If after reading my previous blog post on my 7 Life Lessons I Learned From a 7-Day Silent Retreat you feel inspired to attend a silent meditation retreat, or you found this blog post because you are going and you're looking for advice on how to plan for it - I'll give you my five cents. See this post as everything you need to know to rock your first retreat!
Silent retreats have gained more popularity over the past years, as the practice of mindfulness went mainstream a decade ago. Meditation is no longer a practice for only spiritual people or the ones seeking spiritual enlightenment. New studies show that meditation has become a mainstream activity and meditation has become amongst the most popular Mind and Body practices in the United States (with yoga and seeing a chiropractor).
What is a Meditation Retreat?
A meditation retreat is an opportunity to connect with yourself on a deeper level and to hear the callings of your soul. The goal is to be able to reach a deep level of personal reflection and self-discovery by removing all daily distractions. The daily schedule often includes several hours of meditation, anywhere from 5 hours to 12 hours per day. Meditation retreats are normally hosted somewhere away from the city buzz, in pristine nature with beautiful surroundings.
How to Prepare for a Silent Meditation Retreat
Follow these simple tips before you take off to make the most of your time at the silent retreat.
Get Clear on Your Reasons for Why You Want to Attend
You're thinking about signing up for a silent meditation retreat or already signed up for a reason, so get clear on what it is! Why do you want to attend? Also reflect on what you hope to gain from the experience. It's important to have a list of your whys, because there will be days when the experience feels tough and hard and your mind is trying to convince you to leave early. Remembering your reasons for why you attended the retreat in first place will give you so much more power to push forward.
Start Waking Up Earlier
During the retreat you will wake up early, so in order to make the first days of waking up so much easier - start doing it already at home. Adjust your sleep schedule by waking up around 5AM.
Carve Out More Quiet Time and Space in Your Daily Life
Allow your mind and nervous system to calm down already now, and allow yourself to just be, without feeling the need to constantly be doing something. Be without music or the radio on, without watching TV, looking at your phone or laptop, and without even reading a book. The thought of unplugging from modern life can feel frightening, but chances are that it will prove to be more than worth it and that afterwards you’d like to do it even more often!
Start Meditating at Home or Increase Your Daily Meditation Time!
This one is important, because it's called a meditation retreat for a reason. Whatever meditation retreat you’re going to attend, there will be a lot of sitting involved. Some retreats do 12 hours a day while some do 5 hours a day. While many meditation retreats don’t require you to have a meditation practice before attending, it will make things easier for you. Find a place at home where you can sit on the floor or a yoga mat in a cross-legged position, and support yourself with pillows. If you’re completely new to meditation, start by sitting still for 10 minutes a day and extend the time period from there. If you already have a daily meditation practice, just start by gradually increasing the time you sit in meditation.
If you realize that it’s painful to sit in the same position for a long time, don’t worry! Please don’t make this the reason for why you cannot attend a meditation retreat, because at the meditation retreat you won’t meditate for more than one hour at a time and if needed you are always allowed to adjust your posture. Keep in mind that if you don’t have the proper meditation cushions that they normally provide at meditation retreats, it might be more challenging to meditate for longer periods of time at home compared to what the experience will be at the retreat. This shouldn’t be an excuse or stop you from getting started already at home, though!
Make a Plan Beforehand
Since you’re not going to be using any devices during the whole time at the silent retreat, it’s crucial to take care of all the details before you leave. Because once you find yourself in silence at the retreat, it’s highly likely that fearful thoughts show up. You will start thinking of that friend you forgot to call, the colleague you didn’t reply back to, the bill you forgot to pay, if your children and pets are doing alright, etc. Double check that all bills are paid beforehand. Talk with your partner or friends and have a backup plan if something shows up while you’re away, so that they can take care of the responsibilites. Let everyone know that you’ll be gone for X amount of days - so that you get peace of mind and they know you’re alright if they don’t hear from you for days. It’s also a good idea to have a few days off in your calendar after you get back home from the retreat, for an easy return and time for introspection.
List of Your Must Bring Items
This is not a complete list of the items you must bring to the retreat. I mean you already know to bring your toiletries, a towel, bed linen, warm and comfortable clothes, right? The following items are the ones that might not be so obvious, but they will make your days better and easier at the retreat!
If you normally wear contact lenses, bring your eye glasses! I learned this lesson the hard way. My eye sight had drastically got worse a few months before the retreat, and so I had not been able to get new eye glasses that matched my new prescription yet. So I only packed contact lenses for the retreat. I soon came to realize that it was a big mistake. If you attend a meditation retreat it's inevitable that you'll be sitting in meditation for hours every day, no matter what type of meditation retreat it is. If you wear contact lenses it will feel like you have sand paper in your eyes at the end of the day. Bringing your eye glasses, that you can easily take off and put next to your meditation cushion while meditating will just be so much more comfortable.
You will receive a schedule to follow each day, so you want to keep track of the time. They will ring the bell when the meditations start, but sometimes the sound can be super soft and subtle, so it’s easy to miss it. To save you from stress and worry, just bring a watch. I used my mobile phone as a watch, because I’m super good at resisting temptations. But I don’t recommend using your mobile phone, especially if you’re easily tempted to then use it.
After sitting in the same position in meditation for hours per day, your body will sooner or later start aching. My lower back, shoulders and knees started hurting on the third day. That’s when you want to have something at hand so that you can help relieve the pain. I personally try to avoid using pain killers and instead go for topical creams. That’s why I LOVE Tiger Balm. Tiger Balm contains natural ingredients like camphor and menthol that give a cooling sensation, as well as several essential oils. It smells super nice too, you just don’t want to get it in your eyes! You can also bring some normal cooling gel.
Bring shoes that are easy to slip on and off, like sandals. You’ll have to take them off every time you enter the meditation hall, and put on again once the meditation is over. This one I also learnt the hard way. I didn’t bring anything but proper shoes that were difficult to put on without a shoe horn - and it turned out to be a huge mistake.
I hope you found this blog post informative and helpful. If you have already signed up for a meditation retreat or are thinking about signing up for a specific one, I would love to hear which one you're going to! Just comment below and I'll get back to you 💜