Two Chairs on a Deck Overlooking the Ocean at a Retreat Centre

Is “retreat” a dirty word?

By Loretta Laurin. Posted on July 3, 2018 in Stories + Recipes

When I started working in the Communications department at Hollyhock, I was told to never use the word “retreat.”

Try telling that to Google!

You can imagine what an impossible job it is to promote something without using the most common word that people will think of when describing it. That’s like being a yoga instructor and not being able to use a common word like “leg” – “now lift your left lower limb!” Possible, but not intuitive or easy.

So why would we give ourselves such a challenge? Is “retreat” really such a dirty word?

A quick browse of the directory of centers from the Holistic Centers Network, shows that only about 19 of the almost 80 places listed use the word retreat in their name. We aren’t the only ones who avoid this unspeakable word. 

Definition: rəˈtrēt/

  • (of an army) Withdraw from enemy forces as a result of their superior power or after a defeat
  • Move back or withdraw
  • Synonyms: withdraw, retire, draw back, pull back/out, fall back, give way, give ground, go out, ebb, recede, isolation

Everything Hollyhock does is about advancing connection and culture. Increasing capacity for wellness, driving social impact, moving towards human creativity. The opposite of retreat.

Why then, do we run most of our programs on a remote island?* Isn’t that a kind of retreat or getaway?

The truth is, the “special sauce” of Hollyhock (and no, I’m not talking about the yeast dressing, as delicious and addictive as that is), is more than the content; it’s the place and the immersive experience.

The land, trees, ocean, stars, and wildlife – they provide some of the most important ingredients. I’ve seen time and time again that people simply do not have the same depth of experience in just any other location.

In addition, the fact that we share food and sleep in the same location over a period of days together, allows us to develop unexpected lasting connections with other people – a rare occurrence in most disconnected and over-glorified “busy” lives.

Spending time at Hollyhock has made me realize that most of us have it backwards. We think that going to a place where we can see the stars is a “retreat” from the city – a running away. But, what if it were the other way around? What if we are moving towards something that we don’t even realize we’ve lost? Reminding ourselves of what’s possible?

Maybe it’s just a matter of semantics, but it’s an important one. Whatever you decide to call it – a program, conference, gathering, training, or intensive – when you come visit, I hope you remember and are reminded of what you’re moving towards. I hope you leave inspired and well-resourced to make positive change in your life and the communities you live in.

Check out Hollyhock’s upcoming programs and conferences here: hollyhock.ca/programlist

What do you think of the word “retreat”? Share your thoughts and comments below.


*Hollyhock’s Cortes Island campus, on the West Coast of BC, rests in the traditional territories of the Klahoose, Tla’amin, Homalco Nations. Hollyhock is committed to renewing its relationships with the First Nations peoples on whose territories we are guests. Hollyhock also runs programs and conferences in urban locations such as Vancouver, the traditional territories of Musqueam, Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh First Nations.

Feature Photo: Amanda McNaughton

Showing 15 comments
  • Leslie

    You’re pretty great LL! Love seeing this!

    • Loretta Laurin

      Thanks Leslie! How is everything going at the New York Open Center? I noticed you also don’t use the word retreat there 😉 Although perhaps that’s more intuitive as an urban center!

  • Anita Kalnay

    I look at ‘retreat’ as more of a chance to RE TREAT yourself. To GIFT yourself an immersion in something that will FILL the senses and charge UP the battery levels. In this day and age very few people put REST on their ‘to do’ list. Retreat is a time of REST. A chance to re-focus on the self. Much needed. I quite LIKE the word!!! And of course I love Hollyhock as well!

    • Loretta Laurin

      Thanks for your thoughts Anita! I absolutely agree that rest is so important, and is fundamental to what Hollyhock offers.

  • Peter Englander

    Well, like so much in our lexicon it’s a military reference so changing our words in how we think about places like Holyhock is important. Covey used the term “sharpening the saw”, also a poor name for what we do. There are also phases such as “going to the mountain” and “centering” that fill well for what you all have and do, though the one that fits best for me is “soul fueling”. Doesn’t roll off the tongue…yet, though I think that’s exactly what it is, be it a course or a holiday as even with the latter, one is exposed to the programming of the former.

    • Loretta Laurin

      Yes! Peter I think your thinking on this is pretty spot on. The military reference perhaps keeps us in a state of “fight” and “us and them,” rather than looking at the world through a lens of bridge-building, collaboration, and creative solutions.
      Hmmm…. “soul fueling” doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, no! We’ll have to keep thinking about it 😉

  • Charles

    I think of “retreat” as retreating from the world. It’s a nice thing to do from time to time so I don’t think of it negatively.

  • A

    Like the word “sustainability,” I think “retreat” has been made into a “dirty word” through commodification. It’s hip to be green, mindful, etc. and the concepts are great and sorely needed in today’s world. However, when these buzzwords are used for marketing purposes they lose some of their original intention.

    • Loretta Laurin

      I think you’re absolutely right on this A. It’s a strange game to play in marketing! Of course, not all marketing is bad, but when terms get co-opted by brands or products that don’t fully live up to the concept, it’s easy to lose meaning.

  • Dennis Marriott

    Loretta, I appreciated your post! My experience of Hollyhock is indeed as you described – advancing connection and culture, increasing capacity for wellness, driving social impact, moving towards human creativity. I usually don’t associate these activities with the word ‘retreat’. But as Joel wrote, it’s not a dirty word. I agree, it’s part of the balance. At The Haven, we see ourselves as an ‘engage’ center rather than a retreat. Face-to-face, we step forward with curiosity and explore our desire for deeper connection in all relationships. And in an immersive group setting, we continue our journey of relational discovery. But if you need to ‘retreat’ to move forward, then go for it! The important bit, as you suggest, is to focus on what we are moving towards – positive change.

    • Loretta Laurin

      Beautifully written Dennis. Love hearing about how you approach it at The Haven!

  • Lynn Gifford

    I appreciated the comment about re-treating yourself.

    From the exquisite gardens to the refreshing sea, culinary delights and thoughtful workshops, Hollyhock provides an opportunity to tend to our inner landscape. Re-treating our inner landscape , (especially for those of us on the “introverted” end of the Meyers-Briggs), is a cherished place to harvest our priorities for our engagement in life.

    How about RE-TREAT?

  • Rivkah Rachel

    This is such a good point – I think I need to Lose the word retreat as well —

  • Alexandra

    Oh, language. I love how you brought this forward. For me, it’s more about what our culture has imbibed in the word, rather than what it may be pointing toward. I like to think that “retreating” (pulling inward, resting into silence, withdrawing outward attention to marinate in the unknown) is in fact the first step toward true action. Why is it that our culture has so despised this resting, silent quality? Out of the silent rest of winter comes the beautiful colours and new growth of spring, yet our culture only values the fully ripened fruits of summer — do, do, do, advance, advance, advance. My perspective is, rather than avoiding the word “retreat”; that is, believing what our culture says about it (that it’s a sign of weakness, of being defeated, of failing to move forward), my approach would be to reclaim the ground of rest, of BEING, of non-doing, of Yin, and redefine a more accurate meaning for the word, which reflects its true value. My sense is true power is born from here — rested action, you could call it, or the power of nature. Thanks for stimulating this conversation!

    • Loretta Laurin

      What a beautiful reflection Alexandra! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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