Spend enough time in any circle interested in spirituality, wellness or personal growth, and sooner or later you’ll hear someone talk about going on retreat.
Hear it enough and you might start considering trying it for yourself.
If the words “meditation retreat” make you think of a bearded hermit sitting cross-legged in a cave in the Himalayas, you can relax. These days, there are many group retreats offered for shorter periods of time, during which participants can enjoy expert guidance from a teacher and the supportive presence of other retreaters.
You can find retreats catering to all types. Beginner meditators or hard-core practitioners. Yoga lovers, nature lovers or horse lovers. Artists or writers looking for creative spark. Business people looking for personal and professional growth. Health-minded people looking for relaxation and self-care.
I could go on. Basically the list of more specialized retreats is endless, because the benefits of a meditation retreat can echo in so many different aspects of life.
Many people find amazing growth, healing and insights from time in retreat. If you’re wondering whether it’s right for you, read on to learn more about what to expect in a meditation retreat and how doing one just might change your life for the better.
Should I go to a meditation retreat?
When you tell your friends who don’t meditate that you’re going off the grid for 10 days to sit quietly and not do much else, usually the first thing they will ask is, “Why?”
You might be asking this yourself, if you feel a calling for retreat but you’ve never done one before and don’t know what to expect.
Maybe you’ve been thinking about it for a while but you were never quite ready yet to take the plunge. Or maybe you’re in that “I want to do it but I don’t know why I want it” place.
There are actually many reasons to take time out for spiritual practice. If any of these five situations seem familiar to you, you might enjoy and benefit from a meditation retreat.
You want to experience deep meditation
The primary reason for a meditation retreat is, naturally, to go deeper in meditation.
Here’s a common scenario for many people. You decide to start meditating, because you hear it’s good for stress reduction, out of curiosity or for whatever reason.
At first, it’s a bit of a struggle. You can’t sit still, your mind is racing all over the place, the clock is moving at a crawl. In a busy modern life, it’s hard to find time and energy for it, and your commitment to meditate every day becomes more like meditating when you get around to it sometimes.
After a while, you get the hang of it and start to be more consistent, but still, it feels like you’re on a plateau. Twenty-five minutes of your half-hour session is just trying to settle your mind and let go of thoughts and worries about the rest of the day. Isn’t there something more to this?
Yes! Much more. The problem is simply that the typical Western lifestyle doesn’t create the best conditions for deep states of meditation, especially if you’ve never experienced this before.
A retreat is a chance to get your foot in the door.
In a retreat setting, you have all the right ingredients to explore deep meditation: silence, long meditation sessions, expert guidance, inspiration from nature, and a break from all the fast-paced craziness of normal life.
A retreat is an opportunity to put meditation first, instead of just another activity to fit into your busy schedule. When you do this, your practice has the space to blossom.
You can experience true inner quiet, maybe for the first time ever. You can meet yourself in a whole new way. You can have a taste of what it is like to touch life directly.
When you go home afterwards, of course you’ll have to go back to meditating through stress and distractions. But you’ll probably find something has changed for good in your practice. Once that door is open, it’s much easier to find it again.
Don’t be nervous if you don’t yet have a solid practice or you think you can’t meditate for more than half an hour. At a meditation center where I used to live, many people who came for 10-day silent retreats had very little meditation experience (or none at all). By the end, they would all be sitting for two hours straight.
With the support of a quiet environment and your retreat colleagues, and without the distractions of daily life, you will surprise yourself.
You are longing to connect with nature
How often do you take time to enjoy the beauty of the natural world around you?
It goes without saying that most Western people are very disconnected from nature. Isolated from the rhythm of day and night by electric lighting, tethered to digital screens that demand our attention with 24/7 media, advertisements and notifications, many people will look at a beautiful flower for just long enough to take a picture of it for Instagram.
After a few days in retreat, this starts to change. When the mind becomes quiet, the heart and the mind start to open. You begin to see the beauty of nature, so simple and yet infinitely complex, as if for the first time.
It’s like going back to the eyes of a child who looks at the whole world with wonder and delight.
One of the most profound aspects of any retreat for me is reconnecting with nature. The beauty of a leaf, a rock, the sky or the wings of an ant is beyond words, if you are truly present for it.
So hug a tree. Hold a rock in your hands and feel its weight, its warmth where it’s been touched by the sun. Gaze at the stars like you’ve never seen them before. Walk barefoot and feel the pulse of Mother Earth.
