How to Do a Mindful Retreat (In Your Own Backyard)

GAIA.com - Find A New Film or Documentary

By Matt Valentine

I can’t speak for elsewhere, but in the West, we’re pretty bad at resting our mind and body (hence, our interest in meditation). Whether it’s a moment to ourselves at home simply enjoying a cup of coffee or tea or a full-blown vacation trip, most of us need to feel productive, otherwise, we believe we’re wasting our time.

This can appear in obvious ways, like filling a moment of silence with the need to read something online, check Facebook, review our work, or update our schedule instead of simply enjoying that moment of silence. Or, it can appear in a more subtle way, such as in filling the itinerary for a vacation so that you can, “get the most done” when it’s supposedly time for rest and relaxation. The result? You get home more exhausted than when you left and you have no idea why.

Whatever we’re doing, we need to feel productive for fear of wasting time. Unfortunately, most of us don’t know how to turn this impulse off. However, even if you aren’t guilty of this, the likelihood is you still don’t take enough time for yourself. By that I mean spending time by turning off all devices, quieting the chatter of our everyday life and resting in a place that allows the mind to settle.

Enter the meditation retreat: an event designed to allow you to step away from the normal environment of your daily life and into a place optimally designed for quieting the mind and turning inward.

A meditation retreat, which can last anywhere from one day to more than a full week (really any length of time), is an event dedicated to mindfulness and meditation practice where practitioners will meditate for several hours each day (and in the case of most Zen sesshins- Zen meditation retreats- nearly the entire day) and more often than not in complete and total silence from beginning to end, bringing together various elements to create the perfect environment for deep and nourishing meditation and mindfulness practice.

Meditation retreats aren’t anything new, although they have become more popular since various Buddhist traditions came to the West due to the high number of lay practitioners (for those unfamiliar, that essentially refers to a practitioner who isn’t a residing monk or nun in a monastery but rather lives a “normal” life), but they’re still something most people have never heard of.

A meditation retreat (of some kind) is something I suggest everyone try once, if not make a recurring part of your life. The environment that a meditation retreat provides allows a deepening of one’s life and practice like nothing else can. Really, when broken down to its essence, a meditation retreat is really just a structured time of more intense mindfulness practice.

However, a meditation retreat requires a lot of time from your schedule (and often money from your pocket), so it may not be suitable for everyone. Plus, if you’re just starting out in your mindfulness & meditation practice such a retreat may seem a little daunting.

I have children who make it pretty difficult to step away for an extended period of time to attend something like a meditation retreat, so lately, I’ve been thinking of a way that I could recreate one in my own backyard so to speak, in my own home, in so giving me the ability to hold “mini-meditation retreats” for myself or a small few by recreating much of the same elements of a meditation retreat.

If you’re interested in deepening your mindfulness practice, even if you’re just starting out, and bringing a new level of peace and joy into your life as a whole, I’d suggest trying out this “mini-retreat” for yourself:

How to Do a Mindful Retreat (in Your Own Backyard)

A meditation retreat has a few key elements to it:

  1. Disconnecting – It may be important to you to keep contact open in case of an emergency, but otherwise you’re unplugged.
  2. Stepping away – Away from the normal environment of your everyday life so that you can remove yourself from the thought patterns and mental clutter of your life.
  3. Meditating (a lot) – This is the centerpiece of the retreat and is what you’ll be doing the majority of the time.
  4. Living mindfully – Everything done from beginning to end of a mindfulness meditation retreat of this kind is done in mindfulness.
  5. Group setting – Meditation retreats are done in a group setting. This holds a lot of benefits.

There are a few other elements to a typical meditation retreat, but these are the major points. Recreating a meditation retreat requires recreating as many of these elements as possible, which is what I’ll outline below.

Supplies

There isn’t much in the way of supplies that you’ll need for the retreat, but here are a few keys that are pretty much a must:

  1. Meditation cushion – Please don’t attempt to meditate this much without maximum comfort, you’ll regret it later!
  2. A dedicated area – Know in advance where you’ll be “retreating” to. My suggestion is that if you’re doing this in your home you centralize yourself to one room, the room you’re least familiar with (or outside in your backyard, if you have one).
  3. Meal-planner – It’s OK to cook during your retreat, enough time is scheduled in for it and cooking mindfully can be a nice practice, but you don’t want to be sitting around thinking about what you’re going to eat. Pre-plan your meals and make sure you have all of the ingredients in your home or wherever you’re staying.
  4. Work schedule – In the same way, you should pre-decide what work you’ll be doing during the mindful work period and gather the tools you’ll need it. You’ll want to remove as much of this type of effort from the retreat as possible, so plan ahead of time so that everything is set up for you.
  5. Talk material – Later in the schedule summary you’ll hear me mention a two-hour block where I suggest listening to talks from teachers you follow, whether videos on YouTube/elsewhere or podcasts/audiobook chapters in audio format. Decide on this material in advance and have it ready to go beforehand. If you need to touch your computer to get to this material, remove as many distractions as possible (have an empty browser open with just YouTube/other sites you need to visit, etc., or iTunes already open on the podcast page, etc.).

As you can see, most of these points have to do with the general idea of pre-planning the retreat as much as possible so that you can focus on acting with mindfulness during the length of the retreat.

Mindful Retreat Schedule

This mindful retreat is ideally done over the course of a weekend. It can be scheduled for a 3-day weekend, or even just done on a single Saturday or Sunday, so my suggestion is 1-3 days over the weekend so it fits conveniently into most people’s schedules (making the necessary adjustments to fit your personal schedule if it differs).

