About Deep Rest Retreats

Some considerations for a longer individual retreat that we've learned over the years from ourselves and our guests. Compiled by John Howie, a caretaker at GilChrist.

  • Often the first few days of a retreat are taken up with rest. We usually come into retreat very tired and so much sleep is what is called for.
  • People often come into retreat with lofty goals in mind, like meditating for eight hours a day, exercising for two hour a day, writing a thesis, and so on. What we don’t know when we go on retreat is what the retreat has in store for us. The retreat can be overwhelmed by our will imposing itself on the retreat.
  • A very helpful question to bring into retreat is, “What does my body need right now?” Are you restless and need a walk? Are you bored and want to get the guitar out? You don’t have to respond to the question, but you may find it helpful at least to ask.
  • Do not be surprised if difficult emotions show up. Often we are so distracted by our busy lives that when we slow down, past events can rise to the surface. This is not unusual and is, to some extent, to be expected. Please note that if this happens, it does not mean that you and/or the retreat are a failure. It is often helpful to see these events as “the time is right.” It is also an opportunity to cleanse ourselves.
  • It is a very sound idea to have escape hatches if you feel overwhelmed. Plan on having some contacts scheduled ahead of time, perhaps with a teacher or therapist--someone you trust and who can hold space for you. It is much easier to cancel an appointment if things are going well than to try to get one scheduled if they aren’t. In a paradoxical way, you often don’t need to reach out when you have planned for the eventuality.
  • Have a means to get things you may need so that you don’t have to leave. As you are on retreat, the body slows down and deepens into itself. Even leaving for a little bit to go to the grocery store can be a jolt to the system.
  • Bring items you need to support yourself, like art supplies, books, a camera, a journal. You want to give the deeper levels of yourself a voice for expression.
  • People on longer retreat also have the opportunity to find their own natural rhythm. Some people are night people, while others are early birds. The forces of society often limit our opportunity to explore what works best for us. You can stay up until four in the morning, sleep for three hours, get up and go for a long walk, take a four hour nap, and so on. This is a rare opportunity to see what works for you.
  • Please note that this list is by no means complete. The blank area is to be filled in by you. Each person has their own experience. The main advice I have is be gentle with yourself. It is okay to cry, and it is okay to not cry.



by Gail Martin, a long-time GilChrist guest

The experienced retreatant brings a change of underwear,
one thin book. I bring 16 books, a boom box, 22 CDs,
2 bottles of wine, 3 grocery sacks: quinoa, acorn squash,
shaggy-headed mushrooms and shriveled grapefruit.
I bring my own Buddha chair, my own pillow, fork,
Tampax, fire logs. I bring boxes of Firechief kitchen matches

and a fire extinguisher, each in its own deerskin pouch.
I bring a silver cigarette case engraved with the name
of the girl I stole it from 25 years ago.  I bring the wet
filament stretching from the tongue to the roof
of the fat lady’s mouth, salt, spit, no sound found
in nature. I bring slivered almonds that remind me

of torn fingernails. Banana slices like the dark-eyed faces
of babies drowning in mother’s milk. Inside my spare pair
of hiking boots, 10 lbs. of bird seed which I’ll scatter to rot
on the windowsill.  I bring blood clots the size of small canaries, ribbons of slush pelting the windshields of those who try to rescue me. I bring a lonely broom contrived of reeds

and sage smudge that will never sweep my cabin clean.
Shiny globes of chicken fat in red and white cans which
I tease out with a hemostat and rub beneath my eyes.
I bring a bird whose song I’ve never heard and place him
in a tree outside the bathroom window, words I can’t find
in a thesaurus or dictionary.  I bring fringed blankets

and weary shawls, all wool, all blue. I bring socks of each color which I hang from hooks and doorknobs like surrender flags. Tarot cards, wicker baskets, venison cooked in rosemary by my grandmother,  a beat-up fedora.  I bring doors, some half-open for me to run into in the belly of the night, some that lead to unheated rooms, some which refuse to open at all.

The memory of barns. Handfuls of vitamins C, D, and B Complex, Calcium. Primrose Oil, which I take last because it’s what I need the most. I cast the footprints of raccoons onto the surface of the frozen pond, reminding myself not to walk a straight path across ice. I bring a book of birds, but no birds. A platter full of stars, three dolls named Pilfer, Plunder and Forage, a rice bowl of tears.

Gail Martin’s book Begin Empty-Handed won the Perugia Press Poetry prize in 2013 and was winner of the Housatonic Book Award for Poetry in 2014. The Hourglass Heart (New Issues Prose and Poetry), was published in 2003. She works as a psychotherapist in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Recent work can be seen on Blackbird, Juxtaprose and Willow Springs. Her third collection, Disappearing Queen will be published by Two Sylvias Press in 2021.