Here at Diamond Mountain, miles from the nearest town, we can experience life at a different pace, more in step with the rhythms of nature. The land is actually full of life, home to a wide variety of plants and animals, and if you look closely you’ll see that the landscape is changing every day.
In fact, the landscape itself becomes a support for meditation. Contemplating the vast open sky, or the peace and stillness radiating from the hills, the mind naturally goes quiet. It’s a sweet reminder of how tuned in we are to our environment, even when we’re not aware of it.
You’re ready to detox from over stimulation
Text messages. Email. Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. Whatsapp. News feeds. Google Calendar.
All this stuff is supposed to save us time and make us feel more connected, but the result is often the opposite.
Constant exposure to attention-grabbing technology has many negative effects on our bodies and minds, some still anecdotal but some very well documented by science. These include higher risks of:
- Cell phone addiction
- Social isolation
- Distraction, even worsening symptoms of ADD/ADHD
Our culture is a culture of distraction, no doubt about it, especially if you factor in the hundreds of advertisements most people are exposed to on a daily basis.
You might not even notice how much energy it all drains from you, until the chatter is gone.
Giving up your digital connection for a week or so will first prove to you that yes, you really can live without it.
Then, you can enjoy a sense of deeper peace, quiet and relief for the duration of the retreat.
This time of quietness and interiorization gives your nervous system a chance to rest and recalibrate, returning to its natural balance.
What’s more, it allows you to discover the joy of silence. There is a profound and ineffable beauty in the world that can only be felt when the surface noise dies down. In the words of Rumi, the great Sufi poet, “When I am silent, I fall into the place where everything is music.”
You’re curious to discover new dimensions of yourself
The goal of meditation is to learn about yourself.
Mystics, saints and wise people of every tradition throughout the ages have taught that there is an essence of our being that’s beyond everything we think we know about ourselves, and once we have a glimpse of this essence, our whole understanding of the world will change.
Maybe this idea is drawing you to consider a meditation retreat, or maybe not. In any case, along the way meditation brings great insights into yourself and the way your mind works.
With so much introspection, suddenly you can see all your patterns, triggers and weird things lurking in your subconscious. Normally, this might be a little overwhelming. But inside the safe space of a retreat, you cultivate higher awareness, non-reactivity and self-compassion.
Instead of being pushed around by your patterns, you can accept them, understand them and start to transform them into something more positive.
You can also discover new and exciting aspects of yourself. You might reconnect to a sense of childlike joy, curiosity and excitement. Or you might reveal your own inner strength and determination.
Many retreaters will tell you that their time in retreat brings an opening of creativity, a flow of inspiration for art, music, poetry, and new direction in life. More on this in the next point…
You’re looking for insights about your life and your choices
After my first silent meditation retreat, I remember talking to my fellow participants at the end. I was surprised to find that many of them, like myself at the time, were young people in transition periods. They were between jobs, just out of relationships, thinking of moving, wanting to change direction in life, trying to figure out what they really wanted…
A retreat can provide a lot of clarity and sense of purpose. It can show you answers to questions you’ve been stuck on for a long time. If you feel generally “stuck” in life, it can give you a jumpstart.
These insights come without looking or asking for them directly. In fact, it’s better if you don’t go looking!
I’ve found that if you really need an answer, like an important decision that has to be made soon after the retreat, it’s best not to go looking for it. Instead, just set an intention before you go into retreat and try to put it out of mind.
Your mind, of course, will keep trying to chew on the question. Instead of following it, watch the thought come and go, reminding yourself that the answer will come on its own.
At the end of the retreat, check in with yourself about it. You might find that you can see it from a new perspective, and the path to take seems clear. (Be patient if this doesn’t happen immediately. Let it sit for a few days after the retreat while your experience integrates.)
I hope you have now a better picture of what you can expect in a retreat, and maybe some more inspiration to do one!
It’s true, meditation retreats aren’t for everyone, but they can bring amazing, even life-changing benefits. I’ve seen so many people go into their first retreat nervous and unsure of what will happen, and they come out the other side glowing with joy, relaxation, and a new sense of purpose and connection.
When you’re ready to try it out for yourself, check out the calendar of upcoming events at Diamond Mountain. Several group retreats take place here every year. We also offer beautiful, remote cabins to rent and full support for those who want to do a solo retreat. Feel free to contact us for any questions or advice.