In each edition, staff writer Irma Gomes answers questions regarding retreat. Please email her with your questions at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Q: How do I know if I am ready for retreat?
A: If you’ve been thinking about it, you’re ready. It’s like the first time you started thinking about meditation. Perhaps you read something in a book or a magazine and imagined what it would be like to meditate. Then you went looking for a teacher or center where you could learn. Before you knew it, you were sitting on a cushion.
Getting into retreat follows a similar path. If you’re attracted to it, then it’s because you’ve done it in the past and that good karma is flourishing in this lifetime. Seize the opportunity to get closer to enlightenment and go for it!
It’s important to find circumstances that are favorable for your retreat needs, especially in the beginning. If you’re feeling the peace of mind and happiness that meditation can bring you, then retreat is the perfect place to make some serious progress.
There are introductory weekend retreats in meditation, yoga, Zen, Vipasyana and Mahayana Buddhism. Pick a topic you’re interested in, and then research the center’s facilities and teachers. Talk to others who have attended the particular retreat. If it feels right, sign up.
At first, you may be resistant or hesitant. Realize that if you find the retreat not suitable for you, you can always leave. But what’s important is that you make the impression on your mind of seeing yourself go into retreat. This will only cause a future opportunity for you to go on retreat again and hopefully a joyful one.
Q: Where can I find retreat information near me? Is it better to do retreat in places like Asia or America?
A: You can start with the World Buddhist directory at http://www.buddhanet.info/ to find centers where you live. Each center’s website typically provides an event calendar, which would include retreat topics and dates. Publications such as Tricycle (http://www.tricycle.com/) or Shambhala Sun (http://www.shambhalasun.com/) also advertise retreats.
It is very important that you carefully research the centers as some advertise retreats that are not from an authentic lineage or tradition. Inquire about the center’s spiritual director, the retreat leader and the source of practices you’ll be using.
Serious meditation practices have been explained by masters and kept in sacred texts over centuries. These techniques have been proven by experience, which is why they’ve been passed on for centuries through an authentic lineage. Your life is too short and precious. Exact a healthy sense of suspicion with any “new methods.”
As for the place to do your retreat, first make a list of the elements that you think you will need and see how much you can simplify. Many places in the countryside of Asia provide you with very basic facilities; you may have to share the accommodations and bathroom and sleep in a room without heat or air-conditioning. The upside is that you’ll likely be staying in a monastery or a center lead by an important master and benefit from living in the community with their students. If you are sick and need special medications or attention, check beforehand for doctors or clinics near the center. I once did a retreat in the mountains in India during monsoon season. Although I had a great time, I realized how my mind takes many luxuries for granted.
In general, western retreat facilities have been adapted to provide more “comfort” but still remain simple. If you drive to the retreat center, you can load up your car with personal things you think you may need like your meditation cushion, your favorite blanket and pillow, etc.
Once you get settled in the retreat space, your mind can actually focus on the goal of retreat, which should not be meditating on “how uncomfortable I am” or “all the things I should have brought.” If you have any personal concerns going on retreat, I would be happy to speak to you.