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What is the Purpose of a Retreat? And 5 Benefits of Doing One!

Updated: Mar 7

Cover pic for purpose of retreat - free women!

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About the Author - Lisa Dunford Dickman

Why a Retreat?

Do you need a break?? (Who doesn’t, really?!?) This can be especially true for women at midlife. Often by midlife women have put themselves last on their own priority for so long that “self-care” boils down to an extra big glass of vino at the end of the day. 

Trust me, I’m not knocking a good Pinot, but our body and our minds need more than that to recharge from daily demands, large and small. 

Our nervous system did not evolve at a time when we were being bombarded by eight gazillion megabytes of information per millisecond. 

Our ancient ancestors weren’t expected to juggle the pressure of our family’s needs, our businesses, social media, the assaulting news cycle and a changing midlife body. Unless we travel with purpose, even our getaways can add more stress

So, what is the purpose of a retreat? In its simplest form, the purpose of a retreat is to take a mindful break. The way I define a retreat is: time set aside specifically to withdraw from your everyday life with the intention to rest, reinvigorate or transform. 

The Purpose of a Retreat Varies

Religious retreats and pilgrimages were the first ritualized forms of withdrawing. They were intended for many of the things seekers look for today - self-reflection, spiritual growth. You can still attend retreats within many religious traditions: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and others.

Lisa teaching the purpose of a retreat

But you don’t have to go live the life of a monk on a mountain to retreat. Today there are a multitude of different kinds of personal retreat offerings and focuses - spiritual, wellness, creativity, travel, inner growth…

Some retreats are designed to create a transformational experience. They use exercises and content to help you get clear on an old thought, pattern or belief that needs to be released. The leader then helps guide you to receive a new truth. And in the end, ideally they help you rise into a new energy. 

Transformational retreats are my fave. In recent years I’ve attended several three-day, transformative retreats both in the Hill Country of Central Texas and the mountains of Park City, Utah. My willingness to see what needed to be seen and heal long-time patterns was instrumental in helping me up-level my own business to the point where I am now holding my own retreats - in Africa!

Other common purposes of a retreat may be to focus on learning, wellness or adventure. Structured activities such as mindfulness practices, meditation, yoga, cooking or painting classes, hiking, music, even zip-lining, may all play a part. 

The purpose of a retreat can vary from spa to cooking

The benefit of doing an active retreat like this is then both mental and physical. You might learn a new skill, kick start your system with healthy greens or stretch yourself - quite literally!

You can even create your own retreat. Getting away for some reflective time doesn’t mean you have to go far or have a formal guide. A friend I know checked herself into a hometown hotel last month for a self-directed, weekend-long writing retreat. 

You could even do “digital detox” or a silent retreat from your home. Any intentional time away from your life, or a specific aspect of it, can qualify as a retreat.

Characteristics Common to the Purpose of a Retreat

While the focus and specifics behind the purpose of a retreat can vary, they do usually have some qualities in common:

  • A sense of remove: To be able to reflect we need some distance (physically or mentally) from our everyday environment or activities.

  • An intention: This can be as simple as “to rest and rejuvenate,” or you may set an intention to transform or gain information about a specific aspect of your life, like the way you approach your business.

A sense of remove from daily life helps define the purpose of a retreat
  • Reflective time: Thoughtful consideration and reflection helps set a retreat apart from a normal vacation. Journaling or discussion are valuable parts of the process. 

  • A challenge: Not every retreat contains a challenge, but many do. If the purpose of a retreat is to step outside our usual routine for our benefit or growth, this will often require us to also step outside our comfort zones.

5 Benefits to Doing a Retreat

The benefits of a retreat can be numerous and are often highly personal. In general though, there are five benefits that stand out as more universal.

1. Reconnecting with Your Inner Self

The pace of life is so fast these days. We don’t often take time for self reflection. We’re just getting through the day, doing what needs to be done.

When we don’t take time to stop and look at where we are and where we’ve been, we can’t evaluate clearly where we want to go next. We end up operating on a kind of auto-pilot.

This past January was a challenging month at my house. I had some serious dental work done and my husband underwent full knee- replacement surgery. My mouth pain and discomfort was substatnial. That, plus the added caretaking and chores while my husband was recovering, left me I feeling frazzled. Eventually, I noticed how overwhelmed and out of sorts I was.

Reconnecting with yourself is a very common purpose of a retreat

I had lost touch with my inner direction. So I booked a virtual art medicine painting retreat. It took some doing to carve out 3-4 hour chunks of time for painting three days in a row, but I did it. The benefits were immediate. 

My mind felt clearer, less foggy. I was able to re-align with my intentions for my family and my business in the coming year. 

The purpose of doing a retreat was evident: By reflecting on what was important to me, I could more easily see what aligned actions I wanted to be taking.

And while I was painting, I had a new client sign up via my website, without so much as a marketing email sent. Coincidence? I think not! 

2. Connecting with Community

Though some retreats are conducted individually, many are done in community. Whatever purpose of a retreat you choose, you’re guaranteed that others signing up will share at least some interests, which helps in connecting.

