Taking a spiritual retreat is an opportunity to step out of time, to carve out a space just for you, and to breathe in the light of a new day. “The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of those depths,” writes Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. And a retreat experience can be a stepping stone in that direction.
Each retreat is a unique experience, each with its own style. Some focus on certain topics; they can be very group centered or solitary; some are filled with movement and action or steeped in silence and contemplation. They can be very religion based or completely non-denominational, and they can be far more spiritual than religious. They are an invitation to breathe in new life and provide an opportunity for peace, discovery and healing.
The Rev. Dr. Cynthia Good is an elder in the United Methodist Church. Since completing her master of divinity degree at Yale Divinity School and a doctor of ministry degree at Hartford Seminary in 1999, she has served as pastor at three churches and interim pastor at eleven. As important as that work has been for her, it is facilitating retreats and offering spiritual direction that has really stolen her heart, and is where she focuses her ministry now.
“I’ve led retreats since I was newly ordained,” says Cynthia, a breast cancer survivor who pursued spiritual direction training just last year, while recovering from a double mastectomy.
“God made human beings because God loves stories. There is something about spiritual direction; you listen to people’s stories. I’ve always loved to listen to stories. During retreats, when you get people to talk with each other, you are giving people permission. You can feel people opening and being able to expand their sense of selves and of their faith. It’s something you just don’t get during worship. It’s opening up in a different way.”
For people who are working through grief, the retreat experience can really be a time of opening. At home we may stay closed off to others and closed off to new experiences. But having a quiet reflective time, either alone or with others, can be an opportunity for healing that may not happen in familiar surroundings.
Cynthia points out that some people choose to be alone while grieving. But it can also be helpful to be around people with similar stories. And while the world seems to “allow” a certain amount of time that is acceptable for grieving, the retreat setting offers a place where you don’t have to be done, where there is no time limit on grief. Recognizing that people grieve differently, retreats offer a container for the process, even if it is not a retreat specifically for dealing with loss.
“Retreats offer an opportunity to look reflectively on life and life with God. It can help deal with loss and grief as well.”
Group and individual retreats both have their place in the healing process during different stages of the journey. For many, being around others who have experienced significant loss in their life can be freeing. It helps to realize you are not alone, to be freed from feelings of guilt, and to see that there is light and life at the end of a very dark tunnel. And silent time within a retreat can serve a purpose as well, helping to increase awareness of what you need and being honest about that knowledge.
“What people gain from retreat is a breath,” says Cynthia, “stepping away from your own life, spending time learning about yourself and about God. It’s an opportunity to talk with others in what is often a beautiful, natural setting.”
One of the things she appreciates most is when she is witness to a retreat participant experiencing one of those “ah ha” moments. She delights is seeing people open to the experience and be surprised by what they learn about themselves.
“It’s important to have people to talk to where feelings are held,” says Aruni Nan Futuronsky, Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health teacher and the senior Life Coach and Program Advisor for Kripalu Healthy Living programs. “The anonymity that people experience on retreat fosters great intimacy and opportunity for connection.”
Kripalu is a retreat facility located in the Berkshires of Massachusetts that offers a plethora of programs year round on yoga, health and wellness, creativity and spirituality. It is one of many places throughout the country that offer an escape from the everyday.
“We tend to ignore feelings in the western world,” says Aruni who offers Grief, Loss and Renewal programs, among others, at Kripalu. “But if we allow the feelings (to surface and be recognized), if you confront it, you can heal it. I’ve seen amazing things happen. This is about taking time.”
For Aruni the retreat experience is about getting away, being around people who can listen, and being in a safe space where feelings are nurtured.
Increasingly, people are becoming aware of the need to nurture their body, minds and spirits and nowhere is that more evident, than at the Rhinebeck, New York campus of Omega. Twenty three thousand people pass through the 200 acre, Hudson Valley campus annually, according to director of external communications, Carla Goldstein. Omega offers retreat programs in New York City and around the world.
“Everybody experiences grief and cycles of grief in different ways and at a different pace. People process grief in many, many different ways. Taking time to step back and reflect either by yourself, or with the help of a teacher can be highly beneficial.”
Carla suggests that it may not be specifically a grief workshop that appeals to someone. They may take a writing retreat, or meditation retreat. Healing can come through a variety of means and often that can come through some creative experience. Depending on where they are, they may feel ready to talk with other people. It can be a social outlet and an opportunity to process the experience and because they aren’t talking with a family or neighbor, who might be too close to the situation, it can be very helpful.
“Grief is such an individual process. There are so many things to consider,” says Carla. “It is important to give space and time to grieve. We know from people who have been here, that they find peace in the natural surroundings. There is a sense of connecting as they come out of isolation and are reminded of the support all around them, immersed in this compassionate community. We take our role seriously as being a place people can come and heal, from all kinds of things. We pay great attention to how people are treated when they’re here. The feedback we receive conveys that we help people heal and transform lives every day in small and big ways. There is life before Omega and life after Omega. For many it is a life altering, healing experience.”
Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health
New York City, NY
Wisdom House Retreat & Conference Center
Rolling Ridge Retreat & Conference Center
North Andover, MA