Buddhist Meditation Retreats
Free Spiritual Retreats Information
(Anmol: If you have never been to a meditation retreat, I strongly suggest you go to one, and before you go you must read this wonderful guide from Axel Gjertsen. In this guide, Axel gives some great insights and information about what to expect from a meditation retreat. The following tips are helpful regardless of whether it is a Buddhist meditation retreat or any other kind of spiritual retreat.
Axel, who was an actual Buddhist Monk, now shares his wisdom, knowledge and expertise with you on his great, free meditation website Axel G (http://axelg.com/). Do check it out.
If you would like to be a guest author on Master of Meditation and Yoga, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org).
Meditation Retreat Guide For Beginners (Part 1)
This is the first article in a series of two about meditation retreats. Here, in the beginner’s guide, you’ll learn the basics about meditation retreats. In the second part, we’ll focus on retreat challenges and progress.
What is a meditation retreat?
Retreats are usually organized by temples, monasteries or meditation centers and most often span over 5-10 days.
During a meditation retreat you leave your busy life behind and can give yourself fully to the meditation practice.
At most Buddhist temples and monasteries the teachings, accommodation and meals are provided free of charge, with the option to give a donation to help cover the running costs.
Meditation centers on the other hand, tend to charge for the retreats.
Depending on whether the retreat is for beginners or advanced meditators, you may put in anything from 5-15 hours of meditation spread throughout the day. It may sound like a lot, but 5 hours is doable for most novice meditators.
Meditation Retreat Food:
The days normally commence round 3:30-6:00 am depending on where you do the retreat. The practice begins with either chanting or meditation.
The breakfast is eaten in silence, which makes it easier to be mindful. The retreatants wash their own plates and after the meal there is a break.
Between breakfast and lunch, there may be a meditation talk followed by questions and answers. The lectures often elaborate on the meditation techniques and inspire the meditators to practice well. After talks there is usually an hour of so of meditation practice.
At most retreats they teach both walking and sitting meditation. Here is an in-depth post on walking meditation.
The idea of alternating between the two, is to balance concentration and mental energy. Moreover, when you spend many hours meditating on the floor, it’s a welcome relief to stretch the body every so often.
Lunch is also eaten in silence. Some establishments serve only vegetarian food, but that varies from place to place. After lunch there is another break.
There are generally no meals served after midday. However, it’s allowed to drink tea, soy milk or juices for the remainder of the day.
Why cut back on food during retreats?
That’s a good question considering that meditation requires a lot of concentration.
– First off, it’s an old tradition not to eat after midday.
– Secondly, it gives you the opportunity to become aware of your cravings for food, as opposed to eating the very moment you get hungry.
– Finally, by eating smaller servings than usual you won’t get as tired while digesting the food.
I dare to say that the majority of retreats provide more than enough food.
Meditation During Retreats:
The rest of the afternoon is used for meditation practice and perhaps a private meeting with the teacher. This is the best time to get help with your meditation practice.
In the evening there may be some meditation, chanting and possibly another talk.
Moreover, meditation retreats for beginners generally have shorter meditation sessions and longer breaks, which gives you a chance to relax and walk round the grounds.
Remember that it’s not important how many hours you meditate, it’s about putting in quality time. So, always try your best when you meditate.
Meditation Retreat Rules
At Buddhist meditation retreats you are asked to follow a set of 8 rules, called precepts:
– Not intentionally killing any living beings
– Not stealing
– Not engaging in any sexual activity
– Not telling lies
– Not consuming alcohol or recreational drugs
– Not eating after midday
– Not using strong perfumes or seeking out entertainment
The precepts are there to support mindfulness. Take a moment to think about it…
Deeper Mental States
You’ll find that the mind becomes much calmer while in retreat than during regular practice, at home or with your local meditation group. In retreats you’ll experience deeper mental states.
The intensive practice and build up of group energy support concentration; when the mind is centered, we think less and the mind becomes calm.
Meditation Retreat Tips
Whenever you encounter difficulties and have questions, bring it up with your teacher. If not, you may find yourself spending a lot of time battling with doubt or practice the wrong way.
Most retreat centers have a dress code. You should wear plain non-revealing clothes that cover the shoulders, chest and knees. In addition, women should refrain from wearing push-up bras and any see-through garments.
The key is to wear comfortable, loosely-fitted clothes that breathe.
Be gentle in the beginning. A 2-5 day retreat would be a good start. That way you’ll gradually familiarize yourself with the daily routine and deeper mental states.
The accommodation is either dorm style, small cottages or private rooms. Men and women stay separately. Get your own room if possible, which reduces distractions.
During meals and other daily activities you are encouraged to be mindful. Here is a helpful article on mindfulness practice.
It’s truly inspiring to be surrounded by meditators 24 hours a day, that work towards the same goal. Not to mention having a radiant teacher…
Good luck with your meditation retreats!
Axel Gjertsen is a former Buddhist monk and lives in Thailand. He runs axel g which is a personal development site with a focus on meditation. Visit his website to learn how to prepare for a meditation retreat.
(Anmol: PS: If you have gone to a spiritual or meditation retreat do share your experiences with us below).