Jan
31

Wanna Go to a Meditation Retreat? Why?

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As a meditation teacher, if someone comes up to me and says they want to go to a meditation retreat, you would assume that I’d enthusiastically list places for them to go. I mean, do I want the world to practice mindfulness? Yep, you bet. Is a meditation retreat one of the best ways of creating and strengthening some of these “muscles” and habits that I think can lead to a better, more present, healthier life? Uh, yeah. No question. Big duh.

But, in my experience, it is important that people who express the desire to go to a meditation retreat, have some kind of idea of what’s involved. A meditation retreat is not the answer to all issues. It’s hard work – or can be – and definitely not as relaxing as laying around a pool.

So I want to know why they want to go, what they are expecting, what they hope to gain. The more I know of what someone is looking for – the more I can help them understand (and hopefully experience) the path to what they seek (and hopefully more.)

I do happen to believe that mindfulness is a key ingredient to any growth – but other elements are also necessary and helpful for creating a balanced life experience. Eating healthy food, getting enough sleep and exercise – these are key, needless to say – and I happen to believe access to nature is also important. Healthy relationships or meaningful activities are also things that can contribute to the growth and health of the whole. And, yes, mindfulness can make all of these other elements more satisfying, effective and healthy. (That isn’t something everyone knows or has experience of, but it’s my job to help communicate that.)

Okay, so here’s what happened:  I recently attended a workshop during which I shared that I was a meditation teacher and I believe that I mentioned having recently returned from a meditation retreat The moment the workshop was over, a young woman sitting in front of me turned around and expressed that she really felt she needed to attend a meditation retreat and she wanted me to recommend where to go. I could feel her energy and I felt there was a big need for something… but I wanted to make sure that I recommended something that would truly prove helpful and really support her process. I gave her my email as I didn’t have time at that moment to delve into where she was coming from and why she wanted to go.

Then, a couple days later, I got an email from her and I responded, and afterwards I thought others might benefit from the interaction. Some may be surprised that I suggested things other than a meditation retreat, but I was going on what she wrote and how I felt her energy that day.

She wrote:

I would love some suggestions for meditation retreats. Locally and ones to travel to. I do meditate every day but I don’t have specific type of meditation I do.

I’ve been feeling a deep need to get away for a bit to a nurturing environment where I can be quiet. I’ve looked at some retreats here and there but anything with too much structure seems to tire me out just looking at them.

Hope that’s helpful in giving you a sense of where I’m at and how I’m hoping a meditation retreat could help.

Thanks for any suggestions.

Now, before you read my reply, I want to explain what I heard here – 1. She already meditates daily, 2. She wants to be nurtured, 3. She wants quiet, 4. She hates structure, 5. She’s never been to a meditation retreat before. Plus, I remember her energy – she was wanting something very strongly.

 

My Response:

Yes, I was looking forward to see where you were at. [yes, bad english] Everyone is always coming from a slightly different place – and expecting something – that I want to direct them in a way that will feel good and be good for them. And I’m glad I didn’t volunteer something quickly when we spoke, because the first thing that came to mind would probably not have been your thing at all.

In reading what you wrote, there are 3 directions that come to mind. Let’s hone them down and see how you feel about them. I would love to support your meditation practice, but, at this time, there may be a couple of alternatives that may be a better fit, not sure. Let’s see.

These are the 3 things that came to mind (and a 4th one occurred to me later – see below):

1. I’m probably suggesting this because I know from experience that it works, but I know it’s not everyone’s thing. I feel, though that I have to mention it, because it gives everything you want – in spades. And that’s: solitude in nature. (Whether at the beach or in a cabin or tent – or even near nature that you can go out into every day.)

Just being in nature helps your physical energy “entrain” to the rhythm of the natural world.  It can be healing – to the body, the nervous system, and the mind – for as you “unplug” from the cellphone and computer screens and traffic, you “tune into” the trees, the birds, the always moving natural world around you – and it’s a very grounding place from which to think – or not think.  Meditate when you want – or don’t.  It is quite healing to allow yourself to “drop into” nature (or, at least, that’s how I experience it.)  You can apply effort to meditating – or you can allow yourself to “be meditated.”   For me,  solitude in nature is the latter. (And if you add deliberate meditation it can be a powerful rest stop.)

OR …

2. You may need a visit to a spa – something that isn’t too chichi – something that’s earthy and comfy – where it will be softly quietly and the focus is on nurturing. And you can do whatever meditation you want, but it’s about creating a good space to rest, restore and process. You will have the ultimate comfort and control over your own schedule here – and still get silence and restoration.

And at some kind of spa or day spa, you also get the physical pampering that can truly sooth your nervous system.  We all need to be touched and many studies have been done on how we do not get enough soothing, loving touching or stroking.  Well, a massage is Soothing Touch City and you can also make it into a powerful meditation by focusing on the body sesnsations – as the touch softens the muscle, and maybe also noticing the subtle spread of release in the rest of the body.

And, if cost is an issue, you can create a spa – by maybe borrowing a friend’s place while they’re gone, or setting up a day to go to local spas around here or get low-cost local massages (massage school often offer big discounts) and go to the ocean for a day.  Maybe creating a special “zone” in your home for your “vacation” and only restorative things happen in that zone.  Set up a space and a list of activities – or non-activities – that will feel good to you and ONLY do those.

