The magic of silent retreats

My strategy to keep connected to myself in the high-paced business world

Working with leaders in organisations I have noticed a continuous acceleration of the pace of business over the years. In some organisations it feels like they are breaking the sound barrier with their speed of change and decision-making. Sometimes this feels artificially created; sometimes it feels context- and market-driven. It always feels overwhelming. In this blog I want to share my strategy to keep my balance and stay connected with my purpose in life.


The distractive nature of a high pace

On a regular basis I work with people who have been totally absorbed by the tasks at hand and the pace of their business. Quite often our coaching programme starts with the challenge of finding timeslots in a very busy agenda. Usually, this dilemma of finding time disappears after a few coaching sessions. Leaders start to realise that slowing down and reflecting helps them cease to feel lost in their work and enables them to re-gain direction and clarity about the meaning of their work. This always resonates with me as I had similar experiences during some phases of my corporate life.


Getting away

Some years ago I had several conversations with friends and other coaches on how they deal with this impact of the business world. The most common answer was that they go for at least one retreat a year. This is somewhere physically removed from everyday life in a peaceful environment where the opportunity is provided to unwind from business and reflect on one’s own personal aims and needs. Those locations can range from luxury / expensive places to a cabin in the woods and from very esoteric to just away from normal life.

One recommendation was to find an active monastery offering such retreats. And that turned out to be the right thing for me.

Silent retreats help to refocus on one-self


Experimenting with the approach

Location and format

In my first experiment I booked a space in a Benedictine monastery not too far away. I did not select any specific programme they offered as I preferred to have time on my own and to create a programme that covered my needs in the best way. I also tried different lengths between 2 ½ and six full days.

Silence or not?

I always chose to be there in silence – full or partial. At the beginning it took me a while to convince myself of the benefits a silent retreat could offer. As an extrovert spending several days in absolute silence sounded like a nightmare. Now, I would not want to miss the five days in silence I allow myself every six months.


After a few visits I learned that I needed at least three full days for my brain to really quieten down and allow me to reflect much deeper about the meaning of my work, the purpose of my life and whatever popped up from the depth of my psyche.


I also learned that I can choose from different ways of preparing for the retreat depending on what I’d like to get out of it. It runs from either reading or working through a specific book to having no preparation at all and working with what emerges throughout the days.

Daily routine

The only thing that is always constant is the fact that I participate in the scheduled prayers of the monks. This gives me a daily timeframe in which I fit in several hours of meditation, walks in nature and sporting activities.

Over the last few years I have had fantastic experiences and insights during these silent retreats which enriched my life.



More recently I came across a very small, local cell of Carmelites that offers very specific one-day silent retreat with guided meditations and very down-to-earth approaches. Although this would not be sufficient for me to go deep enough, I could very much see this as an entry experience for leaders who want to try time in silence and experience some of the effects.


Journaling insights is essential

During every retreat I continue my reflective journal to record the insights and experiences I went through whilst in silence. I also note down things I want to change in my life and ideas for activities that might help in my personal development. These notes help me in my busy life to remind me of the steps I want to take and changes I want to create in my life. Though I must admit sometimes I forget to look through the notes for several months because of the hectic schedule I have immersed myself in again. They always help the preparation for the next silent retreat by reminding me of my intentions from last time.


What works is very individual but one principle applies to all

I have had many opportunities to talk with people, also busy leaders, about their experiences with silent retreats. It was always amazing for me to see the diversity of approaches people take to get the best out of a silent retreat. However, one principle was always the same: all kept the silence throughout the whole time to not be distracted from the power of deep reflection about their life and own development.

If this blog has triggered your interest or raised lots of questions please get in touch direct if you want to explore this in more depth.



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