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What is a Meditation Retreat?

Updated: Nov 8, 2022

LRY Instructor and Meditation Program Coordinator Miv London recently attended a 6-week meditation retreat, here's what she had to say about her experience...

"When I told people that I had signed up for a six-week meditation retreat, I got a mixture of responses. My meditation teacher was overjoyed on my behalf. My meditating friends were excited but incredulous – six weeks??? My friends who don’t meditate said things like 'you mean you can’t talk for SIX WEEKS?', 'oh, that sounds luxurious,' 'I could never do that,' and so on.

The reality of the retreat was different than anything I could have anticipated. Yes, it was VERY long. No, we did not speak for the most part. No, it was not luxurious – the accommodations were plain and simple, and there was no entertainment or distraction of any kind. The most exciting moment of each day was finding out what was for lunch. At times it was profoundly peaceful and joyful, but there were just as many times when it was tedious, boring, or extremely physically and emotionally challenging. Still, over the course of six weeks my mind became increasingly settled and concentrated, my body slowed down and rested deeply, and I came to appreciate being part of a silent community that was infused with kindness and care.

You might believe it impossible for yourself to go on a meditation retreat, especially one this long. But I didn’t begin my retreat life with a six-week retreat. I worked myself up to this long retreat over many years, starting with shorter retreats – a half a day, a day, a weekend, and progressing to weeklong and 10-day retreats.

So, what exactly is a meditation retreat? To answer this, we need to understand what is meditation. The type of meditation I practice and teach is called Mindfulness Meditation, and its roots are in the 2,600-year-old Buddhist tradition. Mindfulness has received a lot of publicity in recent years, and its meaning has been distorted through the lens of popular culture. Quite simply, in the Buddhist tradition mindfulness means knowing what is happening in the present moment. It doesn’t mean being peaceful and calm. It doesn’t mean getting rid of thoughts. It just means being intentionally aware of the present moment, without judgment. Mindfulness meets whatever is occurring in the present moment with kind attention. It is a capacity we all have that is usually covered over by our endless torrents of thoughts.

Mindfulness meditation is the practice of cultivating moments of mindfulness. By doing so, we learn that we are more than our thoughts, we begin to gain more clarity about ourselves and our relationships, we discover the potential to break free of habitual thought patterns and the behaviors they can lead to, and we learn to work skillfully with our emotions, and to reap many more benefits that have been strongly confirmed by research, such as reduced stress, increased focus, and being a kinder person.

A meditation retreat is a prolonged period of practicing mindfulness meditation. I like to think of a retreat as a laboratory where we set aside a period of time in which we remove all distractions so that we can study the subject of our research, which is our own mind. We engage in the practice of mindfulness continuously – while practicing sitting and walking meditation, while listening and speaking, while eating, drinking, and going to the bathroom, while transitioning from one activity to another. We find that when external distractions are removed, our minds are filled with internal distractions, and we learn skillful means to navigate this inner landscape. We learn to let go again and again, and we learn practices that enable us to be gentle and kind with ourselves as we repeatedly return to the present moment.

You do not need to sign up for a six-week retreat to experience these benefits. Even a short retreat can give you a taste of the vast potential of cultivating mindfulness. Are you curious? I invite you to join me for a half-day "Wings of Freedom: Mindfulness and Lovingkindness Retreat" on the afternoon of Saturday, November 12. The retreat will take place on zoom from 1pm to 4:30pm EST."


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