Have you ever experienced the prayerful journey of walking through a labyrinth? According to Lessons4Living.com, "a labyrinth is an ancient symbol that relates to wholeness. It combines the imagery of the circle and the spiral into a meandering, but purposeful, path. The labyrinth represents a journey to our own center and back again out into the world. Labyrinths have long been used as meditation and prayer tools ... It is a metaphor for life's journey ... A symbol that creates a sacred space and place, and takes us out of our ego" to gain insight into ourselves. Thus, walking through the structured twists and turns of a labyrinth could be quite similar to what we each experience in life, moving in one direction until we face another of life's challenges which require us to respond to the ebbs and flows of living while still moving ahead. Perhaps one of the best ways available to help us adapt to our labyrinths of life is to periodically go on a retreat.
Many people have never experienced the joy of making a retreat. Yet when we consider the wide range of daily stressors in our lives, we may find that setting aside special time for a retreat may be just what we need to help us deal with life's many twists and turns. "Making a retreat" means taking time from our day-to-day activities to get away, to be in a different place both literally and spiritually from what we routinely do on a regular basis.
The easiest way to make a retreat is to select a formal retreat center which welcomes overnight retreatants for one or more nights, or maybe sometimes just for a single day away from home or work. Most retreat centers periodically offer scheduled retreats during the year on a specific theme or topic preached by a noted author, scholar and/or spiritual leader. Individuals can also choose to make a "private retreat," which means they design their own schedule on retreat which could also include the option of meeting with a trained spiritual director. Regardless of the type of retreat we make, however, one element common to all spiritual retreats is helping retreatants advance on their own spiritual journeys in life.
In deciding whether to make a retreat or not, sometimes it might be helpful hearing what others have said about their own retreat experiences. For example, consider some of the following statements made by retreatants who have made a retreat at Stella Niagara's Center of Renewal Retreat & Conference Center here in Western New York:
"It is a wonderful, beautiful place for retreat ... very peaceful and beautiful here making it easy to relax ... loved the peace and serenity, the birds singing."
"What I liked best was the peacefulness, welcoming attitude of staff and sisters, and Mass available."
"Retreat was thought-provoking and interestingly done ... wonderful spiritual insights."
"I found my first private retreat to be peaceful and just what I needed. I primarily stayed in my room reading and writing in solitude, but also enjoyed the grounds immensely. Thank you!"
"An atmosphere of peace and prayer, meditation and self-contemplation are evident at the Center of Renewal."
"Peaceful atmosphere welcomed with kindness, compassion and family love."
Regardless of where you choose to make a retreat this year, just decide to make one, and then keep your commitment to yourself. Retreat centers each have their own unique characteristics, and with just a little research time, you'll soon find one that suits your own personal needs and preferences. Just as on an airplane where you should put on your own oxygen mask before helping others with theirs, you'll probably discover that taking time for yourself on a well-deserved retreat will give you more calmness and spiritual peace to help guide you through the labyrinths of your life. Besides, aren't you worth it?
Nancy P. Askins, can be reached at www.stellaniagararetreats.org or call 716-754-7376.