Monday, August 22, 2011

Why would anyone go on a meditation retreat?

Carlin Green (on retreat with Abhidharma expert Sayalay Susila, August 2011)
Insight meditation master Pa Auk Sayadaw's chief female disciple, Sayalay Susila, gave a week long end-of-summer insight (vipassana) meditation retreat. This is Part 1 describing its benefits and the experience of various attendees.

BHAVANA SOCIETY, West Virginia - Many people desire to meditate but do not know where to start. Maybe they have already started and they do not know how to make progress. Perhaps they feel lost, unguided, and are beginning to to think, “I can’t do this by myself; I’m in over my head.”
  • Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche once said, “In the beginning, deciding to try the practice of meditation is just leaping to some conclusion about what to do. In doing the practice at the beginning, rather than really meditating, you just imagine that you are meditating. So to begin with, the whole practice is based on confusion.”
I felt that confusion for many months. My progress was slow, cluttered, and unclear. Then suddenly the opportunity to attend a retreat presented itself. I followed my intuition, desiring to deepen and strengthen my practice. I found myself on a five-day retreat in the mountains of West Virginia.

What is a retreat? Why would anyone want to attend one?

When one really yearns to know the way something happens or functions, what do they do? In sports, we use a slow-motion camera to break down and dissect the process, say, the batter’s swing.

Just so on retreat. The mind is allowed to slow down, to become clear and simple so we can see its many aspects. We do not need to worry about anything. We let go, leave our daily concerns behind. And like muddy water, the mind settles down. It becomes clearer and sharper as the clutter settles out.

Another wonderful benefit to going on retreat is constant access to a teacher. Someone is there to guide, to direct the practice in a very beneficial way. The confusion of not knowing what to do or how to do it is replaced by confidence in a tangible meditation practice.

Sayalay's PowerPoint presentation on Abhidharma

During a retreat, one is surrounded by like-minded people, walking the same path, providing one another inspiration and energy.

What is it not? A retreat is not some strange regimented religious "boot camp" forcing recruits to follow a set of austere rules.

A retreat is an incredibly caring, open, and friendly environment where retreatants' needs are met by people who genuinely care about the progress and well-being of participants. It is a place where one can make real progress watching the mind open up like an intricate bud unfolding in the nurturing sunlight.

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