I’ve done somewhere in the neighborhood of forty Buddhist meditation retreats. While some only lasted a day or two, more than half involved ten to fifteen days of practicing Buddhist meditation for up to sixteen hours a day. Some were Tibetan meditation retreats. Some retreats were in the Zen tradition, including retreats for Zen archery, a form moving meditation called Kyudo. But most of my retreats were Vipassana meditation retreats.

I’m not telling you this to impress you or show off. Really, all this demonstrates is that in my twenties and thirties, I didn’t have a regular job. When whatever work I did have scheduled got cancelled, in fact, I was thrilled because then I would be able to go meditate at a Buddhist retreat center. Sometimes I would use these opportunities to look for a Buddhist retreat center somewhere in the country that I had never been to before and turn it into a vacation.

I’m only mentioning these experiences to give you a sense of why I might have useful information to share on how to make the most of your own Buddhist meditation retreat experience.

One of the first things people do upon deciding to sign up for a meditation retreat is to take care of all the usual details of life at home before they leave.

This sounds like a good idea. Certainly you want to make sure your pets will be fed, your voicemail will be checked for emergencies and all your bills have been paid before you go.

However, after a while, you realize that even your worst fear about what could happen while you are gone is rarely all that important or even requiring of your attention. Long time Buddhist meditators joke that sometimes, you’d sort of like something to go wrong while you were gone so you can see how well you deal with it when you get home. Of course, the real joke is that after ten days on a Buddhist meditation retreat, you’d likely be much more capable of coping with your house burning down, your loved ones being hospitalized or any other sort of problem that might come up.

During your actual retreat itself, the main suggestion I can offer is to do the practice that’s taught and try to let go of any worries about whether or not it's working for you.

We usually go to our meditation course hoping that, when we're through, we will have achieved some goal. But wanting something to occur often gets in the way of actually having something occur.

My point is that there is no way you're going to be able to plan in advance how the meditation course will affect your life, so you can relax and stop trying to figure it out while you're meditating. Just meditate and then see what happens when you get home.

Here is the most useful advice I can give you about your retreat: If something really mind-blowing happens at your first course and you are certain that Buddhist meditation has completely changed your entire life, don’t breathe a word about this to anyone.

It’s very common for intense meditation retreats to produce dramatic effects for new practitioners. This could be called a "honeymoon phase;" others refer to it as a "new relationship phase." You know, like that friend you have who, every time they start a new relationship, they just know that THIS IS THE ONE, and they're all jazzed and they talk about their new love all the time and… you soon get worn out just listening to them.

All it takes to put you at risk of ending up like that friend is to have some kind of dramatic occurrence at your first meditation course. Then you could be the one going on and on about how changed you are as a person and how nothing in your life is the same and how Buddhism is the best thing on earth and… see what I mean?

So see if you can stay mum and be with your experience for a while before you start trying to convert your friends to the way of the cushion.

The last piece of advice I have to offer is to treat yourself kindly. Relax. I can best illustrate the importance of this with a brief example from one of the last meditation courses I did. This one was a Vipassana meditation retreat and these are reputed to be emotionally and physically difficult courses.

At these courses, you are supposed to only be paying attention to your own experiences, and ignoring whatever is going on with others, but when you are sitting next to them for days on end, it’s hard not to notice some things.

So after this specific Buddhist meditation course was over, someone came up to me and said, "It looked like that was really easy for you." I answered, "Well, there wasn’t anything I was trying to do. Without a desire to achieve something, it's really pretty easy to sit on a meditation cushion and just notice your feelings. If it doesn’t matter what happens, how can it be hard?"

I'm always interested in feedback on how your meditation course went (or anything you want to share about what you've learned on how to have the bet experience while there.)

Author's Bio: 

Steven Sashen began meditation when he was eight years old, was one of the first biofeedback pioneers, and researched cognition and perception at Duke University. In addition to a successful career as an entrepreneur and entertainer, Steven has taught transformational techniques around the world and developed the Instant Advanced Meditation Course, which Dr. Gay Hendricks calls, "Perhaps the fastest and easiest way to relax, expand awareness, and find deep inner-peace."

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