Last fall I took my very first self-directed silent retreat, in the Black Hills of South Dakota. I'm still not sure why I did it (or why I plan on doing it again), but no matter how many times I rejected the idea, it just kept coming back. I had a busy summer and was in the middle of making some Life Choices (different than "life choices," it seems), and time away felt very necessary. I started to think of it as a romantic vacation--a get-away, really--with just me and God. Like, maybe our relationship had lost a little bit of its zest and we needed to spend some time reconnecting.
Turns out, a vacation with God isn't really romantic. It's not even a vactation, actually. But, whatever.
When planning a solo retreat, the first thing you have to do is find a location. The location of your retreat is determined, in large part, by what you are looking to get out of the whole experience--what you need to have in place when you arrive in order for your retreat to be "successful." I identified a few "needs" right off the bat: The retreat had to be close enough to drive (even over the course of a couple days) but far enough away that I couldn't chicken out and just go home if it got tough; it needed to be secluded but safe; it needed to be in a beautiful, natural setting, with easy access to hiking trails; and, it needed to have a kitchen.
FYI: Benedictine's are really serious about their ministry of hospitality, so they rarely charge money for their services. Instead, they welcome a "donation" of whatever you can afford to pay. Sometimes they give you a suggestiON--in this case $30 a night--but you should feel free to pay as much or as little as you can honestly afford.
Once I had my location all picked out, I had to think about how to get there. Rapid City is about 7.5 hours away from Omaha, via the interstate. I've taken that trip many times, and while I like it out there on I-90, I wanted to see a little bit more on my journey. The time it took to get to the retreat--and what I saw along the way--became almost as important to me as the reterat itself. So, instead of taking the short way, decided to stick to state highways. This allowed me to see the magnificent Sand Hills of Nebraska for the first time, as well as the Pine Ridge Reservation, and the Badlands. I spread the trip out over two days, spending the night in Valentine, Nebraska. By the time I got to the Black Hills, I was in a totally retreat-ready frame of mine.
My first stop in Rapid City was the grocery store, where I picked up the perishable items that I couldn't pack. Retreat eating takes some thought. You want to stay healthy and simple, but you also need to indulge in some creature comforts to offest the profound discomfort of...not speaking a word outloud for a week. I stuck to simple food--lots of soup, eggs, salads, etc.--but also picked up a box of Dove bars and a bottle of wine. :)
Once I arrived at St. Martin's I was given the key to my little house, and was on my own. That's where the real retreat began.