Meditation Retreat Strategies

Here is a post that elaborates on effective strategies, to get the maximum benefit from your meditation retreats. The pointers range from basic preparations and attitudes, to making the most out of your home intervals.

In the beginning, it's particularly difficult to know how to approach the retreat practice. Hence, in this article we'll enter the mindset of a seasoned meditator, for the purpose of deepening your understanding of intensive meditation retreats.

Let's start out by taking a look at the pros and cons of short and long retreats.

Long Or Short Retreats?

Imagine you have two weeks a year that you can dedicate to your meditation practice. Should you do two 1-week retreats or one 2-week retreat? What would be the best strategy?

It's good to know that it takes anywhere from 5-10 days of full-time meditation practice, for the mind to calm down to the point where it operates at its optimal level. A calm mind is naturally focused and makes for rapid progress, as opposed to a restless or wandering mind.

That said, a 1-week retreat is somewhat short to make significant progress. Therefore, if you only have two weeks per year, you would be better off doing a 2-week retreat. If there are no 2-week retreats in your area, you have to opt for a compromise.

But don't fool yourself. It's not enough to simply stay at a retreat center without making serious effort. The mind truly only calms down when you give steadfast attention to your meditation object, which is the strict opposite of being caught up in thinking.

What if you have two months a year to dedicate to your meditation practice. Should you do two 1-month retreats or one 2-month retreat? What difference would it make?

A 1-month retreat is long enough to calm and focus the mind to a high degree, in order to call forth some major progress. A 2-month retreat could result in even more progress, if it weren't for the mind's tendency to get bored with the meditation practice and retreat altogether.

It's true to say that some meditators lose their motivation just a few days into retreats. If your concentration is scattered, or phrased differently, if your mind is all over the place, it's natural to think, "I'm wasting my time. I give up."

It can take a while to get used to waking up early in the mornings and to meditate for many hours a day. Intensive retreats usually run between 04-21. Moreover, the body naturally gets sore after repeated periods of sitting and walking meditation. For these reasons, always give yourself at least 5-10 days to adjust to the retreat routine.

Meditation retreats are known to be monotonous. The schedule is more or less the same every day and you don't have the freedom to chose when or what to eat.

So, to answer the question. If you tend to get bored easily, experiment with two 1-month retreats per year. On the other hand, if you are able to maintain your level of motivation, do either two 1-month retreats or one 2-month retreat.

It's excellent practice to make wholehearted effort even when you are not motivated. That cultivates endurance and trust in your abilities.

As you can see, there is a fine line between calming the mind to its optimal level, where the mind is easily focused, and completely losing motivation and interest in your meditation practice.

Another way of tackling boredom is to alternate between a few meditation centers or monasteries. Find out what works best for you...

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Retreat Preparations

Meditation is hard enough as it is, therefore you should do everything you can to support your practice. It's most helpful to be physically fit, which naturally boosts patience and endurance. There is no need to be an athlete though. All you have to do is exercise regularly, stretch and eat healthy food.

By going to retreats alone, you are less likely to engage in conversations, which is a big distraction.

Before going to the retreat center it's a good idea to rest sufficiently and to adjust your lifestyle to the retreat schedule, as much as possible. If not, you may end up being really tired the first couple of days.

It's also most beneficial to meditate daily before going to the retreat. By building up some momentum at home, your meditation practice will be solid from the start of the retreat.

Other things you can do to prepare include abstaining from drinking alcohol, which fosters discipline and is a practice of letting go. Needless to say, it promotes good health too.

Pack comfortable meditation clothes. Make sure you bring both thin and thick clothing, since the temperature may fluctuate during the day. Deep heat, a flashlight, an alarm clock, paracetamol, plasters and rubbing alcohol, may all come in handy.

Last but not the least, take a positive attitude or mindset to the retreat. Be willing to apply yourself day in and day out, regardless of physical discomforts and how your meditation practice is coming along. It makes a huge difference, so commit to do your very best.

Retreat Practice

The key to success in meditation is to give relaxed attention to your meditation object. Trying too hard only makes for physical and mental tension. Therefore, relax your body & mind and let the practice flow.

What is more, make ongoing effort from the moment you wake up in the morning, until you fall asleep at night. Be mindful during daily activities such as eating, brushing the teeth and walking between buildings.

Either be mindful by giving relaxed attention to your regular meditation object, or by being aware of your body movements. Slowing down makes it easier to be mindful.

Moderate your food intake and sleep. Too much food makes you sleepy, not unlike someone who is sleep deprived. While too little food makes you weak, and too much sleep makes you sluggish. Find the right balance and be willing to make effort.

Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated. This is especially important if you are only served two meals a day.

A meditation retreat is not a holiday. For that reason, don't team up with meditators that indulge in conversation.

By avoiding conversation, you won't think about what was said while meditating. In addition, not engaging in discussions will keep you out of arguments, which preserves focus and mental calm.

It's virtually impossible to meditate while you are irritated or angry. Thus, as a preventive measure, you should embrace or wholeheartedly accept every shortcoming and failure that you experience in your practice. That includes being patient and understanding of your fellow meditators.

This is the path of letting go, which is one of the highest forms of liberation or inner freedom. By practicing in this fashion, you will develop the skills of acceptance and letting go, that will enable you to maintain mental calm.

The serious meditator does not have a computer or cellphone in the room, which does away with a myriad of distractions. A simple alarm clock and possibly a pen and paper, is all you need.

If you happen to get sick during the retreat, fully accept the situation as it is. You may still be able to give gentle attention to your meditation object, on and off.

Home Intervals

By the time you leave the retreat center your mind is calm and focused, which makes it natural to meditate. Instead of indulging in conversations, phone calls and restless thinking, why not continue to give relaxed attention to your meditation object on the trip home?

This is a good way to extend the retreat a bit and to practice mindfulness outside the meditation center or monastery.

Some laymen spend years meditating in monasteries, which is most conducive to progress along the spiritual path. However, one of the great benefits of going in and out of retreat, is that you connect with the real world every time you go back home.

It's a healthy reality check that offers you a fresh perspective on your meditation practice, as opposed to being stuck in it all the time.

Take the opportunity to reflect on your new insights and newly gained self-awareness, time and again. This kind of contemplation really pays off, in the form of understanding.

Question what you have been told at the retreat center or monastery. Don't believe in anything without verifying the teachings in your own time. This is a process that calls for persistence.

Charge your batteries for the next retreat by enjoying life. That could be spending time with your family and friends, exercising, engaging in your favorite hobbies and traveling.

Practice meditation alone, in groups, read inspiring books and watch meditation videos. Strive to read and absorb the meditation talks mindfully. Do walking meditation in nature along a trail and sit down to meditate.

Furthermore, lower your expectations for the next retreat and be willing to really apply yourself. These are most wholesome attitudes.

Every dedicated meditator should be able to notice progress in their meditation practice. In the beginning, your teacher is likely to become aware of these changes before you. That is due to her familiarity and understanding of the mind.

Best of luck!

Related:   Preparing For Retreats   Retreat Tips   Mahasi Retreats

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