An Honest Reflection on Retreats

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I was told our house would go on retreat. What even does retreat mean? Retreats make me think of days filled with back-to-back activities, long sessions of team planning and organizational visioning, and maybe some awkward or occasionally fun ice breakers and team building activities. Honestly, the retreats I’ve experienced before don’t actually include much “retreating” from the life activities that I already engage in on a weekly basis.

Our house retreat turned out to be different from my understanding of retreats. To clear up any confusion, when I say “house” I mean the eleven individuals I live with this year in Austin as a part of ESC. The house includes members of the Young Adult Volunteers (YAV) and Americorps Literacy First Volunteers in addition to the Episcopal Service Corps. We live together in intentional community, and do weekly programming with our two program coordinators.

After an hour in the car, all eleven of us (plus Christy and Martha our program coordinators!) arrived at Rancho de Vida, a secluded spot which includes a hammock, a pool, a tree house, two swinging beds, two steers, two alpacas, a stunning view of the surrounding valley, and tastefully placed string lights all over the property. I felt a bit like a kid in a candy shop because there were so many beautiful things for me to take photos.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that this retreat had a healthy dose of relaxation built into it, something that becomes very hard to find in my daily life when I find myself constantly “busy.” There was plenty of time to spend reading, walking, floating in the pool, talking, and laughing to our hearts content. This time provided us the space for a deeper level of relaxation and bonding with one another.

It also provided me the space to become centered again. I often feel decentered throughout the week as I am pulled in 8 different directions, going through back-to-back meetings, irregular work hours, planned and unplanned community time, outside social gatherings, and struggling to get a decent amount of sleep each night. I thought my life would become more relaxed after college, but I was wrong.

There was one programmatic piece built into the retreat, and that was the sharing of our spiritual autobiographies. We were paired up and shared our spiritual journeys, whatever form that may take, with one other person in the program. Having a complicated and dynamic faith story myself, I found this to be an interesting challenge. I grew up without religion, and am now feeling out that space for myself to discover what my spirituality looks like.

It was a vulnerable experience for all of us – to wholeheartedly bare our soul to one another. We all come from a diverse range of spiritual backgrounds, so presenting our truths to each other and holding those truths up in acceptance and understanding was moving. I was paired with my housemate Christine, who grew up with both parents as clergy in the Methodist church. Sharing my story with my Christine, and reciprocally hearing hers, turned out to be a very spiritual experience for me.

I’m fully aware that this year will be a hard year for various reasons that I won’t go into here, but I know it will also be a year of great learning and growth. I’m excited to face my growing edges alongside my housemates and learn more about myself and about life with others in intentional community.


-Gillian, Interfaith Action in Austin

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