Adventures in Mindful Living
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After you’ve convinced your spouse, partner or boss to let you take time off, figured out who’s going to watch the kids, stocked the fridge with food, posted your away message online, canceled your meetings, watered your plants, and asked your neighbor to watch your dog, cat or armadillo — after all that, what can you expect from sitting for hours in one place on a meditation retreat?
Is it worth it?
Retreat is an incredibly powerful opportunity to gain a sense of connection with ourselves, and with the people and living things around us.
“Okay,” you might ask, “but practically speaking — what are the benefits of going on retreat?”
Other than the sensation of being “one with the universe,” there are a few solid reasons to add meditation retreats to your mindfulness toolbox to prime your mind and body for awakening.
Here are some common questions I get about going on retreat.
1) Why does intensity matter? If I achieve 15 hours of meditation in 5-minute increments over the course of a year, is that the same as 15 hours of meditation on a 3-day retreat?
No. I guarantee, if you sit for 5 minutes of meditation every other day for a whole year, you will have a very different experience than you will sitting the equivalent 15 hours in a single month, averaging 1 hour every other day.
In fact, with 5 minutes a day, you might not notice much difference, but sitting for 1 hour every other day for a month will drastically change your life.
And if you sit for 15 hours over the course of one condensed, 3-day retreat, this will likely have an even more profound and lasting impact on your life. Such an immersive experience will likely change the way you view yourself and the world around you. What’s more, this new perspective could last for months, or even years. If you keep meditating regularly after the retreat ends, the changes and depth of awareness you obtained on retreat will last forever.
So, when it comes to meditation, intensity does indeed matter.
2) Will there be lasting effects? What if I: have a burgeoning meditation practice; used to have a regular practice but fell off the wagon; or my practice is just feeling a bit stale?
Retreat is a way to jumpstart your practice, to dig deeper no matter where you are in your journey. And this isn’t just true for the meditation retreat itself, but also for the weeks following the retreat.
It’s definitely easier to access a place of stillness, compassion, and insight when you’re far away from everyday distractions like work, family, home, and to-do lists.
But even in the days and weeks following retreat, you will find yourself invigorated by a new sense of momentum and passion for the practice.
3) What about insights? Will the insights gained on a retreat be more profound than those I can attain in my daily practice?
While meditating, we are often working to uncover our own inner truth. We gain this clarity in our mind by sitting with the feeling, the sensation, of breathing. It may not seem like it, but a lot is happening in our body while we’re simply breathing! When we quiet down the chatter in our mind, we start to gain access to other, much more important information that our body and mind are trying to convey to us. When we sit with our body and breathe in meditation, feelings and memories may rise to the surface. It takes time in meditation to clarify our own understanding of these memories or feelings. At home, when practicing for shorter times on a daily basis, you may at times experience a sense of inertia: “Just as I was getting to a good place in my session, I have to get up and go to work.” Then, when you sit back down for your next practice, it may feel as though you have to start all over again, trudging through all the usual distractions and mental chatter to get back to your breath, to the experience of being in your body — an experience which is, after all, your inner truth.
On retreat, in contrast, you might sit for 30 to 90 minutes at a time, transition directly into a walking meditation, take a nap, and sit again.
Instead of feeling like you have to start over with each return to the cushion, you might sense that you’re picking up exactly where you left off. This experience of continuity will allow you to fall more quickly “down the rabbit hole,” so to speak, of your subconscious, into a more subtle state of mind. The more subtle and still your mind becomes, the more profound your insights will be.
4) Why is camaraderie important? Will I be able to make friends or acquaintances on a retreat even though we are spending so much time in silence?
I’ve sat next to the same person for months at a time and, without ever once speaking to them, have learned to love and respect them as I would a brother or sister.
Funnily enough, one of these individuals was a particularly heavy breather — and at first, that was the only thing I noticed about him. My initial impression of this man was that he was a terrible annoyance. In fact, I quickly grew so frustrated with his heavy breathing that, after the first day of our retreat, I built up the courage to turn around and give him a dirty look — and saw such a look of bliss on his face that when, with a joyful smile, he cracked open his eyes, I could not help but smile back at him.
For months afterwards, the sound of his breathing put me at ease like a white noise machine.
5) But I don’t know if I can sit for hours a day in meditation! “You did what? Spent hours meditating for 3, 10, 30 days? Why would you do that to yourself?”
Many people in my life do not understand why I would sign up for a meditation retreat instead of traveling to some other destination and filling my schedule with activities.
Let me put it this way: have you ever come back from a vacation and thought to yourself, “I need a vacation”?
“A retreat is a break from every-day life that not only feels regenerative while you’re there, but leaves you feeling refreshed and recharged for weeks afterwards.”
A retreat is a break from every-day life that not only feels regenerative while you’re there, but leaves you feeling refreshed and recharged for weeks afterwards. That’s because you’ve spent your vacation time building the muscle that keeps your mind calm, present and centered, no matter where you are.
Being a monk for 6 years was kind of like going on an extended retreat. I have been milking the benefits of that experience for the past 10 years, and I cannot recommend it enough.
If you’re interested in pursuing this kind of extended, multi-year retreat, I am happy to point you in the right direction…but I suspect the majority of you reading this are not ready to shave your heads and give away all your worldly possessions. I suspect a long weekend might sound a bit more doable.
And that’s why we built SkillfulMeans!
If you’re looking for a meditation retreat that won’t upend your entire life, check out the latest upcoming retreats from SkillfulMeans:
Rediscover Your Center: Deep Practice, Supportive Community, & Farm To Table Meals
William Jackson, Psy.D.
Founder and CEO of SkillfulMeans LLC