Ganden Center has a meditation retreat on love coming up soon at Santee State Park. Whether you decide to participate in this retreat or you decide to wait for another opportunity in the future, there are a few things you can do to get the most out of any meditation retreat. Here are five tips for enjoying your next retreat.
1. Know what a retreat is.
The dictionary definition of the word “retreat” is “to withdraw.” When we engage in a meditation retreat, we are “withdrawing” from our ordinary life and ordinary activities in three ways — physically, verbally, and mentally.
Physically, we withdraw by temporarily leaving our normal daily environment so that we can get away from the things and the activities that contribute to our distractions.
Verbally, we withdraw by abandoning talking about things that are unrelated to our meditation practice. Sometimes, we can practice silence to make the verbal part of our retreat even more powerful.
Our physical and verbal retreat are designed to support our main retreat, which is our mental retreat. We mentally retreat by abandoning our normal worries, concerns, problems, and distractions. We give ourselves permission to temporarily forget about our to-do-list and our responsibilities back home. The extent to which we are able to retreat mentally is the extent to which we will have a successful retreat. In fact, even if we cannot physically get away and even if we are not in silence, we can always be exercising a kind of “mental retreat” by practicing letting go of negative states of mind, anxieties, and dwelling upon our problems.
2. Prepare for your retreat.
In the weeks and days before your retreat, prepare your mind for your retreat. When Geshe Kelsang Gyatso talks about preparing for a longer tranquil abiding retreat in his book Joyful Path of Good Fortune, he mentions six special preparations we can make:
- Find a suitable place to have retreat. Venerable Geshe-la mentions several points here, but the main point is that we find a place that is quiet, clean, and that gives us access to support from friends if we need it.
- Reduce our desirous attachment. If we don’t reduce our uncontrolled desire for things like tasty food ahead of time, our mind will be very distracted during our retreat and we will find it hard to generate pure concentration.
- Practice contentment. Likewise, we need to be content with the retreat conditions we find ourselves with, both our internal conditions, such as our experience level, and the external ones, such as the retreat accommodations. If we don’t practice contentment, we will have a hard time controlling distractions.
- Abandon distracting activities. Speaking of distractions, leading up to the retreat and during the retreat, we leave aside meaningless activities like surfing the Internet or mindlessly watching television.
- Practice pure moral discipline. Try to make all your actions of body, speech, and mind pure as you get ready for your retreat. By controlling your mind during daily life, you will find it easier to control your mind during your retreat sessions.
- Abandon distracting conceptions. During the retreat itself, try to abandon dwelling on the past or focusing on what you might do in the future, such as what you will do once the retreat ends.
Since our modern world is filled with opportunities for distraction, it’s hard to practice the six preparations above perfectly. But, if we try our best to follow this advice, we will definitely have a more enjoyable meditation retreat.
3. Start meditating now.
Just as it’s tough to get a car to go from 0 mph to 60 mph in a few seconds, it’s tough to get our minds to go from the 60 mph speed of our daily life to the 0 mph speed of a meditation retreat. By meditating consistently in the weeks leading up to your retreat, you’ll find it much easier to settle into your meditation sessions once the retreat actually begins.
4. Read and think about the retreat topic in advance.
Our upcoming retreat will be all about love. To use this topic as an example, it will help your meditation sessions to contemplate the good qualities of love and practice holding a loving mind during daily life before the retreat begins. You can read all about developing the mind of love in Geshe Kelsang’s book Transform Your Life.
5. Once the retreat starts, decide to have a wonderful time no matter what!
The kinds of intentions we make determine the kinds of experiences we have. If we go into a retreat full of trepidation, thinking things like, “I might not be good at this,” or “I will probably fall asleep during the meditation sessions,” or “I bet this is going to be boring,” then that is exactly the kind of retreat we will have! On the other hand, if we begin our retreat with the determination, “I’m going to really enjoy this meditation retreat, no matter what happens,” and if we keep coming back to that determination again and again during the retreat, then we will definitely have a fun and meaningful time.
Do You Have Your Own Tips?
Are you an experienced retreatant? Have you learned to enjoy your retreats through trial and error? Tell us what you’ve learned about meditation retreat in the comments section below.