There are truly countless ways you can do this, so I’ll just be giving a few examples which you can then take and make your own. Feel free to adjust these as you see fit. Here is a mock schedule for each day of a 2-day weekend retreat:

Full Day

6:30 A.M. – Wake Up
7:00 A.M – Morning Meditation (45 minutes sitting, 15 minutes walking)
8:00 A.M – Mindful Breakfast (1 hour)
9:00 A.M – Mindful Work (1 hour)
10:00 A.M. – Retreat Session (2 hours)
12:00 A.M – Mindful Lunch (1 hour)
1:00 P.M. – Rest Period (1 hour)
2:00 P.M. – Afternoon Meditation (45 minutes sitting, 15 minutes walking)
3:00 P.M. – Talk Session (2 hours)
5:00 P.M. – Mindful Dinner (1 hour)
6:00 P.M. – Tea Meditation (1 hour)
7:00 P.M. – Evening Meditation (45 minutes sitting, 15 minutes walking)
8:30 P.M. – Lights Out

Half-Day

7:00 A.M – Morning Meditation (45 minutes sitting, 15 minutes walking)
8:00 A.M – Mindful Breakfast (1 hour)
9:00 A.M – Mindful Work (1 hour)
10:00 A.M. – Morning Meditation 2 (45 minutes sitting, 15 minutes walking)
11:00 A.M. – Rest Period (1 hour)
12:00 A.M – Mindful Lunch (1 hour)
1:00 P.M. – Afternoon Meditation (45 minutes sitting, 15 minutes walking)

A few notes:

  1. You could do this by yourself or with a few friends. It works either way, but will be more beneficial with a few people to make a small group.
  2. Retreats are typically done silently, so if you’re doing this retreat with a few others commit to doing the retreat in silence.
  3. You could start in the afternoon/evening on Friday with a modified half-day schedule so that you can get 2 1/2 days in over the weekend. Although, if you work that following Monday, you may want that half day to do laundry and get your things ready for the week.

A Short Summary

Upon waking up, with a short period to allow yourself to get going, immediately begin with a meditation session. After each sitting session you’ll do a short session of walking meditation (kinhin in Zen, read this guide on walking meditation for further instruction and listen to this guided meditation), which is the perfect practice to follow sitting meditation with. This can be done in the same place as you sat in meditation or you could walk outside if you meditated indoors.

Each meal is eaten with mindfulness from beginning to end. You can use this mindful eating guide to help guide you through the practice. This includes your mindful breakfast, lunch and dinner. In the evening, this is followed by a tea meditation.

Once breakfast is over, there is a session of mindful work (samu in Zen), which for the sake of this mini-mindful retreat will likely be cleaning or some sort of house work. This cleaning is done completely in mindfulness from beginning to end just as with your meals. You can use this mindful cleaning guided meditation to help guide you through the practice.

After mindful work, I placed a “Retreat Session” on the schedule for the next two hours. This mostly depends on if you’re doing this with a few others or not. It can be some sort of mindful group activity if you’re doing the retreat with a few friends or simply be an extended meditation session if you’re doing the retreat by yourself (or with the group, if you prefer as well).

Next is lunch (see what I wrote above for breakfast) followed by a one-hour rest period. It’s up to you what you decide to do during this rest period. However, refrain from plugging into anything during this time and rather focus on resting the body.

After the rest period follows the afternoon meditation and a “talk session”. I’d suggest pre-planning a set of audio or video talks that fit the tone and theme of the retreat for those two hours. This is a nice time to bring perspective to the retreat and help deepen the experience. You can simply gather a few podcast episodes and/or videos on YouTube from reputable teachers you appreciate and schedule those ahead of time. Simply turn them on during this time and allow yourself to sink into their messages, paying close attention to their talks from beginning to end.

And finally, you’ll finish with a mindful dinner, tea meditation following dinner (read this guide for help guiding you through the tea meditation practice) and then an evening meditation session before resting for the night.

Living the Retreat

The day might seem a little intense, but that’s part of the point- a meditation retreat is intense spiritual practice. It’s a time to turn inward and simply be with yourself fully, even if what arises is uncomfortable.

A meditation retreat such as this is one of the best things you can do to help bring more mindfulness into your everyday life, showing you what it takes to truly live each moment with mindfulness and in a state of deep nourishment.

The great thing is, even if you frequent meditation retreats, knowing how to create your own retreat environment in your home allows you to support your mindfulness practice and well-being in a way that nothing else can. To unplug and turn inward in a focused way to what’s going on in the mind and body is infinitely valuable for your well-being. In this way, you’re prioritizing your mindfulness practice in much the same way that monks and nuns living in a monastery prioritize their own spiritual practice.

And if you’re just starting out and the full day schedule feels a little intense right now, you can opt to use the half-day schedule and simply do a single half day on a Saturday or Sunday. Even that single half day will have a profound effect, especially if you’re just starting out in your practice.

No matter how you decide to do your own mindful retreat, whether it’s alone or in a small group and over a weekend or a half-day, even scheduling one once every month or two or three, you’ll be able to experience the true power of meditation and mindfulness practice in your own backyard.

This article has been republished from Buddhaimonia

About the Author

Matt Valentine is the founder of Buddhaimonia.com. He’s a husband, father, author, and student of Zen who writes weekly about mindfulness & mindful living, meditation, overcoming personal challenges, and living with greater peace and joy in everyday life.

Gaia - GEN - Streaming Consciousness - pier