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So, What's It Really Like to go on Retreat?

Karen Lafferty

3 min read

Jul 5

5

1

0



white and yellow building on grass
Centre for World Peace and Health

I’m writing this sat on my single bed, in the Centre for World Peace and Health on Holy Isle just off the west coast of Scotland. With such a grand title, it strikes me not many people know what really happens on retreat.


This is my second time on this beautiful island, I first came here in 2023 as a second-year student on the MSc Studies in Mindfulness course, and have returned this year as a third year student, writing up my dissertation. I’ve also been on retreat in two other communities in Scotland and whilst I’m not a seasoned pro at retreating, I’ve come to learn a few things over the years that I thought I’d share. 


For me, being on retreat is a treat. It’s a break from the 9-5 and the buzz of day-to-day life. It’s a space to come and connect with new people and reconnect with old friends. It’s a space where I can turn inwards and reconnect with myself and what I need. On a practical level, all of the retreats I’ve been on have been in very secluded spaces, so phone signals and internet connection are usually patchy at best - which is the perfect excuse to switch off and detox from the weight of constant notifications and alerts calling for your attention. 


simple bedroom
Retreat bedroom


This year has mainly been a writing retreat for me, interlaced with mindfulness and mediation sessions throughout the day. Our day starts early with breakfast at 7am, followed by some chores around the centre which is playfully known as karmic yoga… an invitation to pay back something to the centre who host us. Once the chores are done, we start with a morning sit (meditation). This is followed by a teaching session on some aspect of mindfulness which takes us up to lunch. Lunch tends to be a longer break with some time for rest included. Afternoons give the choice of more teaching sessions, or time to write. Dinner is usually soup made with vegetables grown here on Holy Isle, and then the evening is our to do as we wish. 


I try not to be on technology when not required (I’m aware of the irony of sitting writing this on a laptop… but sometimes needs must!) so in the evenings people can gather to chat and play games, or have some solo time to read, write, draw… whatever your heart and soul desire. Holy Isle is small, making it ideal for walks. Yesterday I walked with some of my fellow retreaters to the far end of the island where two lighthouses stand. There’s something magical about being on land where there’s no cars, very little pollution, and nothing by sea in front of you. 




laptop in a bedroom
My Writing Space

As I sat at breakfast this morning, looking out of the window and across the water to Arran, I found myself wondering what the people over there were doing this Sunday morning… were they busying themselves with chores, or setting off on a trip to the supermarket, perhaps there was a playdate for the kids to be on. Here, time almost stands still, if it weren’t for the meal times I'm pretty sure I’d have lost all track of time. Nowhere to be, nothing to do. 


I’ve got 2 more days here on the island, before its home time. I’m not sure if I’ll be back here again and that brings with it sadness. My MSc is coming to an end, my dissertation will be complete soon, and my peers will all be moving on with their lives too. But, having this space and time as part of this journey has been so valuable and I’d encourage you, if you ever get the chance to go on retreat, to seize the opportunity with both hands. Special things happen when you slow down.  



Room with seats and mats
Peace Hall


Karen Lafferty

3 min read

Jul 5

5

1

0

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