Mindful

1) What’s the Setting?

Urban-ish or rustic, vegetarian or vegan, silent or guided, beach or mountain, solitary or group—retreats come in all shapes and types. Make sure you like the space and geographical area. Find out whether the retreat center is aligned with your values. Are there chairs suitable for meditating in? Are you OK with doing some volunteer work during the retreat?

Find out whether the retreat center is aligned with your values. Are there chairs suitable for meditating in? Are you OK with doing some volunteer work during the retreat?

2) Who’s the Teacher?

Because of the huge range of teachers and retreats, you need to be sure you align with the teacher’s philosophy. If you’re skeptical of religion and wary of spiritual talk, say, look for a teacher who emphasizes secular values. Do a bit of research to make sure the teacher is respected in the meditation community. Talk to him or her. Do you feel an affinity for the way she speaks about meditation and mindfulness? Does she appear to have your best interests at heart?

3) What’s Your Level of Experience?

We won’t kid you: Spending the bulk of a day in silent meditation with people you don’t know can be challenging, especially in the first few days. But once you get the hang of it, it can be deeply rewarding—regardless of how long you’ve been meditating. If you’re still on the fence, start small with a day or weekend. If you’ve been experiencing depression, anxiety, or a post-traumatic disorder, consult a professional before going on a retreat.

If you’re still on the fence, start small with a day or weekend.

4) What’s the Expectation?

You’re sure to feel your mind has gone off the rails, racing from thought to thought without apparent control or logic. Feelings of bodily discomfort are common, as are feelings of joy and insight. For those who are new to this, sitting and walking in silence—even avoiding eye contact—can seem strained or unnatural. And yet, it’s the very sharing of silence that makes the experience so transformative. And don’t forget to expect the unexpected.

5) What’s the Intention?

Ask yourself: Why do I want to go on a retreat? What do I want to get out of it? Review the retreat’s program so you have a sense of what its aims are. But don’t worry about preparing yourself too well. The staff, and your fellow meditators, will form a support system to address whatever questions or fears you might have. A not-knowing quality—a beginner’s mind—may be key to a remarkable experience.

This sidebar appeared in a feature from the April 2017 issue of Mindful magazine titled, “A House That Won’t Blow Down.” To get immediate access to the full article, subscribe to the digital edition

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How to Choose a Meditation Instructor

Teo Furtado

Teo Furtado is a contributing editor to Mindful magazine.

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