Everyone from Oprah to Russell Brand is doing it, why aren’t you?
I’m talking about meditation. In general, Buddhism comprises a way of living peacefully and in happiness while respecting others. But, a large part of this way of living includes practicing regular meditation, which in recent years, has seen an explosion of individuals praising its benefits about being more peaceful, accepting, and content.
There are phrases being thrown around such as: “being present”, “be in the now”, and “are you mindful?”.
There are many books and online resources that teach meditation and praise its benefits (see here and here, for instance). But in this article, I’ll talk about why going on a meditation retreat for several days can be a very effective way of learning how to meditate.
Selecting a Meditation Practice
What type of meditation practice will you choose though? One of the most popular, Vipassana, is a very well known technique that offers ten day retreats to teach new students how to meditate completely free of charge. The foundation runs purely on support from those who have previously attended courses, and only asks for a donation if a student deems that the teaching was worthwhile at the end of a retreat. There are centres all around the world, so it is usually easy to find one near you.
I know there are other types such as transcendental meditation, which Arnold Schwarzenegger sings the praises of. I just found Vipassana first, and it works well for me. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I’m sure other ones offer great benefits as well.
Why Should You Go on a Retreat? Will It Help You Learn How to Meditate?
Is it really worth running away to a retreat for ten whole days, though? I argue yes, as there are several benefits:
1. You can focus.
The meditation retreats take place in secluded areas. You cannot check your phone, answer e-mails, or contact those that are not at the retreat. In fact, you cannot even talk to anyone AT the retreat unless you need to speak to an instructor or a course counsellor! This allows you to focus on only learning the proper meditation techniques without being interrupted by an annoying cell phone call.
2. There is peace and quiet in a positive environment.
You often stay in isolated, forested areas. Of course depending on the centre, you may be sleeping in a dormitory, tent, or private room. But, the surroundings are very peaceful and give you space from the hustle and bustle of the fast-paced life most of us are living everyday. Moreover, everyone there wants to be happier and more at peace with life, so you get a huge boost from being amidst like minded individuals.
3. Your needs are taken care of.
While you need to bring your own clothes and toiletries, amazing food is cooked and provided for you. No stress here!
4. Learned instructors are present.
The instructors at meditation retreats have usually undergone strict training and are used to getting common questions that many students face when beginning to meditate. They can help you overcome problems, strengthen your practice, and provide support during difficult moments. You can’t get that when reading the text of a web page or a book.
5. The focus is on practice, not theory.
While the technique is clearly explained and there are one hour nightly discourses on Buddhist principles, the focus is on actually APPLYING what you learn. The majority of your day is dedicated to practicing meditation, not reading a book.
6. You do not have to accept any religious rights and can still remain in whatever religion you are a part of.
Just because you are going on a Buddhist retreat, it does not mean you have to become a Buddhist or start praising Buddah. In fact, some of the first things you are told are that a) you can still remain in whatever religion you chose to, and b) you can reject any of the teachings if you desire and just use the meditation technique to become more peaceful.
7. You can always leave at any time.
Just because you sign and show up for a retreat, doesn’t mean they’ll take your first born child if you want to leave. If you decide that the retreat is too intense, you are free to leave at any time and can figure out a new way to learn meditation that might be less intense!
Finding Information about Vipassana Meditation Retreats
I personally have found Vipassana retreats to be extremely beneficial and have been to two so far. I plan on going on one every year, and combining it with my travels to go to centres around the world.
If you are looking for a way to get started into meditation and learning how to calm your mind, I highly recommend you find the centre closest to you. You can find out more about Vipassana meditation and the retreats at: https://www.dhamma.org/.