Going On Silent Retreat
If you’re as fascinated with meditation as I am, at some point you’re going to want to do it more intensively – to go into silent retreat and meditate for some days or weeks, or even months or years. If you’re serious about meditation, I strongly recommend it.
A silent retreat brings two things to your meditation practice:
First, meditating constantly for a long and uninterrupted period intensifies the process of meditation, such that it happens faster and more noticeably.
This is extremely helpful, because though one or two meditations each day are extremely beneficial, the changes are very subtle and slow. As such we can be seduced into the mistaken view that nothing is happening – that meditation is not having an effect. And this can erode our faith in what we’re doing, and in turn, sabotage our practice.
But when we go to a meditation centre and meditate constantly, even for a few days, the process becomes very discernible. We can see and feel our mind and body changing, and that is immensely inspiring.
Second, with silence and long hours of consistent practice, our mind falls into stillness much faster. It is immediate and often intense, and that’s when we have direct experience of the intense power of mind, body and awareness in their pure state – a power usually obscured by the business of our daily life.
Such an experience is very helpful, because it validates everything we’re doing in meditation – such that when we go back to our daily life where the meditation process is more subtle, our faith in what we’re doing remains intact.
If you decide you want to spend time in silent retreat, there are many meditation centres and monasteries throughout the world where for 3 days, 10 days, or a month or two, in Buddhist tradition, you will be given room and food and instruction, usually for a donation – especially in Thailand and Sri Lanka.
Wherever you go, I advise you research them carefully online before you go, to check whether they suit you.
Either that or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
More locally, and especially for beginners, I strongly recommend the 10 day courses run by the Vipassana Meditation Foundation. They have meditation centres in almost every city or state in countries all over the world, so there’s bound to be one near you.
I began my own journey with the Vipassana Meditation Foundation and I cannot recommend them enough. Their teacher, S.N. Goenka, gives the clearest and most compelling instruction I have ever heard. And though he died some years back, his classes were all recorded as audio and video, and are still as wonderful as when he was alive.
For a donation, they take wonderful care of their students. Their only requirements are that you attend all the lessons, practice diligently with the other meditators in the hall and maintain complete silence for the entire time you’re there. Though the method they teach is quite different to the methods I use, and teach, in essence, they all go to the same place.
You can find their website at: www.dhamma.org
To find the nearest centre to you, go to the ‘locations’ tab.
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If you take silent retreat, following are some suggestions to help you make the best use of your time there:
- Make sure you surrender your mobile phone and any other devices for the time you’re there. There is nothing so disturbing and counter-productive to meditation than a beeping, nagging phone. So before you go into retreat, make sure everyone knows you’ll be incommunicado for that time.
- Once the retreat has begun, surrender yourself to the teaching and care. Having chosen a good teacher, temporarily forget everything you’ve previously read or heard, and give yourself totally to whichever teacher you have chosen. The less thinking and doubt the better. Just let the process pick you up as meditation gains momentum. And if you have doubts, save them for later, when you can review what you’ve learnt and pick and choose what suited you.
- Maintain absolute silence. Talk to no-one except your teacher, and ignore everyone else. Pull your attention into yourself and focus on the business of meditating and mindfulness – constantly. The more completely you can do this, the easier and more effective the retreat will be.
- During the retreat, try to slow ALL your movements right down. When walking, purposely walk slowly. When picking something up pick it up slowly. Whether washing, cleaning or changing posture, do it slowly and mindfully. This will help to expand time and calm your mind and body, and it will make meditating much easier.
- For the first two days, to get momentum going, keep your attention on the breath as much as possible – not just during meditation, but all the time, when walking or eating, or as you go to sleep … keep bringing your attention back to the sensations of the breath.
- Try to remember, all of your life habits are going to kick against what you’re doing. So if you find yourself sad, irritable, angry, confused, bored or depressed, remember it’s just another of your life habits kicking against what it doesn’t know or understand.
- During the meditation sessions, don’t worry if your mind keeps getting swamped by waves of thinking and daydreaming every so often … it’s just layers of old stuff rising into the space meditation is creating. None of it has any importance. And neither do the emotions or aches and pains that will also arise at various times. None of it means anything, so don’t bother thinking about it. It’s just mental and physical tensions that were obscured by the business of your life. As this stuff rises up, maintain equanimity as best you can and the mind and body will let it go, and you’ll be free of one more layer of life’s muck.
- You’ll usually be given two meals a day – breakfast and lunch – though at most Thai and Sri Lankan monasteries, there’s only one meal a day, at 11 AM. Try not to eat too much during those meals. Allow yourself to be hungry. It’s only ten days.
- Drink as little coffee or tea as you can, but drink a lot of water.
- Once or twice a day, walk as fast as you can around the grounds. As you walk, keep your attention on physical things – sensations – FEEL the walking. Luxuriate in it.
- Take light naps whenever you can, but try not to sleep too deeply.
- Meditate with love and compassion for the flawed and vulnerable organism you are.
‘BEING STILL – MEDITATION THAT MAKES SENSE’, Roger’s new book, is available now.
(The audiobook includes all the exercises, as well as ebooks of Being Still, to fit any device.)