What to do on a Personal Retreat

Nancy Sandleback Benedictine Bridge, Retreats Leave a Comment

Jesus told his disciples to “come away with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” We welcome all people to experience the quiet spaciousness of Holy Wisdom Monastery. Whether you choose to walk the nature trails, sleep, browse the library, join community prayer or find a spot near the lake to write in your journal, you open yourself to the inner journey.

–From the www.benedictinewomen.org website


We give first time personal retreatants at Holy Wisdom Monastery a list of suggestions on what to do with their time away, appropriately called What to do on a personal retreat. The suggestions include attending community prayer, walking the nature trails, talking to a spiritual guide, browsing the library, and working on an art or writing project.

I spoke to one of our personal retreatants who, though not a first time retreatant, took the suggestion to work on a writing project to heart. While here, she finished the first draft of her novel. Angela Rydell teaches creative writing through the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Continuing Studies program. Years ago, Angela attended a journaling workshop hosted by Holy Wisdom Monastery and took a personal retreat following the program. She recently received a retreat gift certificate and thought about what she wanted to do on her retreat. As she puts it, “The answer didn’t come to me right away. But when I found myself unable to shut out distractions while trying to finish a draft of my novel, that’s when the idea came to me. Why not finish it at Holy Wisdom?”

Angela confided, “I’d been working on the novel for a year and hoped to write my way to the last word in February, but kept getting distracted. So, I wanted to take this retreat to do nothing but write and contemplate my project. I knew the grounds—the pond, the wood nearby—would help inspire me. The rooms are comfortable. I could move my laptop from desk to bed to one of the community rooms with windows overlooking the grounds, watch the sunset and let the words come. Go downstairs and get myself a cup of tea, then come back to my room and write. And the added bonus of Internet access allowed me to do some research for my novel while I was there, too.”

Pat Wafer is a registered nurse and long time Madison resident with a passion for painting and sketching. Unlike Angela, Pat’s interest in personal retreats came out of attending a large two-day retreat held here for Meriter and St. Mary’s hospital staff. She found the retreat a wonderful experience, and decided she wanted to make space in her life for a personal retreat. She used Jennifer Louden’s book, The Woman’s Retreat Book, to organize her thoughts and choose Holy Wisdom Monastery for her first retreat. Pat credits taking time for personal retreats to her renewed interest in painting. She doesn’t always work on art projects when she goes on retreat, but often looks to our suggestion list for inspiration.

Brian Lavendel manages apartments and is active in social justice work. He has been coming to Holy Wisdom Monastery for personal retreats since 2008. Brian told me he keeps returning because he finds his time here “recharging and rejuvenating.” When I asked him if he uses his retreat time to relax or work on a specific project, he responded, “Mostly I use my time on retreat to relax, but that also includes making time for things I don’t get to do as much of when I am in my workaday world, including yoga, walking in nature, drawing, writing, going to bed early and getting a good night’s rest.”

I asked Angela, Pat, and Brian if someone was looking for suggestions on what to do while on a personal retreat what would they steer them towards. Angela’s reply was, “If someone asked me about doing a personal retreat I’d recommend they follow their heart, take time to do what they need most—whether it’s resting, meditating, praying, reading, or working on a creative project.” Pat suggested learning to be quiet and resting for first time retreatants. She further suggested they do some writing or bring a book or browse the library and definitely to look through the list of suggested activities. Brian concluded, “Try new things, give yourself lots of space. Know that the time will rush by, so try to be in the moment and leave behind your expectations.” Upon reflection, Pat seconded Brian’s comment about not having any expectations. “That was something I came across in the Louden book and I try to always make a special intention to not have definite expectations as they can get in the way and prevent us from listening to our inner voice.”

Whether you come for a day retreat, an overnight stay, or for longer, first time and repeat retreatants are always welcome at Holy Wisdom Monastery. And whether you choose to spend your time working on a personal project, or if the suggestions in What to do on a personal retreat appeal to you, setting aside time for yourself is a worthwhile accomplishment in itself.

To schedule a personal retreat contact Jamie at 608-836-1631, x100.

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