded areas with paths and a lake, perhaps; a mountain side with a beautiful view of a natural setting below; an outdoor meditation area, etc. In other words, the aesthetic beauty is as appealing to the eye as the inside work is to the soul.

If you join a group for the retreat you will be given an itinerary to follow, according to the material the leaders wish to cover. In the organized retreats that I’ve attended, including the group I am currently involved with, there is a period of teaching, question and answer time, and meditation. There may also be exercises that will nudge the sleepy soul into alertness.

At the end of the retreat your experience may continue to ‘follow’ you into your home and work environment. This is an expected outcome of retreat work. Like church, the spiritual connection does not just stop after the sermon as you get back into your car and drive away. The advantage of leaving your familiar surroundings is to bring a deeper awareness to yourself as a spiritual being. It is used as a supportive means to ‘shift’ your awareness from the patterns that are so easy to fall back into.

Meditation and Prayer may be part of a spiritual retreat

A spiritual retreat does not have to be part of a particular religion.

A spiritual retreat does not have to be part of a particular religion.

What to take with you on retreat

Unless you are with a specific group which has requested material, the best thing to take with you is an open mind, especially if this is your first experience.  Not sure what to expect?  Stay positive.  Have special needs, such as handicap access or dietary specifications? Be sure to let your facilitator know in advance so you can be accommodated. 

Other items that may be useful would be a journal, notebook or other writing material to jot your experiences down; a camera; comfortable walking shoes; bathing suit, where appropriate. 

If we can stop for a brief moment to clear our minds, turn our focus to our inner voice, and sense into our experience in the present moment, we give ourselves the gift of connecting with our heart’s desires.  In that place of connection there rises a deep sense of belonging to ‘something’ greater than us.  It is from that place of universal connection that peace and love dwell.  Our world is filled with distraction.  The solitude of retreat offers a moment to reconnect.

Please take this poll


Jeff Reed from Alabama on December 29, 2019:

Scroll to Continue

Thanks so much for this Hub. I am new to the Catholic faith and have heard people talk of going on retreat. I now know more about what a retreat actually is and look forward to my first retreat.

Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on March 14, 2013:

Hello DeBorrah-thank you for your comments. Yes, "Be still and know." It's serendipitous that you've commented on this hub today-I happen to be flying out tomorrow morning for my spring retreat. Thanks for reading-many blessings.

Elder DeBorrah K Ogans on March 14, 2013:

Denise Hanlon, Wonderful hub! Taking a retreat is a great time to focus on strenghtening your soul! As you so wonderfully stated:"the focus of any spiritual retreat is to deepen your individual spiritual experience. " Amen! For me it time dedicated to "BE STILL & KNOW!"

Thank You for sharing, Peace & Blessings!

Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on July 05, 2012:

Wow-thanks for letting me know, Harmony. You are the first to mention that. I appreciate it and enjoy tooling around and exploring them. :)

harmony155 from Atlanta, Georgia on July 05, 2012:

I just checked out the websites you listed and signed up. Thanks!

Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on April 07, 2012:

Hi JosephumCarissimi--I'm sure you can look back and relish the wonderful person that you've become through your many life experiences. An open mind is always available to us no matter what your age. Thanks for stopping by and reading/commenting. :)

JosephumCarissimi from Wisconsin, U.S.A on April 07, 2012:

"the best thing to take with you is an open mind," I only wish I had learned that much earlier in my life. It would have spared me a lot of frustration.

Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on February 02, 2012:

Shweta, thank you for reading and responding to this information. Best wishes to you in your design. I have often considered opening a retreat facility and imagine what it would look like. If you care to corrospond with me regarding more ideas or suggestions, please do so. I can be reached at my contact number here at HP. Many Blessings.

Shweta Badve on February 02, 2012:

DENISE HANDLON...i love what u have written about a spiritual retreat, m a final year student, studying Architecture, and my thesis topic is infact- to design a "Spiritual Retreat" and this has infact really helped me, to sort of my design brief...........initially i was my resort / retreat was looking more like any ordinary resort....but now i knw what to focus on.....