OR …

3. You could emphasize the external silence – i.e. no talking – through example of all in environment honoring it – and add meditation as a central theme by going to a Meditation Retreat.

Now, most good ones have a structure – there must be some that don’t – but, my advice, will be to try to find something that is led by a good, competent teacher. If this is your first time really delving into a meditation retreat environment – and especially if you really commit to the program – there is a decent possibility that you’ll experience some kind of emotional vulnerability or important insights – and it can be so so helpful to have a good teacher to discuss this with. I’ve seen people go to retreats and have deep (or possibly disturbing) experiences and maybe misinterpret them or find themselves unable to process or integrate what happens. That’s what a teacher’s for. A good teacher can help any difficult experience become an opportunity for growth – so that you leave a better person. (That’s the kind of game-plan I like to encourage.)

 

Okay, so……. the advantage of a meditation retreat, is that the potential for growth, opening, and shifting perspectives (that can last long after the retreat and even possibly add critical/essential shifts to your growth as a person – and yes, I’m biased here) – is undeniable. It’s not the place to go, however, to simply rest, get away, and get silent. You might not be talking, but teachers are going to be talking during the day all day long – or least twice a day – and you’re usually going to need to open to that – and sharing the space and the journey with others – even though you’re all silent.

And just because it’s relatively quiet on the outside, that doesn’t mean the mind will be quiet on the inside. In fact, there is the possibility that it will seem like someone “turned up the volume” on the internal talk. There will be less to distract you from it (- and that is, of course, a portal to changing your relationship to the voice in your head, but let’s stay, for now, on how to help you get what you’re looking for in this moment.)

So while it’s good to really see what’s happening in the present moment, it isn’t always a restful experience. I just want to give you heads up and make sure that you’re going because you really want to meditate, learn more about meditating, be interested in delving into your sensory experience, or maybe opening to a more open loving view – as some retreats emphasize.

Also, most all meditation retreats – are going to involve hours of meditation. Are you up for that? That can be physically uncomfortable – especially at first when you’re not used to being still for that long.  You’ll want to check that out.  Check to see if they allow you to skip the scheduled activities and go for a hike or sleep.

You said you wanted quiet and nurturing, but you didn’t say you were really wanting to do a lot of meditating. Maybe a good spa would give you the space to do what you need while being physically soothed.

So, think about how much meditating you want to do a day. Do you want to learn new things about meditations? How comfortable or uncomfortable are you willing to get. Do you want to shift how you see the world? How you process your emotions, thoughts and experience?
Or do you, for now, just want to get away – to process, heal, or simply rest?  You may want all of that, but what do you want – what do you need – now?

As you clarify that, then you can create the environment that is most conducive to what you want to cultivate. Make sense?

I took solo camping trips for many years before I ever attended a meditation retreat. There are some kinds of experiences and insights that both can promote – but also some kinds of experiences and insights that I can only get when in total solitude in nature, and some kinds that come when on retreat with my inspiring meditation teacher. And sometimes I just need to be somewhere other than my home to park so that I can sleep for 3 days. It’s all good.

And, ah, here’s a 4th option that just occurred to me:

4. Are you a physical person or athlete? Does vacation for you mean running, hiking, swimming, or boating? Then maybe doing something like that – some camp or workshop – would do it for you. The body offers a way to process that doesn’t re-educate the mind and perception like meditation does, but it can process energy very powerfully in way that meditation can’t – so sometimes swimming, running, or hiking – end up giving the effect that having slept for 4 days might have given someone else.

So close your eyes and image what you think your body/mind needs at this time. And, by the way, every alternative I’ve listed could involve LOTS of meditation – just applied differently.

Options could range from a meditation retreat – to a spa – to a tent on a mountain – to going on a kayak trip where you’re alone out in the water in a kayak for 2-3 days …. oh, things manifest when you clarify what you’re focusing on – maybe a friend invites you to house sit in the hills – anything is possible.

I suggest that just visualize what you need – with appreciation for what you have. That’s always helpful. (Or so says me.)

Warm Blessings,
Steph

She thanked me for taking the time to write this – and I then realized I wrote it instead of the blog entry I had planned on writing …  and that’s how this became the blog entry.

With the moral of the story being: Use your mindful awareness to really tune into what’s needed, then the action you take with be more appropriate, effective – and probably feel good, too.  And mindfulness can always be applied – in any situation.  Our daily life can be our monastery – and sometimes the practice that is needed is kindness – to ourselves, for our body and mind – and good things tend to come from that – including good choices.

Comments

  1. Michael Buttacavoli says:

    Good work.
    Subconsciously you engaged a elementary merging with fine results.
    Thank you, your experience has brought me to another level of being with a person.
    Moreover, I am finishing a poker book for women that offers work of Shinzen, Goenka & Osho with lifestyle suggestions-please let me know if you want to know when published.

    • HI Michael –

      Thanks for your lovely feedback and yes, sure, would love to know about a poke book for women with those influences. I confess I had to smile at the notion.

      All the best to you,
      Steph

  2. Wolfgang Br. says:

    Hello Stephanie,

    Thank you for sharing this thorough reply to the woman’s inquiry. All of it I found to be true myself – especially your last advice – to be mindful where ever you are. Just a mindful change of environment during the day or just picking up a piece of paper from the floor can give the same joy and happiness as being on a retreat.

    Eternally grateful, Br.Wg

  3. Thank you for this feedback. I appreciate it.
    Hope you are well.
    All the best to you,
    Steph

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