I’m finally attending a personal Buddhist retreat for the first time. I’ll be staying for a couple of days since I’m coming from out of town. Is there any advice you would give a first-time attendee?
Read the first and second tetrads (steps 1-12) of the Anapanasati sutta (Majhima Nikaya 118), and try to identify some of the components during the retreat. Particular attention should be paid to the relationship between the breath and the body (step 3).
I’ll have to take time read this, thank you.
Work out a comfortable sitting posture, where your back/spine remains naturally erect; so to avoid physical discomfort distracting your meditation.
Good question! I’m sure you’ll get lots of interesting responses. Mine is more banal.
At a recent (winter time) retreat it seemed everyone was wearing those puffer jackets. They actually make a great deal of noise - swoosh swish swoosh, everytime someone changes position, gets hot and takes it off, or walks in /out, it was like a full scale synthetic symphony! So although this is probably not the kind of advice you’re looking for, I think it’s a good thing to know that softer, natural fabrics tend to make less noise and will disturb others around you less
Other things we probably don’t pay attention to in our daily life that can impact others is ticking watches and watches that beep every hour. Although a little noise is fine to work with, there are so few truly quiet places in the world left so it’s good to be aware of how we impact others on retreat when people’s minds get quite sensitive and a cough or sneeze seems like a jet plane!
Oh my goodness, I can’t imagine. I hope it’s a bit cool up north since it’s getting up to 95 degrees here. I don’t want to go to the other extreme, you know?
Relax, and enjoy the experience. It took me a while to learn this.
I was on a retreat a couple of weeks ago, and after a while I started taking my jacket off before returning to the hall. We were walking outside and I definitely needed the jacket out there (see the snow blowing off the hills in the photo below ) but the hall was warm.
That’s breathtaking. How long did you stay? I think we can only stay for a week but the person I spoke with at the monastery said it would be better to stay a couple of days as a beginner.
You might notice some reactions arise in relationship to being on a retreat. For me, I get very excited when I arrive. This lasts to when I first sit down to meditate. This is usually followed by feeling overwhelming boredom and like I made the biggest mistake coming on a retreat. It takes me a while to settle into the rhythm.
So my suggestion would be to notice your thoughts and reactions without taking them too seriously. Having a negative thought or emotion doesn’t make it true.
A personal practice is to take a notebook and jot down the main hindrance(s) [desire, aversion, sloth, restlessness, doubt] I was experiencing during each meditation session. I find I often deal with a lot of aversion at first - stuff I’m carrying around from life outside the retreat -and then as I get into it most of the hindrances come from energy being too high (restlessness) or low (sloth). Anyway, I find the notebook helps keep my effort focused. (The first retreats I went to I spent a lot of time sitting and daydreaming/fantasizing. I suspect a number of meditators start there, so if it happens don’t stress. )
Enjoy the experience!
Thank you. I have a big feeling that’s exactly how it will go. You know me well. I didn’t know if we were allowed to bring a notebook with us but thought it wasn’t a big issue to ask since I can just tuck it away just in case they say no. I was looking up hindrances this morning, that and the four defilements-greed, aversion, hatred, and delusion. I collect all of this information but applying it is ever so slow. We have mountains out this way. I hope its deep in the woods where you can see them. I’d probably be outside most of the time if not tired from the work they said they’d give us.
This was a one week retreat with lay teachers at a facility beside the mountains run by a church group. There is native forest (“Bush” in Australasian…) on one side, and farms over the road.
I have also done a number of retreats at my local Thai Monastery. I think doing a weekend for a start is a good idea. You should be fine, but it takes time to get used to the Monastery environment (e.g. not eating after noon) as well at the retreat process, so a short stay gives you a taste that you can process for next time, when it will feel much more familiar.
It’s hard to give more advice without knowing whether you’ve spent some time visiting previously and what the teachers are going to do, and what the expectations are. When I do a retreat at the Monastery I attend the morning and evening chanting, and chat with one of the monks a little after the evening chanting, but otherwise set my own pace. But if you are new to it, you might benefit from more imposed structure.
" " Breathing in long, he discerns, ‘I am breathing in long’; or breathing out long, he discerns, ‘I am breathing out long.’  Or breathing in short, he discerns, ‘I am breathing in short’; or breathing out short, he discerns, ‘I am breathing out short.’  He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in sensitive to the entire body.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out sensitive to the entire body.’  He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in calming bodily fabrication.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out calming bodily fabrication.’—MN 118
Here is audio describing the third step, beginning at 7.23:
Pack earplugs. Some people snore.
There were large dormitories at one retreat centre I used to attend, and quite a lot of snorers. They seemed to do shifts throughout the night, one starting as one stopped. Not a good place for a light sleeper like myself.
Setting your own pace is good advice. On longer retreats I would sometimes skip the afternoon meditation and go for a long walk instead. Truancy!
Just remember, everyone there wants you to be happy! Enjoy the love, and have a great time.
Oh goodness. I’ll definitely bring earplugs.
Sad news. I can’t stay overnight because the abbot feels my seizures are medical emergencies when they’re not. I know many people are afraid when they hear that word. I had to put it down on the application. I can’t go there for a day since I’m coming out of state. The travel isn’t worth it.
There’s another monetary but it’s also about a four hour ride without traffic. I wonder if they’d say the same thing.