Thank u so much :)

Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on September 28, 2011:

Good for you. I'm sure there are plenty of places in AZ Check out the web. Let me know what you find. AZ is a beautiful place, from what folks have told me. :) Thanks for reading.

Dyhannah from Texas on September 28, 2011:

Great topic for a Hub. I have never gone to a retreat but very interested.

Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on May 31, 2011:

Thanks, Jo--I appreciate your enthusiasm. :)

Jo_Goldsmith11 on May 31, 2011:

That actually sounds like a great idea. I could sure use a retreat! I loved reading this article again. Too bad a person can't vote twice! lol

Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on May 30, 2011:

Hi Jean. No, there is no actual group or organization that is needed. Rent a cabin in the woods and bring the material that will help you to stay focused on your goals of retreat. I'm glad you enjoyed this hub. Check out the retreat sites. Sometimes people have land that they rent out by the day or w/e for this purpose. If you google retreats you should hit those sites. Good for you in your pursuit of this.

Jean Bakula from New Jersey on May 30, 2011:

Hello Denise,

This is something that I have never done, but have always held in the back of my mind as something I would like to do. The fact that you explain that you really do not need a group, just go somewhere serene in nature, and enjoy thinking and meditating in silence, is really something I feel I need right now. I am going to seriously think and plan a retreat and do it before this summer is over. You have inspired me!

Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on May 25, 2011:

Hi Jo-At 16 our experience of retreat is totally different than as an adult. I encourage you to attend another retreat soon and there are many 'couple' retreats as well. As a way of deepening our spiritual roots and connection to the Supreme Being, retreats are a wonderful time to pause from the distractions of life. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Jo_Goldsmith11 on May 25, 2011:

I love going on retreats! The last time I was at a retreat, I was 16 years old. It was called Falls Creek. Our church, Calvary Baptist took a group of us to learn about one book of the bible. I picked Romans my first year. My second year (when I was 16) I learned about the book of JOB. We sang and fellowshipped with each other. I was in the church choir then. What a great visit to memory lane. Thanks for writing it!

Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on May 20, 2011:

Thanks Micky-you're exactly right. Blessing back to you. Be safe.

Micky Dee on May 20, 2011:

We need to "retreat" - "be still and know". God bless Denise.

Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on May 13, 2011:

Shazwellyn, how wonderful for you. I will have to investigate this heart chakra of the world. Thank you so much.

shazwellyn on May 13, 2011:

Glastonbury is the heart chakra of the world. We, therefore, have lots of spiritual retreats - my life is one long joyous retreat! Bless you.

Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on May 12, 2011:

Hello Pink Panther-I'm glad that you found the spiritual retreat uplifting. Thanks for your comment. :)

Hi DevBlue-I will check your hubs out about your spiritual retreats. I also have another hub about my spiritual teachers that you may be interested in reading. Thank you for sharing your experience.

Cyberjeepkate-You're welcome. I'm glad you enjoyed the hub-thanks for your comments.

cyberjeepkate from Ft. Lauderdale, FL on May 12, 2011:

Thank you for reminding me its about a relationship with Christ and not religion. A retreat allows me to further cultivate my personal relationship and spiritual walk with God.

DevBlue from Mauritius on May 12, 2011:


The Pink Panther from Sydney, Australia on May 12, 2011:

Great hub! I went on retreat about five months ago and it was a really uplifiting experience.

Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on May 11, 2011:

Mr Happy-that sounds like a heavenly retreat. It's been too long that I've been in the arms of a silent forest. BTW-have you notified the Vatican about those books?? Thanks for your comments.

Hi momsponge-thanks for reading the hub. Nice to know that others 'sit' in silence. You may be interested in another hub I wrote-Silence: A Meditation Exercise

Patty Sierra on May 11, 2011:

Nice hub! I have not ventured out for a weekend, but have discovered the importance of just sitting in silence. It really allows me to truly listen to my inner voice.

