Meditation retreats are a wonderful way to “unplug” from the hectic pace of modern life.
Many people have traveled to exotic ashrams to experience a meditation retreat, but it’s not necessary to do that.
You have several options when you want to decompress, enhance your spiritual practice, connect with your inner self, re-energize and rejuvenate, or just experience deeper relaxation than you can normally get.
In fact, you don’t even have to leave home… but we’ll get to that later!
Meditation retreats can be done solo, as a couple, or with a group of friends – but beware of the different dynamics of all three! It’s tempting to make a social scene out of a retreat if you go with friends, if you are not all 100% on board with the same intention for the retreat. You don’t want to hinder your experience just for the pleasure of having a familiar face with you.
The same goes for taking a retreat with your significant other – be on the same page! For example if one of you just wants to relax while the other is intent on elevating themselves spiritually, you might not enjoy doing the same practices or types of retreats.
So – what really happens at a meditation retreat? Many myths surround meditation retreats, so before you decide that this is or isn’t for you, let’s explore some of them.
1. Myth: Meditation is a hippy-dippy-spiritual thing where you have to wear crystals and chant. No! Meditation is an ancient practice, and just because some people feel the need to wear crystals and chant, doesn’t mean you have to.
Some retreats do encourage chanting, but it is often done silently – the sounds are all in your mind! When you’re considering a particular retreat, just ask… and if what they offer doesn’t resonate with you, or you’re uncomfortable with some of their practices, then don’t go – there are many options!
2. Myth: You might be in the wrong group because you are ‘less enlightened’ or less experienced than others at the retreat. That’s just your ego talking! Meditation, and enlightenment, is NOT a race.
Come to a retreat because of your own unique desires, needs and intentions – and don’t worry about where anyone else is, on their journey. Their journey is their journey and you don’t need to concern yourself with their journey.
There is no finish line, there is no prize for becoming enlightened first and there is no glory in knowing that you can silence your mind but your neighbour cannot. Meditation retreats cater to both brand-new beginners and people who have been meditating for many years. All are welcome!
3. Myth: You must follow a weird diet when you’re there – or go vegan. Not true. Being vegan is just too strict for most people. Many meditation retreats will offer vegetarian cuisine, or offer Ayurvedic-based meals, or local cuisine that can even include meat.
4. Myth: You have to abstain from your favorite indulgences at the retreat (chocolate, alcohol, coffee or sex). Again, not true. Meditation isn’t about taking anything away from your life – it’s about adding to it!
While many retreats may be strict about alcohol, smoking or other habits that don’t encourage health, you can find ones that fit quite nicely into your lifestyle.
5. Myth: you have to take a vow of silence, and/or be serious all the time. No! Life is not meant to be serious, and certainly meditation is not serious. Yes, there are people to whom it’s a very serious practice, but if you find something funny and burst out laughing… and others are offended by it, just remember, it’s their problem, and not yours. Laughter is essential for life!
Now that we have dispelled some common myths, where do you go to find a meditation retreat that works for you? The Internet, of course! There are many options ranging from extremely spartan to incredibly luxurious.
Most retreats are located in stunning natural settings that encourage movement, some can be considered more as spas than others, and most offer a choice of duration and various levels of instruction.
But… the downside is, these retreats can be quite expensive, ranging from an all-inclusive $110/day to $700/day or more!
If your budget doesn’t allow, and you don’t feel like going camping (which, if you pick your camp spots well, can be a completely peaceful, relaxing experience)… you can create your own mini-retreat in the comfort of your own home.
Hire someone or ask a family member or friend to take your children and pets away for a weekend, or week. Instruct the caregiver to not call you at all unless it’s an emergency – and tell all of your friends, family and colleagues to do the same.
It’s best to do a retreat in a very clean home, so you’re not tempted by chores – unless you want to practice mindfulness meditation while cleaning!
Unplug, and preferably remove, your computer, TV and any other electronic distractions except your MP3 or CD player, if you wish to enjoy music during your retreat.
Prep your home – what makes you feel like you’re at a retreat: Candles? Bubble bath? A certain type of cuisine? Specific music? Fresh, spa-quality towels and robes? Splurge on this stuff – you can find what you need, if you do a little searching, and these details can make all the difference.
Set a schedule for yourself and set parameters. If you wish to take a vow of silence, for example, and you’re doing this retreat with your spouse or a friend, make sure that you both agree to hold to a vow of silence.
If you want to meditate 3x a day for an hour, then set that expectation and make sure that the time between your meditation sessions is filled with activities you wish to partake in – again, so that you don’t get distracted by everyday stuff like taking out the trash or suddenly wanting to redecorate your bedroom. Unless you choose to do these things, of course…
You can purchase books to read or various spiritual courses to watch as part of your retreat, if you want. You can decide that all of your time when you’re not meditating, will be spent in nature. You choose!
It’s very helpful to map out your home-retreat days: what time will you wake up, what will you have for breakfast, when will you do your meditation, what will you do when you’re not meditating, when will you go to sleep, what will you eat during the day, what (if any) indulgences will you allow yourself, etc. You’re in full control – and you can take a lot of inspiration from what meditation retreats offer their guests.
So whether you want to do a luxurious retreat in a beautiful exotic setting or make your home into a weekend or week-long retreat, the choice is yours to make it incredibly meaningful and wonderful!
We would love to hear your thoughts on meditation retreats in the comments area below!