For many of us, going to a meditation retreat center is a time to deepen our meditation practice, away from the distractions and responsibilities of daily life. It can also help us to get back into a regular meditation practice if our daily sitting practice is a bit sporadic!
There are so many meditation retreat centers to choose from. Let’s start with looking at some of the different things that different centers offer.
Austerity Centers differ greatly in their level of ‘austerity’. Some centers offer a luxurious holiday style meditation ‘vacation’ while others have a tougher program, perhaps requiring getting up at 3am with no food after midday (abstaining from food in the afternoon assists in the cultivation of a tranquil mind, allowing deeper meditation to develop)
Food: We will usually have our food prepared for us at a retreat center, sparing us from the usual daily responsibilities of cooking and shopping for food. (This may be either a very simple or a more luxurious menu, depending on the retreat and I have even heard of a retreat center serving meat!) – so it’s worth finding out what kind of food is served.
Silence: Some meditation retreat centers require silence for the entire retreat, or just for certain days of it. Some retreats offer a hermit style isolation, with someone bringing food once a day to avoid social distractions. Surrendering our cellphone to staff (this is required at some meditation retreat centers) can spare us from the distraction of personal or work related interruptions to our meditative peace – if this is a big deal to you for whatever reason, choose accordingly!
Chores: We usually don’t have to go to work on retreat (unless there are chores to do around the center – sometimes known as karma yoga) but we certainly get a break from the daily work that we usually do.
Accomodation: Some retreats offer dormitory accomodation, some have private rooms with or without shared bathrooms (These may be twin or single) Some have hot water, some cold water only, some have showers, some are bucket bath only. If this is a big deal to you, again, choose accordingly!
Religious Observances, Location, Language: Some meditation retreat centers are religious in nature, with chants and observances and some are without any religious affiliation. Some centers are urban and some are in beautiful countryside or mountain locations. If travelling overseas to a meditation retreat, there may be multi lingual staff or teachers, or you may need to speak a certain language to benefit fully.
Choose a meditation retreat center that appeals to where you are in your practice. If you’re starting out in meditation , why not try a short retreat (either a fee paying one or donation only) or a holiday style retreat if you can afford it (not necessarily any better of course, in terms of what benefits you will take away from the experience!) Do your research to see what’s available. There will be something to suit everyone. If you are more advanced in your practice, for example if you’ve done a retreat before or attended lots of meditation classes, why not try a 10 day silent retreat (or longer) – it’s so worth doing (and so hard to find the time!) One thing is certain – the benefits of whichever meditation retreat you choose will be there to enjoy until the next time!
By Mia Randall of MiaRandall.com – Author of Meditation Motivation – A Quick Tour of Buddhism and 20 Easy Tips to Create a Daily Practice