How do I know what kind of retreat is best for me?
What qualities should my retreat place have?
What should a retreat schedule look like?
How do I prepare my mind for a successful retreat?
What if I encounter problems?
Planning your Retreat
Retreat can include formal sitting practices, prayers, walking meditation, physical yogas, dream work, chanting, fasting, etc. There are many different ways to do retreat.
Take some time to consider these questions in choosing a retreat style for yourself:
- What kind of practices am I most comfortable with?
- What aspirations do I have for my spiritual practice?
- What do I wish to accomplish with my retreat time?
- Do I have any mental or physical limitations to consider?
- How much time can I commit?
- How much isolation do I need?
When you have answered these questions, you should have a good idea of what your retreat should look like. Retreat looks different for everyone.
Taking care of ourselves during retreat is very important. We can keep this in mind from the start by planning a retreat that is not too difficult. Once are on your clear goals and limitations, you can choose a location and plan your schedule.
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Choosing your Retreat Site
The place where you do your retreat is an important factor in your experience.
According to the Sutra-alamkara, “Ornament of the Sutras” by Maitreya and Asanga, an ideal site should have five qualities:
- Comfortable: Important things like food, clothes, water, etc. should be easy to obtain.
- Safe: There should no danger of robbers, wild animals, violence, etc.
- Healthy: It should not be too hot or too cold, with nothing that will make you sick or injure you.
- Supportive: There should be people nearby who understand what you’re doing and wish to help.
- Quiet: Interruptions from other people, telephones, Internet, etc. should be absent.
Vajrapani provides all of these conditions and more for retreat. Find out more about our Retreat Environment.
Planning your Schedule
Your retreat schedule can be as open as you want it to be. However, many experienced retreaters have found that sticking with some sort of structure is essential to making quicker progress. Following a schedule is a means of eliminating the “What do I want to do now?” mind that creates boredom, dissatisfaction, and restlessness.
Be realistic when you create your retreat schedule. Make sure it is one that you will be able to keep for the duration of your retreat. Leave plenty of time for exercise and relaxation. It is better to find that you are capable of doing more practice and add sessions to your schedule later, than to be overwhelmed and have to remove sessions or quit.
It is vitally important to do everything you can to make your retreat a positive experience that you will want to repeat!
Here is a sample schedule one Retreater followed that you can adapt to fit your needs.
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Entering the Retreat Mentality
We need to let go of many of our normal ways of thinking and behaving to be successful in turning inward to look at the nature of our experience.
- Give up your normal activities
- Finish your business activities before retreat. You don’t want to bring your job with you!
- Avoid bringing a lot of reading material. Just bring reference books about your practice.
- Give up objects of the senses
- Let go of other thoughts, projects, fantasies and desires.
- Stay focused on your heart and mind.
- Reduce your needs as much as possible.
- Be happy and content with what you receive.
- Accept any unexpected situations with openness and patience.
- Keep pure ethics
- Avoid the 10 non-virtues.
- Stick to your schedule and practices as much as you can.
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Obstacles and Antidotes
Working with our inner landscape can be hugely rewarding. Sometimes, however, we get stuck. The teachings on the Five Faults and Eight Antidotes can be a great guide for tuning up a meditation practice that is losing momentum. The list that follows has been adapted from this teaching to apply more universally to all traditions.
Fault #1: Laziness
- Knowledge and Intention: Develop appreciation and motivation for practice by reflecting on its benefits.
- Effort: Use that motivation to actually re-engage with the practice.
- Faith: Remember that you will certainly get results and benefits if you continue to practice. Rejoice in your effort.
- Results: If you can manage to practice consistently for a while, it will become a natural habit, and less effort will be needed to maintain the work.
Fault #2: Forgetting the Instructions (getting off track)
- Remembering: Remind yourself what you are trying to do and stay vigilant in your efforts.
Fault #3: Dullness and Agitation
- Awareness: Check up on the quality of your mind. Are you dull/cloudy or agitated/excited? Only when you are aware of what is happening can you move to do something about it.
Fault #4: Under-application of Technique
- Adjustment: Make the appropriate adjustment to your mental state in order bring back optimum clarity and stillness.
Fault #5: Over-application of Technique
- Equanimity: Sometimes trying to fix our attention can be its own distraction! Let go of adjusting your attention and just do the practice.
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