In the last eight years or so I’ve done several long meditation retreats. Adding up all my time spent in retreat during that time, I think comes to about eleven months. I though it might be interesting to share some of my retreat experiences. Perhaps some of you are thinking about doing a meditation retreat someday in the future and I hope that reading this might inspire you to take action and do it. I can almost guarantee that it will change your life in ways you can’t even imagine right now. I guessing that there are even more people reading this that have no intention of ever doing anything like this but are nevertheless curious about it. Maybe you’re wondering why someone would drop everything for months at a time and just sit ‘staring at the wall’ (as I’ve heard some non-meditators describe it).
I had never even heard of meditation retreats until a friend of mine mentioned that she had gone on a week long silent meditation retreat. My interest was piqued. A week spent in silence. What would that be like? Being kind of the quiet type, I didn’t think that not talking for a week would be that hard, but what about having no input – no news, no internet, no video, no phone calls? I remembered reading somewhere that when people isolate themselves for a few days, they can begin to hallucinate. When I read that it made me want to try backpacking out into the wilderness alone for a couple of weeks just to see what happens but it also seemed pretty scary. A meditation retreat seemed comparatively safe but I never made any commitments to doing one. There’s a saying that people come to the Dharma when they have suffered enough…
A year or two later an unpleasant and abrupt end came to my five year relationship and I started seeing a therapist to try and sort out what was going on with my life. Six months later, my father died of cancer. I was convinced that I could find a way to be with all this pain and think my way through to a solution. My mind was constantly trying to create new stories and explanations for why things were the way they were and after a while it became clear that I was just going in circles. Even realizing that didn’t stop my mind from trying to figure things out.
Around this time, I met another friend who was very encouraging about the idea of doing a meditation retreat. She had done two three month meditation retreats back in the late seventies and early eighties with Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein. Wow – three months – now we’re (not) talking!