Mr. Happy from Toronto, Canada on May 11, 2011:

A spiritual retreat for me would be in a forest with my tent - alone. At about this time I am twitching to head-up north and out of the city. A winter of mostly hibernation always does that to me.

I did not know Catholics attend retreats but then, again ... I don't know much about Catholics in general, except that the Vatican is holding some books I want/need.

I enjoyed your article. Very good!

All the best!

Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on May 10, 2011:

Hi Nellieanna-thanks for reading. BTW--I mentioned you in my hub: Economical Vacations-I hope you read it. :)

Nellieanna Hay from TEXAS on May 10, 2011:

I've been a couple of Silent Retreats. That happened at a time when I needed the silence - to think and to be. It was uplifting.

Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on May 08, 2011:

Carol-thanks for sharing your experience. I think you would probably enjoy doing a more formal retreat. Thanks for your comments.

Hi Klara-Thanks for stopping by and reading.

Hi Kathi-there is usually a cost, however, if you belong to a church grp this is often very minimal. I did not realize your employment situation. Follow the web links for more info about a retreat in your area. Good luck.

Hi Ruby--I think you would enjoy that. Check it out.

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on May 08, 2011:

I've never been on a retreat, but sounds like something i might like. I do meditate, a quiet time is very relaxing. Thank you for the info.


Kathi Mirto from Fennville on May 08, 2011:

Gosh this sounds great, I could use this kind of spiritual retreat in my life to connect more deeply. What about the cost? That would likely by my downfall being unemployed and hubpages hasn't panned out among other internet projects. Thank you for sharing Denise

klarawieck on May 08, 2011:

Great hub! It's so important to take some time off to meditate and get a fresh perspective on life!

carolapple from Suffolk Virginia on May 08, 2011:

I have never been on a formal group retreat but would very much like to do that. I frequently take as much time as I can get away with for prayer, contemplation, and just thinking things through, even if it is only an afternoon walk. I need that kind of time alone to process all that is happening both internally and externally in my generally fast-paced life. Loved this hub!

Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on May 08, 2011:

Thanks mtsi-my daughter, (catholic) married a Romanian orthodox. It was a beautiful wedding and she actually did a hub about it. It's cardelean: my big fat Romanian wedding, I think. She did a great writeup. Glad your encounter experience was a positive one.

mtsi1098 on May 08, 2011:

This was really a great piece and you outlined the experience perfectly with the "open mind". Getting married Catholic, although I am baptized Orthodox, we had to go to engagement encounter weekend and it was an amazing experience that I remember from more than 20 years ago. I voted yes and voted up...thanks

Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on May 08, 2011:

My pleasure. Best to you and your wife.

JS Matthew from Massachusetts, USA on May 07, 2011:

Will do. I will bookmark this Hub for future reference. Thanks for the info.


Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on May 07, 2011:

Check out the two websites I added. They will give options and perhaps one will be close to where you live. It is very refreshing. Although, my 'working' retreats can sometimes leave me feeling more exhausted than refreshed. Still, I know that is part of the path I have chosen.

JS Matthew from Massachusetts, USA on May 07, 2011:

My pleasure! I remember going on a lot of retreats when I was in High School. Always enjoyed them and left feeling refreshed and renewed. I would love to go on one with my wife who recently got baptized as a Christian.


Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on May 07, 2011:

Thank you fo reading and commenting. :)

JS Matthew from Massachusetts, USA on May 07, 2011:

Great Hub! Useful and informative.


Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on May 07, 2011:

Thanks Gail, for sharing such a sweet memory. :)

Gail Sobotkin from South Carolina on May 07, 2011:

I went on several spiritual retreats with a dear friend and found them to be very uplifting, despite the fact that we were not with an organized group. We walked the lovely grounds, prayed, meditated and read spiritual books which was a wonderful break from the routine of our busy lives. My friend is deceased now, but I still treasure the time we spent together, especially on those retreats.

Related Articles