The Retreat Environment
A retreat of spiritual study and meditation takes energy, commitment, and discipline. It's a space in which to shut out the distractions of everyday life and come face-to-face with yourself. That isn’t always easy, especially for beginners.
At first it can seem very confining to follow rules and not do as one pleases. But the beauty of discipline is that it leads to greater freedom.
Normally we are so busy doing something or talking so much that life passes us by without us realising. A retreat environment offers us time to distance ourselves from our usual sources of distraction (TV, phones, email, facebook etc) and the responsibilities of work, home and family.
Through the combination of this distance and not communicating with others (and knowing that others won't communicate with us), we are able to create a space in which we can look at ourselves more objectively, with less identification to our roles as parent/child/sibling/partner/friend/employer/employee etc. In this way, we can shift our emphasis from how we feel we should be, to how we are, or more importantly how we want to be.
To study Buddhist Philosophy is to study ourselves. In combination with learning about and reflecting upon the relevance of Buddhism's teachings on wisdom and compassion in our own experience, this attention can illuminate real insights into the way our minds work and how we act and react in our relationships with others. Retreat provides a unique opportunity for us to cultivate a quality of attention to, and gain fresh perspectives on our lives.
For all these reasons, retreat is an opportunity to be embraced.
"Silence is sometimes the best answer" - His Holiness the Dalai Lama
However, through silencing our body and speech, it is a common reaction to become much more aware of the absence of silence in our mind and we may experience a lot of ups and downs during the retreat. Body and mind are not used to these very different circumstances and may react with discomfort, restlessness, boredom, doubt, criticism, fatigue or sudden, unfounded concern about friends or family. Preparing yourself for retreat by anticipating these reactions, and committing to stick to the discipline of retreat even if they arise can be transformatory. Therefore, we have to adjust ourselves to the retreat settings:
- We have to adjust to keeping silence. Students keep complete silence from the evening of the first day (after dinner) to the morning of the last (after breakfast).
There are 2 common misconceptions about silence on retreat:
1) Silence does not only mean not speaking, but any form of communication which will distract yourself or others from concentrating on the retreat (extroverted physical expression, gesturing or writing notes to other students, for example).
2) Silence on retreat also doesn’t mean the complete absence of noise. This is India, perfect silence is very rare! We're located in a forested area, so it's generally peaceful, but you can expect to hear a little noise from the local village, monkeys, delivery trucks etc.
- True silence is the quietening of our own mind. Being in an environment where other people are respecting these rules is enormously helpful in maintaining them yourself, but the aim is not to control the outside environment and the behaviour of others, but to develop patience and stillness within ourselves. Therefore, please be gentle in your behaviour and sensitive to fellow course participants and staff. You can read more about the meaning of silence in retreat here.
- We have to keep an open mind. Many of the ideas presented may be new and different from one's own beliefs, and we should be prepared to analyse and contemplate not only the teachings, but also our own beliefs.
- We have to adjust to the schedule: all participants must attend all sessions of the course, come to sessions on time and not leave Tushita property for the duration of the course. For a sample daily schedule, please click here.