There are so many different types of retreats to choose from these days.
From the personal to the group. From silence to singing your heart out in kirtan. From sitting in your local centre to the far corners of the globe.
The type of retreat we are most familiar with here at Spiritual Quest Adventures is those of a Tibetan Buddhist variety. As our gift to you seekers out there we recently requested a friend of ours to share her experiences of a silent personal retreat in a Tibetan nunnery in Northern India. And here is what she had to say…
“High up in the Himalaya’s is a little Buddhist nunnery you’ve never heard of in a little Indian village you’ve never heard of. Getting there from New Delhi takes 12 to 14 hours, depending on how “good” your bus driver is and you must climb up through the mountains around hairpin turns, roads that weren’t meant for two lane traffic and yet are, and cliff drops so sheer, you’re glad it’s a night bus and you can’t see.
In short, you really have to want to be here.
And I mean that physically and spiritually.
The Tibetan Buddhist nunnery that I have arrived at is a small but powerful place. I have come for five months to retreat and learn. But this type of retreating is not what you might picture as a Westerner. While the awesomeness of Himalaya’s and the quant rural setting make for a beautiful backdrop, and while the Sangha (community) is warm, open, and dedicated, this is not necessarily an “unwind and destress” retreat situation.
Retreats are flexible in how you shape them, as they need to be meaningful to the individual. You determine the length of time as well as choose a text or theme to follow. A person can choose whatever topic most appeals to them and their lives.
I chose a standard approach for my first seven day retreat. My day began at 5:00 a.m. as Tibetan Buddhists believe it is important to have your first meditation session of the day prior to sunrise. To prepare my mind I swept my room each morning and cleaned up any clutter. It is this focus on mindfulness and awareness, in all daily tasks, that really have an impact over the course of the retreat.
My goal was to have four 90-minute meditation sessions each day. One hour of reading followed by 30 minutes of meditation on the topic that was studied. A teacher once gave me the advice to approach my activities, including retreat, as the Tibetans do – thinking of a grain of barley.
The shape of the grain is small at both ends and thick in the middle. Meaning: start small, work your way to a full day, and then gradually taper off toward the end. This helps to take the pressure off of “accomplishing” and “doing” and allows you to ease into the mental and emotional space of retreat.
Perhaps the most important part of a Tibetan Buddhist retreat is silence. I spent each day in silence, with most meals delivered to my room. I myself went to the dining hall for breakfast, as a way to be seen once a day, but I remained in silence during this time. For me, this silence helped to create space in my mind and body to open up to the lessons and messages in my meditations.
This type of retreating is not easy and requires, among other things, discipline. Your focus doesn’t have to be Buddhist in nature, but it is important that you want to work, or as the Tibetan Buddhists say, “do your practice.”
I struggled with 5:00 a.m. wake up times, I struggled physically with sitting in meditation so long, I struggled with motivation to stick to the routine and basic schedule that I set for myself. Sometimes I struggled with the negative emotions and thought patterns that came up in meditation.
The most powerful aspect of doing my practice during these seven days was living my daily intention. Each day I thought about my motivation for retreating: to heal myself so that I can go out into the world to help others.
After each session I offered up whatever I had learned or gained to the benefit of all other humans; that through my work I might help to ease the suffering experienced by another. I dedicated my time to the way of the Bodhichitta: the compassionate spiritual warrior.”
If you would like to join us in India on retreat and experience similar for yourself be sure to join our mailing list by inputting your details at the top of this page or email us.