08 Jun The Etiquette of a Retreat
The Do’s and Don’ts of Retreats
by Eva Kincsei
So you want to sequester yourself in an ambience where the days are suddenly not the same and you can muse and reflect and dwell a bit while stretching out body and mind in new terrains?. You dare try to enjoy some downtime when you can just lie low and attempt to safely sneak out of your comfort zone, suspend the workaday rhythm and tune in to your inner one. You finally attempt to experience something that’s going to punch up regular life once the retreat is over.
May it be a wellness, corporate, spiritual, military, marriage and couple, religious, craft, outdoor education or silent retreat, the possibilities are endless as the range of retreats is vaster than the Russian Tundra.
So if you’re not plugged into the retreat scene, below are a few tips about what to do and what to avoid during the preparation phase, at the retreat itself, and after it when you’re trying to instigate some changes in your new , “after-retreat life’.
- Choose a retreat that suits your long-term goals
- Don’t go to a retreat just because you want to be distracted from the humdrum and the nagging thoughts. If you make a hasty decision instead of making a well thought-out retreat-choice attuned to your real needs and objectives, you’re going to waste your time, feeling annoyed and frustrated. Any kind of retreat entails intense experiences spurring you to deepen your knowledge in a particular field (usually involving self-knowledge) which requires withdrawing your senses to focus on inner stimuli rather than the external world. So if you’re not consciously prepared to deal with what is going to arise on the inside because you have hoped only for a bit of fun to give the pent-up tension some release, you will feel disappointed. If you just idle around, scattered and clueless, not knowing where to put your focus, you will certainly miss the point of the whole retreat and won’t experience the benefits
- Be flexible about your expectations. Although it’s good to be fully aware of why you want to go to a particular retreat and what you want to squeeze out of it, you must also be open to experiences not directly connected to your long-term goals. Let’s say you go to a yoga and meditation retreat because you want to unwind and feel happy and content, but the immediate effect is that you’re in a snit more than ever, as the retreat has brought stuff up and until you face up to it you won’t be able to calm your mind. So be patient and try to see the bigger picture as well.
Prepare to tackle the restrictions and the Spartan challenges
- If there’s going to be any restrictions at the retreat – like no coffee, only vegetarian food, no talking to each other – start preparing in advance and give up coffee or meet at least a few days before the retreat so you won’t struggle so much to adhere to these restrictions. If it’s going to be a retreat with physical challenges, start preparing by setting up a little exercise routine before the retreat starts to accustom yourself to a regime in advance
- Plan how you’re going to proceed after the retreat. To successfully reaffirm the changes brought about by the retreat in your new ‘after retreat life’, you can draw up a lifestyle plan preliminarily so that you can start following it right after the retreat.
- Follow the rules and the ethical code of the retreat no matter how weird they seem compared to those of your regular life
- Be open to new mores and values which can give you different vantage points to reflect from. You are at the retreat to fathom and discover, so don’t shy away from concepts seemingly off the beaten track
- Don’t be up late!
- Enjoy the company of the new people you meet at the retreat but don’t be seduced by them to go out partying late night. Not waking up early and keeping up with the retreat’s schedule will make you feel being part of the group less and restrict the scope of your shared experiences
- Don’t leave the retreat space before it officially ends
- Never give up! You need to get the whole picture so stick out till the end no matter how weird you feel. If it is unbearably odd, talk to your peers or the retreat leaders and discuss why you feel you have to leave
- Don’t force yourself to do physical activities with any more intensity than your body feels comfortable with.It is important to push your boundaries in order to further develop your skills and abilities but never push to the point of physical pain. Even while pushing it, focus on how the exercises feel on the inside rather than how they look on the outside
- Always assume a comfortable position with an erect spine while sitting in quiet reflection or meditation. There is nothing worse than fidgeting because you have a sore neck and your knees are straining while you’re meant to be silently contemplating and focusing on your breath
- Try to restrict the usage of phones and computers especially for social media. Distraction from the outside world is the last thing you need at a retreat when you want to focus on more meaningful things. And Facebook is especially harmful as so many research studies have already shown…
- Don’t try to change everything at once. Be gradual when introducing the changes inspired by the retreat into your new ‘after retreat’ life. Changing too many things at a time can cause confusion on a mental level and sickness on a physical. For example, when I started to change my diet two and a half years ago due to some severe illness, I tried to completely wipe out dairy products, processed foods and grains all at once and ended up even sicker than I was. All that I wanted to eliminate in one go really had to be done little by little over the time span of two years to make the transition manageable
- Keep in contact with other retreat participants. Processing experiences – even the good ones – can be painful, so it’s good to keep in touch with those who went through the same. Also, discussing shared experiences with others helps to consolidate them
- Don’t go to work right after the retreat. Let things sink in and the change begin before you are back in the daily grind.