Every retreat has its own flavor for its participants, both individually and collectively. Our Spring Renewal retreat was mostly smooth sailing with a dedicated and focused group of practitioners. After Thursday’s hard afternoon rains most participants were able to arrive in time for our 7 p.m. meditation. For the rest of the retreat we enjoyed sunny, although somewhat chilly spring weather.
At our previous retreat, the site still needed cleaning when we arrived and a few of us pitched in to insure the facilities were ready. This time, to our great appreciation, the camp manager spared no effort in assuring we arrived to spotless facilities. At this retreat people really wanted to sit — usually most everyone was in place a good five minutes before each session’s start time. I had the feeling that some would have happily stayed on for additional practice days, schedule permitting.
Self-compassion is vital during the early hours and days of meditation retreats, when participants are adjusting to the silence and intentional lack of external distraction. Often people feel that they are alone in their struggles, possibly doing it wrong, even imagining that others are swimming through the hours with joy and ease. “Comparing mind” rears up and leads to self-criticism and even self-loathing for some. At this vital point, learning to extend compassion to all parts of ourselves, especially the broken, pained and imperfect, can soften the heart and mind enough to accommodate our immediate experience. Then the resistance begins to ease, just as Buddha taught. This allows us to settle into the practice, to truly appreciate this moment just as it is.
Some people struggled a bit with the walking mediation, which is pretty normal at Vipassana style retreats. Walking slowly yet going nowhere for 30+ minutes at a time feels awkward and counterintuitive to some, especially at first. Without a target, a specific destination, people have to let go and rest their attention only on their immediate surroundings along with the movement of their bodies, one foot and one breath at a time. It is a deep and profound practice once the restlessness and resistance is gone. Concentrated walking meditation can reveal deep glimpses into interconnectedness and no-self. Some people are more naturally attuned to sitting and it may take patience and time for them to appreciate the walking practice. For those who prefer Zen style line walking, we always include one session of this practice in the evenings.
Meditation retreats may challenge us in ways we have never imagined; yet they can also open us to extended periods of joy and ease. Retreats can reveal glimpses and even deep insights into the unlimited and boundless nature of true mind that is our birthright, that is always here and ready for us to receive whenever our minds and hearts are fully present.