I have been personally pretty lucky with the whole COVID19 thing. A lot of my corporate and schools work has been cancelled or postponed, but I still have my coaching and therapy work and am still at Monash University. I know a lot of people are doing it much tougher, and my heart goes out to them when I see them on the news or tune into them during meditation.
“Why not take this time to do a silent home meditation retreat? I mean, we don’t need to fly overseas – or go anywhere, for that matter – to sit in silence and deepen our meditation practice?”
One of the biggest disappointments for me personally has been the travel ban, which means I had to cancel a meditation retreat I was planning to attend in New York later this year with Adyashanti. Adya has become my go-to meditation teacher and I went to his retreat at the idyllic Omega Institute in the foothills of the Catskills last October. The ground was covered in red and yellow leaves and there were deer, squirrels, skunks and even a groundhog running around in the retreat centre (well, sitting around eating apples, in the case of the groundhog). And the teaching and meditation was…well…beyond words.
It is a VERY long way to go just for do a retreat for a week, but it was so epic I booked in again this year. And then of course, to paraphrase John Lennon, COVID happened while I was making other plans.
But as I wrote in my last post, I am using this involuntary global pause to look within and remember what is truly important. I am hearing the same thing all the time from my clients and friends, too – that they are spending more time with the people who matter, recommencing hobbies like cooking and painting that had been forgotten. And, of course, meditating more.
Now I have a pretty solid meditation practice anyway. I sit every morning for 30 minutes, and then do mini-meditations throughout the day. But I love the stillness and clarity that comes from doing longer meditations. Apart from the fact that it is just nice to get away from distractions, quieten down and let the mind get super still, it is really important to do this from time to time. These moments give rise to profound insights into how the mind works, seeing through the matrix of noisy thoughts and distracting emotions, and glimpsing our true nature.
Those of you who have done retreats will know what I am talking about. If you haven’t, I strongly urge you to find out. Once we have these deep moments of insight, the reason for meditating changes. It becomes less about calming down or being more focused and productive, and more about waking up from the egoic trance that we are so caught up in we often don’t even realise we are in its grip.
So…home retreats. I had been thinking about doing one for a while, but with the cancellation of one of my all-time favourite festivals ConFest over the Easter weekend, suddenly I had a number of days with nothing to do. And so I thought: Why not take this time to do a silent home meditation retreat? I mean, we don’t need to fly overseas – or go anywhere, for that matter – to sit in silence and deepen our meditation practice?
So I set up a schedule (download the PDF: Home Retreat Schedule) and downloaded some 1-hour meditation teachings and meditation. I used some of Adyashantis, but you could choose any teacher who speaks to you. Many of the great meditation teachers around the world are putting out free content right now – with some of them even running free online retreats! – so it’s pretty easy to find this stuff. I will put some links below to people I recommend.
Then I just watched/listened to the teachings, did some guided meditations, read some of Adyashanti’s articles, and enjoyed being in silence with clear minds for three days. My partner Elisa and I enjoyed it so much, in fact, that when Sunday afternoon arrived, we decided to do another two days. Thank you, Coronavirus!
I might write in more detail about my experiences of the retreat in another post sometime, but for now I will say this. The theme of the retreat was getting in touch with the deepest parts of our being – the still, quiet awareness that is always, already present – and then exploring how that part of ourselves moves and interacts in the world. This was a powerful practice of integration. There were moments of incredibly deep insight, but the rubber hits the road when we bring these “off the cushion” (or chair) into the everyday moments – cooking, eating, walking, etc.
But that was my journey. Yours might look entirely different.
But I can’t encourage you enough to set aside some time – half a day, a day, a weekend, whatever you can – to do a retreat. And to do it in silence. Deepening your practice will have a wonderful effect on your life, relationships and your ongoing meditation practice.
Here are some tips for making it happen:
- Print the schedule (or make your own) and stick it to the fridge.
- Decide if you are going to be in total silence (recommended) which includes no eye contact, partial silence (what I did) which allows only necessary communication (“Shall we go to the park in the break / What shall we make for lunch?” kind of questions), or with normal talking.
- Recruit friends or family members to join you. Even though you may be in silence, it is a wonderful experience to share with people you care about.
- Download or bookmark some teachings you like and some guided meditations.
Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield are currently running a free online retreat. Tara is one of my all-time favourite teachers. Her book Radical Acceptance fundamentally changed my relationship with myself 5 or 6 years ago and I can’t recommend her highly enough.
My friend Elise Bialylew runs Mindful in May, a month-long meditation challenge that provides daily meditations and teachings from leading teachers around the world, and raises money to provide clean water for those who don’t have it! These resources would be another excellent way of doing a retreat.
- If you are new to meditation, start small. I did up to 5 hours a day on my retreat, but you could start with 2 or 3 and see how that goes.
- Spend time outside (if weather and laws permit this) and do everyday tasks such as chores and eating with mindful awareness. Notice how this transforms each moment.
- Be prepared for discomfort, boredom and difficult emotions to arise. Be kind to yourself, relate to them mindfully as much as possible, and stop and take breaks if needed. Heartfulness practices such as Tara Brach’s or Sharon Salzberg’s lovingkindness meditations can also come in very useful when facing difficult emotions or agitation.