Life & Soul Life and Soul

How to … Go on a retreat

A monk's cell at Mount Grace Priory in Northallerton, England (Getty)

In January, television channels are packed with advertisements featuring families frolicking in clear blue swimming pools and couples walking hand-in-hand along sandy beaches. In these dark, tiring months, we dream of escaping our drab surroundings.

But some of us crave something other than action-packed foreign holidays: a peaceful retreat, either alone or with our families. According to a helpful guide created by Downside Abbey, the first thing to decide is where you wish to make your retreat: “Do you pick a religious house that can provide essential guidance? Do you decide on a beautiful location to help inspire that all-important self-reflection?” The website has a good list of retreat centres in Britain and has links to Catholic centres in the US.

The second step, Downside says, is to choose how to spend your time. It suggests picking a theme to guide your activities. “For example, discipleship, friendship, responsibility, giving thanks and reflection.” It also recommends taking a complete break from phones and email: “Whilst this can sound daunting in today’s digital context, removing these devices and services from our lives – even for a day – can really bring an astonishing level of inner peace and sense of focus.”