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So You Want to Lead a Retreat?

I've been facilitating retreats for over twenty years. I've had many people ask for guidance about leading retreats. I'm always hesitant because it's not just a conversation. It's been a process of "becoming" a retreat facilitator for me. Here are some of my insights:

Becoming a retreat facilitator is like finding your voice as a writer. It is unique and it needs to be authentically you. Don't try to be, do or sound like someone else.

And much like a good writer becomes better by being an avid reader (and reading like a writer) a retreat facilitator becomes better by attending others' retreats. Go, notice, experience. You'll find what resonates with you and you'll also find how you don't want to facilitate. When you see something that resonates, still do it YOUR way not theirs.

Realize there is a big difference in being an event organizer and a retreat facilitator. You may be doing both, but they require different skill sets. An event organizer is about logistics and details. A retreat facilitator creates an experience and holds space. Know what you're good at, know what you're not good at and find someone to assist with what isn't your strength.

Some of the biggest pitfalls facilitators can fall into are:

Pitfall #1 - Being attached to the outcome and being rigid about what happens on the retreat. Remember it's not about you. As facilitators we likely have an idea of how we want it to go. We envision people are going to be happy and joyous to be on retreat and they will show up to all the activities, etc. And then when someone shows up cranky and projecting; tired and having trouble dropping into retreat mode, it's easy to take it personally and either get agitated back and want them to "act right" or go into codependent behavior and try to fix it. That's when it's most critical to hold space without judgment or attachment and allow people to drop in. I believe the most important part of my role as a facilitator is to be calm, open and accepting no matter what the circumstances so that the retreaters can attune to my nervous system and drop into that mode. Do I always pull it off. Nope. But I'm getting better. I've also found that having a co-facilitator is very helpful in holding the space.

Pitfall #2 - Over scheduling - When I first started facilitating I felt like I needed to offer many activities for people to feel like they were getting their money's worth. Now I realize allowing time and space for retreaters to drop in and relax is one of the most important things I can provide. Building in periods of silence can be powerful too. We're so used to going at such a fast pace, having someone else create and provide a slower pace is one of the most important things I can offer.

Pitfall #3 - Not Being Clear: I've found it important to be clear up front on what retreaters should expect from the accommodations, the food, the schedule, the expectations, free time, technology, etc. Often, people come with an idea and expectations and then when it doesn't match up that can create stress. It's a stress that can be minimized on the front end by providing a lot of details. Don't oversell what is being offered.

These are just a few things I've become clear about for myself. The list continues to grow!


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