Sometimes old poets say it best. Consider these lines from the great English Romantic William Wordsworth:
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours...
Wordsworth wrote that 200 years ago, but he could have written it yesterday. In an age of BlackBerrys and e-mails, iPods and Xboxes, we find ourselves disconnected and adrift, in need of renewal and healing in a world that is "too much with us."
But how does one step off the grid of modern life and reconnect with the spiritual? The answer for millions of Americans is to go on a retreat. Retreats are a means to look within ourselves in stillness and silence, to locate what may be missing in our lives, but to also appreciate what has always been there. They require that we set aside only the deadlines and obligations that besiege our daily lives and find solace and sustenance in comforting quiet and simple routines. Ultimately, the attraction is in the subtraction.
As many have discovered, you don't have to go far to go deep. Spirituality websites can help anyone longing for some inner renewal find a place to retreat. Findthedivine.com lists more than 1,200 opportunities for retreats in the U.S. and Canada. According to Phil Stone, the website's cofounder, 55,000 retreat seekers visit the site a month. In a recent survey, Findthedivine asked what these people were looking for. More than 50 percent said they were looking to enhance spirituality, while 23 percent were seeking personal growth, and 6 percent were hoping to improve their appreciation of the outdoors or to express themselves artistically.
Retreats require that we set aside only the deadlines and obligations that besiege our daily lives.
Anne Luther, director of Retreats International, a nonprofit organization representing more than 350 largely Catholic retreat centers, sees retreats as a starting point for a pursuit of peace and contentment. "Every spiritual search has to start somewhere. Even the smallest yearning for meaning is appealing to some kind of hunger in people. Spiritual seeking is all about listening to that hunger," she says.
If so, there are a lot of hungry travelers out there: according to Luther, some 2.5 million North Americans went on a spiritual retreat last year through her organization. And while most of the retreats RI represents have a Catholic affiliation, many of the visitors are not Catholic but are simply looking to jump-start their journey toward healing, growth, or enhancement of faith. "There's a lot of disillusionment with religious institutions these days, but interest in spirituality has never been greater," she says. "We are attempting to be ecumenical to meet these needs."
Stone and Luther both emphasize that retreats come in all sizes and missions. Visitors can follow a formal program or their own instincts; ponder God, nature, or self; spend nights in sleeping bags or between organic-cotton sheets. And prices can range from pay-what-you-choose to $500 or more a day. The variety can be a bit bewildering to newcomers, but it is helpful to loosely categorize retreats as faith-based, nonreligious, or meditation-oriented.
Deepening Your Faith...Religious Retreats
Often, people find themselves confused or discouraged when they begin to think about faith and the divine. A religious retreat can help those who may feel spiritually lost and don't know where to turn. Martha Thomas, 55 and mother of three, found herself in that state six years ago when she realized, while sitting in church one Sunday, that she had no relationship with God and no idea how to get one.
It wasn't a personal crisis that made Thomas begin to think about God. She says she just "woke up" and thought, Where was my religious experience? She looked at people in her Great Falls, Virginia, Methodist congregation who "by virtue of how they lived, acted, and treated other people seemed to have a relationship with God," and she asked them for guidance.