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“Yet sprinkle sordid ashes all around and load with fattening dung thy fallow ground, a change of seed for meagre soil is best and earth manured not idle though at rest.” – Virgil

On January 7, 2013 I arrived at the Abbey of Gethsemani in rural Kentucky. I was there for a five day, unstructured, silent retreat. There were talks I could attend, monks who would counsel me, and prayer services and mass I could join, but that was all optional. Each participant was left to decide how they wanted to spend their time.

I spent my first six hours thinking about how I was going to write about the experience. As I settled into the silence, I was constantly composing paragraphs in my head, editing as I went, hoping I would be able to do justice to my week of solitude.

As words to describe the retreat bounced around my brain, I realized that if I was going to have a true retreat experience, I was going to have to stop writing about it and just have it. I was there to be quiet and get still and I wasn’t going to be able to do either if I was worried about sharing what happened. I realized what happened at retreat would have to stay at retreat.

It was a worthwhile experience that I would happily do again. Because of the pact I made with myself, this is all I’m choosing to share. We have to keep some things for just for us. This if one of them for me.

Since many of you have been curious about my retreat, I will say this, I believe it’s vitally important that we each carve out time that is just for us to reflect and learn and grow. Be it for a week, a day, or an hour, we all need to step out of our everyday lives from time to time.

If you are interested in pursuing a retreat of your own, here are a few things to think about:

– What do you really need? 
– How much time can you reasonably devote to planning, travel, and retreating?
– What can you afford?


This was the perfect experience for me at this time in my life, but we all need different things at different times. Before choosing a retreat we have to ask ourself what do we really need to return home invigorated and refreshed. The best thing might be pampering at a spa or a weekend seminar or workshop or a physical challenge or just time away in quiet reflection. Some may want to go alone like I did and savor the solitude. Then again, time away with like-minded people may be a better choice.

We really need to dig deep and be brutally honest about what we need. It would be a shame to invest in any type of retreat only to return home stressed and frazzled. When planning a retreat, we have to be a bit selfish even if it’s uncomfortable. The idea is that we retreat from our daily life so we can return reenergized. That won’t happen if we don’t give ourself exactly what we need.


Once I decided I needed a week of silence, everything fell together quickly. In one long evening of internet research, I found the Abbey at Gesthmani and contacted them. I had a confirmation from Brother Luke the next day. Realistically, the Abbey was a little far (seven-ish hours by car from my Atlanta suburb). Flying wasn’t a viable option. In the end, since it offered everything else I wanted, I sucked it up. Something more accessible would have been nice and I’ll keep that in mind next time.

My total investment in time for this retreat was just under eight days. This number includes planning, travel, and retreating. With teens at home, a job with flexibility, and co-workers willing to cover for me, I felt comfortable giving myself this much time.

It hasn’t always been this way. When my kids were little, even a cup of coffee with friends was difficult to negotiate. I’ve also had jobs where taking anytime off was next to impossible to coordinate due to deadlines, workload, schedules, etc.

We need to realistically look at our lives and decide just how much time we can comfortably take. While my five days of silence were blissful, it would have been another story if I had spent the time away worried about family or work. The last thing we want is to spend our retreat time stressing about what’s going on in our everyday lives.


I found wonderful retreat centers that offered exactly what I was looking for that quickly got marked off my list due to price. The last thing I wanted to do was come home from a retreat and have to spend the next several years paying it off. I set a budget, an amount I felt we could comfortably afford, and stuck to it. Now, I can savor the memories with out stressing over how much it cost. There are no associated bills to harsh my post retreat bliss.


After this experience, I’ve decided that I’m going to plan some type of retreat for myself quarterly. I have a few things I’m considering. Most are closer to home and smaller investments of time and money.  As the year unfolds, I’ll decide what I need.

Selfish? I don’t think so. Worth it? Definitely.

Taking time to reflect, to learn, to grow, to relax, and to recharge is vital to our mental, physical, and spiritual health. Taking care of ourselves makes us better partners, parents, employees, and friends. In the end, that makes the investment worth it.

For those of you interested in retreating, I’ve included links below that will help get you started. 

The Abbey of Gethsemani official website

Information on the monks and the abbey

Article on Silent Retreats Wall Street Journal

Article on Slient Retreats Washington Post

Website that lists different types of retreats

Laura Gate’s Retreat Experience

Mark Sisson’s Take on Retreats


  1. Good point, that particular retreat is not for everyone. We don’t have the same life, and therefore the recharge should be different. “Quiet” sounds amazing. You have encouraged me to look deep within, and find what works for me when the time is right. Thank you once again.

    • You are the retreat pro, so I’m glad you agree. While blindly following the cool kids is easy, it’s always better when we look within and forage our own path.

  2. Denise, keeping your thoughts to yourself seems like a fitting conclusion to self-imposed silence. Our society has become so “tell” oriented (think FB, Twitter, etc.) — it’s refreshing that you’ve chosen not to blab all about it. The experience is yours and yours alone. Not many can “say” that.

    • Oh, Kimby…I’m pretty much an open book. I just realized that in this case the only way I was going to really be able to dive in was if I shut down the “writer” lobe of my brain. Once I did that I was really able to just be and that’s what I needed. I took a lot of photos. They’ll be available soon.

  3. Wow… Wish I could hear more! This sounds fascinating. My brother did something similar a few years ago, but it included hours of meditation every day, which sounded really stressful to me. So glad you got the time to recharge!

    • I was pretty emphatic about the unstructured part, Holly. I’ve been on a couple of wonderful “programed” retreats in the past and while they were amazing, I knew it wasn’t what I needed this time around. Sometimes we need guidance and sometimes we need to wander. I wandered.

  4. How nice that you did this for yourself. And a week of silence…I met a woman who practices silence one day once a month and she’s said it does wonders for her. I love that you chose to “wander.”

  5. Thanks for the great article helping us think about creating the optimal retreat for ourselves, it sounds like a worthwhile journey for you!

    • Thank you for planting the seed and inspiring me with your tale of retreating. Attending one of your get-a-ways is on my short list. A girl can dream.

  6. I could really relate to the restless mind crafting the “story” you would tell about the experience while trying to actually have the experience. I have found myself in that place on more than one occasion. I love it that you chose to “wander.” I have often thought about engaging in a silent retreat. Maybe someday. . .

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