Mentally Preparing For A Retreat
On a meditation retreat we are usually committing ourselves to letting go. To letting go of our routine life. To commit to doing nothing (although there is certainly a lot of internal ‘doing’).
If your life is exceptionally busy and you are madly dashing around in the weeks and days before you depart for your retreat … then imagine what happens when a car screaming down the highway at 100mph suddenly stops.
All the junk in the car (ie. in our minds and body) suddenly fly’s forward, unearthing all sorts of long ignored and smelly stuff from under the seats.
Rather than stomping on the brakes .. isn’t it better all round if you slow down gradually, gear by gear, until you are at a comfortable speed and ready to slide into a stop. Much better.
So consider what you need to do (and do it) so that you can s*l*o*w down before attending the retreat. Some further tips:
Continue Your Practice
In all the busyness of getting ready for retreat, don’t forget to keep up your practice. Also don’t over compensate or try to pre-prepare by expanding your personal practice ‘in readiness’ .. rather allow sufficient time in your day to continue to check in and pause. It is also really beneficial to remind yourself why you are attending the retreat – your intention – and keeping up your steady rhythm of practice. Be consistent. Be gentle. Be kind.
A Little Self Love
Step up your self-love before retreat. Take care of your body with plenty of regular and efficient sleep, keep moving and engaging in regular exercise. If you don’t have a regular morning stretching practice then consider starting a gentle one, as this will be invaluable when you are sitting a lot. Incorporating a stretching practice into your daily morning routing – keeping your body loose and comfortable will be invaluable when away from home on retreat. Incorporating some basic exercise, yoga or stretching time into your day- will help with repeated sittings.
Attend to health matters – find what you need and be prepared.
At most of the retreats I have attended, everything that you do from sunrise to sunset, is considered part of your practice. Everyday daily activities, such as eating, cleaning and walking are all mindfulness practices. You can certainly start including some of these rituals into your daily life .. being more aware and present to washing the dishes, brushing your hair, collecting the mail.
The meals prepared on retreat are usually healthy and simple .. consider how your diet (and preferences and judgements) might impact on your experience. Some retreats have dietary rules .. no eating after noon, for example. Now, I am a morning coffee girl so I am preparing for the possibility that I may not have my favourite brew each morning. I have also been paying more attention to the food that I have each day aiming for greater wholesomeness and healthy simple options – with a focus on getting energy from my meals without being weighted down or taking too long to digest. Most retreats are vegetarian and may encourage you to abstain from things like caffeine or alcohol – so if you drink eight cups of coffee a day, a wine with dinner, and meat is the staple of your diet – this could be a shock! Again, know what to expect and prepare early.
Write Down Your Intentions
It can be beneficial to write down what motivated you to attend the retreat, what you would like to expand or explore, and how you would like to look back on this journey in the future. Retreats are a great time for clarity – for insight into the bigger issues in life. If you plan on keeping a meditation journal you could note down your intentions as a starting point.
Don’t compare. Don’t spend hours reading on-line about other people’s experiences on another retreat. This is your experience, unique to you. The organisers of your retreat should provide you with all the information you need prior to attending and this is all that you need.
Prepare Your Mind
A retreat requires discipline and dedication. You will not be sitting by the pool with hours to read and get a massage. Before attending consider what your motivation and intention is, and recognise with all your heart and mind that this is the best choice of your time right now. You will have plenty of opportunities to renew and strengthen your commitment while on retreat, but you can sustain your focus by reading inspiring stores from great teachers or reconnecting with your own practice and knowledge.
“Meditation isn’t a sedative. It’s a laxative” said Trungpa Rinpoche .. in the vacuum of stillness and silence, the mind brings up all kinds of ‘stuff’ that has to be burnt off through our awareness.
When attending a retreat (silent or not-silent) with a group of strangers .. you have an opportunity to live the lessons of compassion and empathy and kindness. If you are not already, you will no doubt quickly become much more aware of your judgements and perceptions and habitual reactions – YES your ego. I have included these words in my journal (as a reminder):
Be Kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a battle of their own.
Retreats are the perfect opportunity to practice Beginners Mind .. a mind that is open to whatever occurs. If I was to arrive without my baggage, but with a Beginners Mind, then I will receive all (and more) benefits that such a journey can offer. Focus on the basics again and again so they become ingrained in you.
Don’t expect anything
Expectation is premeditated disappointment someone wise once said. You cannot know what will happen in meditation or on retreat and so we keep turning up and learn to embrace our true experience whatever that is. If nothing happens, that’s fine .. if you explode with ah-ha moments that is fine too. Another lovely saying:
You may not get what you want from retreat, but you tend to get what you need.
I hope this has been useful and interesting. I have shared three earlier articles as I started my own retreat journey:
If you would like to follow some of my retreat journey .. if the opportunity presents itself, I will be posting on my Facebook and Instagram pages (not on this site). Once I return there will no doubt be a wealth of juicy learnings to share.