Making friends in midlife can be rough. Meeting like-minded individuals on a spiritual adventure or well-being quest gives you a leg up in the friend-making department.

The retreat I mentioned I went to in Hill Country a few years back? Three of the other participants are now among my closest friends because we have so much in common. Lasting friendship was a benefit I hadn’t really thought of before I attended.

Finding community is an important purpose of a retreat

Having a group experience also bonds people together. What you go through, how you grow, what you learn… all that will be shared and amplified by your fellow retreat participants. Such a strong communal experience can’t help but create a connection.

I know the amazing women who spent six days on safari during my last Open to the Magic (in Africa!) retreat shared many special moments. They will never forget the time a big, male lion walked within a few feet of the safari vehicle. Nor will they forget how emotionally moved (yet wonderfully calm) the gal was who ended up eye-to-eye with him! The lessons learned and the healing transformations shared brought them all close. There’s even some talk about a few of the attendees traveling together on a future trip!

If you’re looking to expand your circle, a retreat is a great way to do so!"

3. Elevating Your Energy

Taking time out of a hectic schedule has a regenerative effect in general. Recharging your batteries means you can bring new and elevated energy back to your work, life and family.

When reflection and personal growth are part of the purpose for the retreat, you elevate your energy even more. And that energy you bring home to your family.

Elevating energy is a common purpose of a retreat

Let me stop there for a minute. You may be thinking: “But isn’t that selfish?!? How can I take time away when my family/work needs me?”

First, by taking time to honor ourselves, we are giving our children, our spouses, our friends and our coworkers permission to do the same. 

Second, you’ve probably heard the airline analogy about how we need to put on our own oxygen mask before we help others - or we won’t be able to help them. But do you believe it?

So many women in midlife have been socialized never to put themselves first. As cliche as the airline analogy may be, it’s undoubtedly true. It is impossible to give from an empty cup (or give if you’re laying on an airplane floor not breathing, but you know what I mean).

How much good are you genuinely doing your family if you are exhausted, frantic or frazzled?

Finally, not to get too esoteric, but on some level we are all one. When we raise our own vibration, we are raising the vibration for our family, for our community and ultimately for our planet. So, no, it is not negative or selfish to take time out for a retreat.

4. Immersing Yourself in Nature

Beauty is a balm. Nature heals. Often retreats are held in beautiful locations - close to home and around the globe. 

A colleague of mine runs wellness retreats at the seaside in Calabria, Italy. Another leader I know hosts a yoga and adventure retreat in the Galapagos Islands. My own retreats include six days of safari in the wilds of eastern South Africa… 

Closer to home, a good friend is considering renting a cabin in the woods for a self-styled, reflective retreat. 

Getting close to nature is a great purpose of a retreat

Whether you travel only a few minutes or for many miles, the benefit of a retreat where you are outdoors more than usual is invaluable.

Study after study has shown the positive effect on our nervous system that time in nature provides. 

The Japanese have a custom called “forest bathing” where intentional healing time is spent surrounded by the trees. 

Simply spending time in the natural world has been shown to reduce stress and fatigue. A stunning natural location is a big bonus benefit to doing a retreat. So soak in the beauty!

5. Shaking Things Up

Perhaps the biggest benefit to doing a retreat, and one of the most basic purposes of retreating, is to get out of your ordinary. When you remove yourself from your routine you also are removing yourself from any ruts. 

You’re shaking things up, and your inner child will love you for it! Having new and novel experiences is the spice of life.

Too often, however, we find ourselves doing the same thing day after day, month after month, year after year. Eventually it becomes hard to dig ourselves out of that well-worn rut.

Going on a retreat - challenging ourselves, trying new things - can be both fun and refreshing. By definition it invites you to look at things from a new perspective. One retreat I attended had a horse whispering session as part of the offering. It was one of the most fascinating retreat experiences I’ve had!

One purpose of a retreat is challenging yourself

Getting out of your comfort zone helps jump start creativity, opens you to new options, and aids you in seeing the world in a whole new way.

Who couldn’t benefit from a retreat, from a change of scenery every once and a while?

In Summary, the Purpose of a Retreat is:

To get away

To shake things up

To recharge in nature

To draw closer to the Divine

To align with your inner-self 

To carve out time for self-reflection

To gain a new perspective

To reset and rejuvenate 

To discover something new about yourself

To raise your vibration

To connect on a deeper level

To escape your comfort zone

To learn new things 

To honor yourself and intentionally decide where you want to go next!

It doesn’t matter whether you retreat to a cave or to a 5-star luxury safari lodge, whether you go it alone or in an organized group… The benefits of doing a retreat are as limitless as you let them be!

About the Author

Lisa Dunford Dickman is a transformational coach, a traveler, a writer and a retreat leader. She helps women take big, bold steps towards their dreams, even when they don’t know what those dreams are - yet!

Before becoming a coach, Lisa traveled the globe for 15 years writing Lonely Planet guidebooks. She's lived in five foreign countries and speaks four languages (five if you count Texan! ;)  Lisa’s greatest joy is leading her annual sea-to-safari, “Open to the Magic!” transformational retreats in Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa.

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