How to structure a retreat day


“I desire mercy not sacrifice.”  

Matthew 9:13


Before starting a retreat at home, ask yourself ‘Why am I doing this? Why now? What am I hoping for? Have I got something on my mind I need to be conscious of? (Retreat is not an escape from yourself but a deeper meeting with yourself).

This will help you be gentle and realistic in structuring your time each day. Making a retreat,  (doing less, being more),  is a time we choose to enter more deeply into the our spiritual work that is ours. Doing it will bring us to a deeper more self-knowledge. This then brings us further into the real mystery of God. It also leads us further on our journey of healing, becoming whole, knowing we belong – with everyone – in the community of humanity on our beautiful planetary home. 

How to Meditate

Sit down. Sit still with your back straight. Close your eyes lightly. Then interiorly, silently begin to recite a single word – a mantra. We recommend the ancient Christian prayer-word “Maranatha”. Say it as four equal syllables Ma-ra-na-tha. Breathe normally and give full attention to the word as you say it, silently, gently, faithfully and – above all – simply.

The essence of meditation is simplicity. Stay with the same word during the whole meditation and in each meditation session each day. Don’t visualise it but listen to the word as you say it. Let go of all thoughts (even good thoughts), images and other words. Don’t fight your distractions. Instead, let them go by saying your mantra.  Say it:

  • Faithfully – keep returning to it when you get distracted
  • Gently – don’t use force, be light 
  • Attentively – take the attention off everything else

Meditate twice a day, morning and evening, for between 20 and 30 minutes. If you are on retreat it will be easier to meditate midday as well. As with any discipline it takes to develop this practice. However, you can go further with the support of a community, meditating with others and connecting to a living tradition than you can on your own.

What you are doing is, as it were, being launched into the prayer of Jesus. It is very difficult to talk about this without using images, but the prayer of Jesus is just like a rushing torrent flowing between Jesus and the Father. What we have to do is to plunge ourselves into that and be swept along by it. It is a torrent of love, not a torrent of words or images. And that is why we have to learn to be wholly silent. The mantra is simply bringing us deeper and deeper into that silence.

– John Main, In the Beginning

Silence, Solitude and Simplicity

The mothers and fathers of the desert are quoted as saying “stay in your cell and your cell will teach you everything.”  While creating your monastic retreat cell, you will want to give some thought to how much solitude you would like during your retreat and how silent your time of retreat will be.  This will depend on your circumstances.  

If you have a room or place where you can be during the retreat, you could use it as your monastic cell.  If you live with others, you may want to explain and negotiate your time of solitude, silence and practice.  You may also like to include contemplative walks in nature.

…when you have to return to your sitting, day by day, and learn to sit in silence, solitude and openness, then you soon discover that this calls for more and more love on your part, not just enthusiasm.  

– John Main

Decide on a rhythm for your retreat day

With the above in mind, create a rhythm to your retreat to your retreat day. This can be achieved by balancing the times of meditation, some reading and some physical activity. We recommend that you meditate at least 2 or 3 times a day during your retreat. In fact, if you are not used to doing so yet, this retreat may simply be a time when you establish a second or third meditation session in your day.

With the above in mind, create a rhythm to your retreat day. This can be achieved by balancing the times of meditation, some reading and some physical activity. We recommend that you meditate at least two or three times a day during your retreat. In fact, if you are not in the habit of doing so already, this retreat might simply be a time when you explore establishing a second or third meditation session to your day.  For a physical activity, take up something you can enjoy. Some examples to consider are yoga, tai chi, cleaning at home, gardening, going for a walk, a run or a bike ride.

We recommend that you steer clear of your usual habits of work at home , especially if youspend long hours at the computer or phone. It would be advisable to turn your mobile off and put an unavailable auto response message for emails. If you are compulsive about some habits, say cleaning,going to the gym, using your mobile phone you may want to vary your activity in orderto create space to listen to the Mystery of God in your life.  If you dive each day into your habitual rhythm of doing you will miss the point.

Try to limit your online connection with Bonnevaux to the necessary minimum – we want to help you be “at home,” safe and centered as the Psalmist says “Be still and know that I am God.” 

The communications and schedule of our online contributions for your retreat are on the website. Depending on your time zone you may want to meditate with us online at 12:15pm, French time. Any live webinar talks, discussions and Q&A will also be recorded and posted a few hours later.

Creating a “space to meditate” 

Choose an area where you would be happy to sit to meditate, read and reflect. For instance, this could be your attic or your favorite window.  Place is your address (topos).  Once you’ve decided on the place, then consider how you want to establish it as your “sacred” space.   Space is what we create – a space of expectation, like when we are waiting for the curtain to go up.  What will happen?  Will I resonate?  Will I understand?  Will it touch me?

You may want to use a cushions, a kneeler or a chair to sit comfortably depending on whatworks best for your body. You may like light a candle by an icon or a vase of flowers in creating you sacred space. Alternatively, you may prefer a space empty devoid of any paraphernalia.

Suggested Schedule

You may decide to be in silence all day or for part of the day.  We usually do half days from waking to lunch with the silence continuing from the last meditation of the previous day.

  • 6:30 meditation
  • 7:20 meditation and morning prayer (see below on structuring prayer/Lectio)
  • breakfast
  • time for reflection, being in nature, sleep, work / exercise
  • 10:00 talk and or Q&A
  • time for reflection, being in nature, sleep, work / exercise
  • 12:15 mediation and midday prayer
  • lunch
  • time for reflection, being in nature, sleep, work / exercise
  • 15:30 talk and or Q&A
  • 18:00 meditation and evening prayer
  • dinner
  • talk and or quiet reading
  • meditation
  • sleep
Scroll to Top