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Reflecting on my at home meditation retreat
I spent 4 days doing a meditation retreat at home. Previously, I had applied to attend 10-day formal vipassana retreats through dhamma.org. Sadly, due to Covid, I wasn't able to go. Seeing that I now had some free time off university, I decided to try to do a retreat at home. I chose to use an on demand video series from Insight Meditation Society. It's pretty cool that you can now practice so easily with famous teachers such as Goldstein and Salzberg online. Before I started, I searched around a bit for advice. The two sources I used were this article on Medium and this article from well known teacher Tara Brach.
There were only few rules, adapted from that first article:
Talk as little as possible
Be gentle with yourself
Not using my phone wasn't hard for me, I just turned it off and didn't think much about it. I'd guess that was due to me having a strong stance against social media anyways, so I'm always glad to not use my phone. Of course, I used my laptop to view the videos with the guided meditations and dharma talks.
I live in a shared apartment, so I communicated with my flatmates that I wouldn't talk to them for 4 days. They were supportive of my plan, even though none of them are practitioners themselves.
I used the following suggested schedule from the course:
10:00 AM – 11:30 AM (1.5 hours) Sharon Salzberg
1:00 PM – 1:45 PM (45 minutes) Andrea Castillo
4:00 PM – 5:30 PM (1.5 hours) Joseph Goldstein
7:00 PM – 7:45 PM (45 minutes) Andrea Castillo
In between the guided sitting meditations, I mostly used walking meditation. I feel like you need to get the hang of that at first, but I ended up really enjoying it. In the end, I did about 3 hours of meditation per day and then also a few hours of listening to the dharma talks.
Besides meditating and listening to dharma talks, there were a few other things I did. Every evening I did a simple stretching routine, which felt good after sitting most of the day. Also, I wrote in my journal before going to bed, something I do everyday. On two occasions, I went for a run. With enough mindfulness, those count as a meditation as well. What I recommend to everyone who wants to try an at home meditation retreat: Go for walks. It is no coincidence that all formal retreat centers are surrounded by beautiful nature. To mimic this, I went for mindful walks in the local park and forest.
Of course, one also needs to eat and drink. The day before the retreat, I prepared a bunch of food so I didn't need to cook much. It is fascinating how much more enjoyable drinking tea is when you just put enough attention to it.
On the evening of the second day, I cheated once and took a quick look at my email inbox. I was expecting a response from a job application and didn't want to leave them waiting.
There were a couple of times where I didn't pull through with my vow of noble silence. It primarily happened when I opened the door for a visitor of my flatmates and didn't want to face the social awkwardness of wildly gesticulating to them that I wasn't going to open my mouth.
I didn't worry much about these incidents of "rule breaking" because they fall under being gentle with yourself. It would defeat the point of meditation to be angry with oneself for not adhering perfectly to the rules.
One thing I would do differently next time is not to read. In the evenings, when I was already tired, I allowed myself to read a bit on my Kindle. The first two days, this was no problem, as I fell asleep very quickly anyways. On the evening of the third day, my book suddenly became so thrilling that I spent hours reading and felt my mind becoming much more restless again. In hindsight, reading should also fall under the category of no stimulation through the Internet etc., at least for me.
It is amazing how your ability to listen to your body increases, when you're not distracting yourself with your phone. The first two evenings especially, I felt my body growing incredibly tired. The days before the retreat, I had missed some sleep and I felt that fatigue much more viscerally than I normally would. My mind definitely became pretty calm and concentrated at some points. Also, in my sittings on the days following the retreat, I felt this effect carry over. I was able to progress much more mindfully through my daily practice.