1) What’s the Setting?
Urban-ish or rustic, vegetarian or not, silent or guided, beach or mountain, women or both genders—retreats come in all shapes and types. Make sure you like the space and geographical area. Find out whether the retreat leader is aligned with your values. Are there chairs suitable for meditating in? Are there other activities that will contribute to your retreat experience, yoga, swimming pool, sauna, fresh juices, herbal tea, places to sit quietly, options for massages?
2) Who’s the Teacher?
Because of the huge range of teachers and retreats, you need to be sure you align with the teacher’s philosophy. If you’re skeptical of religion and wary of a spiritual talk, say, look for a teacher who emphasizes secular values and research. Do a bit of research to make sure they speak about mindfulness in a way that makes sense to you. Send them an email with any questions to see the response, or ask for them to send you any guided meditations they have recorded or articles on mindfulness. Is there flexibility in the teaching style and retreat or is it more indoctrinated with specific expectations of you and a rigid program? Do they have your best interests at heart?
3) What’s Your Level of Experience?
Choose a retreat that has a combination of things you like including a good combination of instruction and free time to practice on your own. A beginner would not start with a 7-day silent retreat for example, or someone who has been meditation daily for 3 years would not choose a beginner’s retreat, choose something to match your level of experience. If you’ve been experiencing depression, anxiety, recent trauma, or post-traumatic disorder, consult a professional before going on a retreat. If you’re still on the fence, start small with a workshop in your local area.
4) What’s the Expectation?
If you think this may be a life-changing experience, that you will master complete inner peace if your first week of practicing mindfulness, lose 5 kilos, resolve your childhood trauma and gain a new perspective on life, you may be aiming too high. Check you are being realistic about what can be achieved in the time frame provided. Check your expectations against the daily itinerary or email the teacher to check what needs you can expect to have met. If you are hoping to resolve personal issues counseling may be a better process than a mindfulness retreat. Keep in mind that mindfulness retreats are usually skills development, not goddess retreats or therapeutic groups, but a learning experience. But one thing you can be open to is to expect the unexpected.
5) What’s the Intention?
Ask yourself: Why do I want to go on a retreat? What do I want to get out of it? Review the retreat’s program so you have a sense of what its aims are. The most important aspect of any learning experience is what you bring to it. Being open and excited, wanting to embrace new ideas, ready to engage with the content. You can actually start every day of your retreat by checking your intention for the day. You can recite the Dalai Lamas daily intention if you cannot think of any of your own, “Every day, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others; to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can.”
I wish you all the best on your mindfulness journey, Tammie