What Happens on a Retreat

Retreats can be transformative, they can help us to make great changes in our lives.

During meditation retreats, participants are asked to follow basic guidelines and trainings and to honor them during the retreat.

At the beginning of a retreat, each participant takes the Three Refuges and the Five Precepts. This practice began at the time of the Buddha and is still alive to this day throughout the world. To take refuge means to take guidance, to reflect on, to find comfort in – the Buddha (the one who knows, who represents the spirit of compassion and wisdom), the Dharma or Dhamma (the ultimate Truth, also ultimate reality), and the Sangha (the spiritual community that is kind and compassionate).

The Three Jewels

The Buddha, The Dhamma and the Sangha are known as the Three Jewels.

Retreatants usually take the five precepts. These were created by the Buddha to promote non-harming in any community. The retreatants recite these five precepts as follows:

1) For the purpose of training I undertake the precept of not harming any sentient being.
2) For the purpose of training, I undertake the precept of not taking anything that is not freely given.
3) For the purpose of training, I undertake the precept of being wise and careful with speech.
4) For the purpose of training, I undertake the precept of refraining from sexual misconduct. (Sexual misconduct is sexual activity that can hurt another person.)
5. For the purpose of training, I undertake the precept of refraining from intoxicants that cloud the mind.

The precepts are seen as a practice “for the purpose of training.” We learn and grow as we work to keep the five precepts. At the end of a meditation retreat, a teacher may talk about continuing the precepts in everyday life. The benefits of the insights gained become a part of life and is taken into the world.

Daylongs and Longer Residential Retreats

There are two kinds of retreats in the Insight meditation tradition that are practiced at many Insight Medication Centers. One is a several day silent retreat, often residential, and the other is a single day retreat, or daylong, which has instruction and talks. Both of these are usually conducted in “noble silence.” This means retreatants refrain from talking except for moments when talking is absolutely required  This practice is not meant to ‘silence’ anyone, but is a practice of supporting the practitioner to ‘drop the social mask’, and have the time, space, and support to focus primarily on their own process of inner transformation.

Both the daylong and the longer retreat are times of quiet to still the mind and to reflect on how it works. This allows for opening the heart and deepening compassion. There are few distractions except for the activity of the mind! A typical daylong goes from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM with alternating periods of walking meditation and sitting meditation, including a break for lunch and a Dharma talk. Sitting and walking periods are usually around 40 minutes.

A longer retreat begins at 6:30AM and goes to 9:30PM with alternating times of sitting and walking meditation, also around 40 minutes. There are breaks for meals and times to check in with a teacher every few days. Each person contributes to a work /meditation job, which is a part of mindfulness practice while he or she chops vegetables or sweeps floors. Healthy vegetarian meals are provided with great care.