All mystic traditions know the practice of retreating into silence. Suhrawardi recommends in his main opus 'Hikmat al-Ishraq': “Let him (the adept) meditate for forty days.” And Jesus went to the desert for forty days and nights.
This makes nearly six weeks - a long time. The Sufi teacher Saki Lee reports in Sufi News Nr. 2/09 about her experiences during such a forty days' retreat.
But normally retreats are much shorter. Group retreats take about two days up to one week. Individual retreatants should begin with three to five days and then slowly increase the amount of time.
Demanding but healing
A Sufi retreat is more than simple relaxation and silence. Who embarks on such a retreat, triggers an inner process. In the retreat process we gain access to our inner being and our inner strength. But the widening of consciousness, which is light, always is accompanied by a confrontation with one's shadow. What we suppress in everyday life, urges to the surface during the retreat and wants to be solved and redeemed.
But this is the very reason why retreats can be so healing. The confrontation with our shadow connects us with our inner resources. And it provides us with a new, broader and more open viewpoint of life.
The virtual space in which the retreat takes place is like a vessel, held by the retreatguide's consciousness. The guide also makes sure that the transformation process has the right climate to unfold in a good way. And it is astonishing: These processes seem to base on a certain inner structure (see Retreat & Alchemy), a structure which is not limited to retreats, but forms the basis of all human transformation processes. Only that here, in the 'retort', they are more intense and concentrated.
An important point is a basis of trust between retreatant and retreatguide. Normally they meditate together once a day, and then the retreatant gets the practices for the day (concentration, breathing, light and meditation practices). For the rest of the day the retreatant stands on his/her own. It is recommended to eat light meals during a retreat. But it does not necessary mean that you have to fast.