Everything You Wanted to Know about Meditation Retreats

Ten Percent Happier
April 5, 2024
Pink flowers on a sunny day

Recently, we talked with Spring Washam, a seasoned meditation teacher with many years of retreat experience under her belt. Whether or not you're contemplating your first retreat, these takeaways from Spring provide a glimpse into what it might be like, and why you might want to give it a try.

1) You’ll know when you’re ready

“You could still be a great meditator and do 20 or 30 minutes of practice every day. But if you're feeling like you want to see what you’ve been sweeping under the rug, or if you're looking for more understanding or a little bit more depth, retreat is the way to go. Retreats are powerful, even life-changing for many of us. Retreat is where we have breakthroughs, and they are meant to challenge us.”

2) Simplicity is what helps you go deeper

“If you really want to give yourself over to the practice, you’re not using cell phones and computers. For a lot of us, to be without our phones and this endless talking and communication, and to just be with our minds—it can be a challenge in the beginning. It's like quitting an addiction. All of a sudden we're in the present moment: there we are. And we’ve got to deal with it.”

3) The structure carries you through

“There are so many different kinds of retreats, but in the Insight Meditation tradition, we practice mindfulness: being aware of our bodies, our feelings, and our thoughts and emotions. We do a mix of sitting and walking meditation in silence throughout the day. There are talks from the teachers, as well as opportunities to meet with a teacher (to talk about the practice). A lot of the talks are focused on how to be with our suffering and our discomfort, to normalize our experiences and get encouragement, which can be so nourishing.”

4) You’re not going to come away fixed 

“In our instant culture, people frustrate themselves after five minutes of meditation and give up because they think they can't do it. Well, try five days—it'll get easier. But this is a journey. Waking up isn't a quick fix; awareness is a lifestyle. This is spiritual labor here! Liberation is going against a lot of powerful energies, internally and externally, and it takes time to learn how to work with them compassionately.”

Final tip: Retreats can vary in length–from just a day, to a weekend, to 5 days, 10 days, or longer. If you’re ready to put one on your calendar, see here for a list of retreat centers we recommend. 

With the Ten Percent Happier app, you’ll access practical teachings alongside guided meditations to make mindfulness into a habit you carry everywhere.

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