01 Nov Retreat at Sisters of St Andrew
A Convent Retreat Near London
This past year has been a time of tumultuous change for me. Some of these changes have been fast, some slow, and indeed the latter have been the most challenging. So, with major life decisions and changes coming at me from every direction, a retreat seemed the perfect way to ponder next directions and even ask if I was on the right path.
Despite it being my natural inclination, I ruled out a spa, as I know myself well enough to know that I would merely bliss out and emerge refreshed but probably having very neatly ignored some of the questions that had brought me there.
Again, even though I had lunched with a women who had espoused the virtues of a ten day silent yoga retreat I decided to give that a miss for now. Although this has a certain appeal, a strict diet and 5am wake up call seemed as appealing as signing up for a boot camp.
And so I ended up on the train to Kent, on my way to visit the nuns of the Sisters of St Andrew. I felt a little like the children of Narnia, packed away to visit a big house in the home countries, escaping from the vicious war that raged on in London. I could tell you about the house, or describe its atmospheric maze, but by the time you read this the nuns will have decamped to a London address and will be in those same premises no more. Besides, as we all know on a retreat, it is what goes on inside that matters.
What I can tell you about is the attention, care and guidance that I received. Of course, a lot of my thinking and pondering was up to me. No one else could do it for me. But I did find the atmosphere a perfect setting to get things moving. I was the only guest that weekend and found myself not only spending my days alone, but also eating alone. People I tell this to freak out and tell me they wouldn’t like this, but I’m quite happy about spending time on my own, and indeed find this very liberating. Apart from the set meal times, where my food would miraculously appear in the dining room (and good simple comfort food at that – perfect for what I was going through), I could do what I wanted. Of course there was a rhythm to the house that I could adopt if I liked: prayers and services at certain time. And I found this helped give me some type of structure, but for the rest of it what I did was up to me.
Access to a kitchen meant that I could have tea whenever I wanted and cakes and biscuits appeared occasionally, once after a tearful interlude in the chapel. I felt looked after and nurtured even if I was on my own.
And I have to admit I spent a fait bit of time just sat at the window, sometimes thinking, sometimes meditating and …er…sometimes even sleeping! I went for walks in the garden (wellies were provided if you wanted to go further afield but I was happy to stay on the path), sat in the chapel by candlelight, or played in the art room, resurrecting my inner child when I felt things needed a bit of lightening up.
The last day was interesting. Even on waking I had somehow moved a bit closer back to my day to day life and already felt a little out of the rhythm of the house, which makes me think a three to four day retreat would be better.
Results of a Retreat
I can’t say that my time at the retreat provoked any massive life changing decisions, but what it did was refocused me in a way that has changed my direction, and I am really starting to see the benefits now, six months later.
The sisters have recently moved to a location in London so, although I won’t be making that evacuation journey again, I am looking forward to them opening their doors so I can book another visit.