First retreat

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First retreat

Postby duckfiasco » Thu Nov 14, 2013 5:47 am

I've been practicing for a few years, and feel it's finally time to go on my first retreat. Since it's the first one, I don't know what to look for, or what makes one retreat better suited than another. I was hoping for some input that might be helpful to others in a similar situation.

How did you decide on your first retreat? What did you look for?
Was there anything you would have done differently, looking back on it?

A bit about my practice:
I practice an hour of anapanasati in the morning, and at least 30 minutes of the same or walking meditation in the evening. I also take a long walk in the neighborhood, practicing tonglen for the people, critters, and houses I pass. On my days off, I add another hour to two hours of sitting. I practice metta until I fall asleep.
I've recently started experimenting with body scanning, but always with a bent towards concentration and stability.
I mostly feel directionless, not particularly following any one school or technique. I think a retreat could help give some direction.

Here are the three options I'm considering:
* a 10-day Goenka retreat
* a 6-day Zen sesshin focused on the Buddha's pari-nirvana
* a 9-day Zen sesshin focused on sound

Also worth noting that my partner isn't too thrilled with the idea of being alone at all while I do this.
Any input on this part would be welcome, too. I've tried explaining that this isn't something "for me" like some kind of vacation, but that I'm doing it to hopefully benefit people in my life and anyone I meet. I get the feeling that that doesn't click for a lot of people, though. It maybe seems too abstract.

Thanks again for your time and insight. :cheers:
Namu Amida Butsu
The Perfect Way knows no difficulties
Except that it refuses to make preferences;
Only when freed from hate and love,
It reveals itself fully and without disguise.
- Sengcan (tr. Suzuki)
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Re: First retreat

Postby futerko » Thu Nov 14, 2013 8:01 am

I think, given what you've written, that you should try to take your parnter's needs into account here.

Maybe try to negotiate what they would be happier with and look for something shorter such as a three day retreat, at least to start off with.
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Re: First retreat

Postby ClearblueSky » Thu Nov 14, 2013 9:33 am

I think it's okay for it to be for "just you", or even be a vacation that's just for yourself. All humans need some space sometimes, and getting one's mind in order can only be beneficial to relationships after all. Maybe you could do something for your partner, like plan some great thing you guys can do together once your retreat is over, so they have that to look forward to.

As far as the actual retreat, a huge thing is schedule. It's pretty easy to get overwhelmed if you have no idea of the schedule, it helps a lot to know when your sessions may start and end, between which sessions you'll eat, etc. It's also probably good to continue the walking meditation you've been doing during whichever retreat you choose. Getting the body involved a bit can really help the mind not be too restless during those long retreat sits.
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Re: First retreat

Postby Paul » Thu Nov 14, 2013 9:41 am

futerko wrote:I think, given what you've written, that you should try to take your parnter's needs into account here.

Maybe try to negotiate what they would be happier with and look for something shorter such as a three day retreat, at least to start off with.


Maybe suggest your partner has a short holiday themselves at the same time, maybe with friends?
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Re: First retreat

Postby philji » Thu Nov 14, 2013 5:04 pm

Bearing in mind how your partner feels..is it not possible to do a retreat at home.....maybe 1/2 day or 1 day to begin with?
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Re: First retreat

Postby Karma Tashi G. » Thu Nov 14, 2013 8:08 pm

Best to do the retreat since you feel the time as ripened. These feelings of wanting to meditate or to go on retreats are very important. You set good karmic precedents every time you listen to that quiet signal and take action, it is kind of a snowball rolling down the hill! The opposite is true too-everytime you ignore the signal, it makes it easier to ignore it again.

First retreat: don't worry about your legs...they will complain or not, and either way you can use that as training aids. Don't worry about "looking like a beginner" If people are serious there, they won't care too much how anybody but their own practice is going. Don't worry about being asked to do something you can't! Retreats are a NECESSARY part of practice life. You long-time serious practicers out there listen up! You never outgrow your need for the Sangha jewel! Great yogis like Tulku Urgyen, Nyoshul Kenpo, Patrul, Dilgo K., sGampopa, Klongchen Ozer, all came out and practiced with others eventually! The dakinis/protectors won't let you stay solitary forever..they push you back into the Sangha!

At least that's what I read in my library of spiritual books!

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Re: First retreat

Postby Adamantine » Thu Nov 14, 2013 8:17 pm

Goeka retreats are discussed in this thread http://www.dharmawheel.net/viewtopic.php?f=45&t=11618 Since you are not a Vajrayana practitioner with the accompanying vows, the issue I had with it is not applicable to you. Although it is highly institutionalized and your main teacher is a video of Goenka (they have live assistant teachers for specific questions which is good), I still would recommend it because it is simply a powerful immersive technique that experientially drives home the truth of impermanence in a profound way. And you can't beat the fact that it is free, aside from a kind of blatant and intense call for donations right at the end of the retreat when people are still in shock from starting to speak again, and from dealing with a lot of sensory input that the mind has gotten hyper sensitized to! But overall I found it to be a positive and profound experience.
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Re: First retreat

Postby Jikan » Thu Nov 14, 2013 8:37 pm

Some time apart is healthy in any relationship. This is what the textbooks say, and it's true in my own experience. Discuss this exhaustively with your partner, and be sure to explain to her or him that you're very willing to reciprocate when the shoe's on the other foot and there's an equally important opportunity for him/her to learn that you will stay home for.

Nine days of sesshin can be taxing on the body, even for an experienced practitioner. I would choose the six-day retreat as a means to know what it takes to go for a longer duration.
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Re: First retreat

Postby Karma Tashi G. » Thu Nov 14, 2013 8:59 pm

Adamantine wrote:Goeka retreats are discussed in this thread http://www.dharmawheel.net/viewtopic.php?f=45&t=11618 when people are still in shock from starting to speak again, and from dealing with a lot of sensory input that the mind has gotten hyper sensitized to! But overall I found it to be a positive and profound experience.


That's a very important point. Post-retreat is almost as important as the retreat. Sensory input will seem high like mentioned above. You need to take care to schedule a time of adjustment, before you go to your job or other activities where there a lot of things going on! You may have tendency to relapse into samatha afterwards as the mind has become accustomed to settling. But be sure to keep up the vibrancy, so you don't slip into dullness afterwards and forget the feeling!

A retreat is a gift given you. Before you even get on the train to go to the retreat place, make your dedication of merit so that anything that is good coming out goes to the benefit of all beings! Don't look at the retreat selfishly: "I will be a better meditator, I will get enlightened!" Instead think, "This is like working as a volunteer in a Dharma soup kitchen! I give my effort for all beings to use for their benefit" What drudgery! The more compassion you feel for beings, the harder you will work in the kitchen!

THat's my opinion!

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Re: First retreat

Postby bryandavis » Thu Nov 14, 2013 10:04 pm

Greetings,

First off it is really great you are willing and ready to do a retreat. I would go with the goenka retreat. Since you have not committed to one lineage or tradition, the Goenka retreat will have the least amount of "lineage stigma" so to speak, not saying there is no lineage to it or that it doesn't have its own characteristics, but you will get a lot of sitting in, done in a structured formal way. I follow the Tibetan model personally.

Also going to as many short weekend retreats in different lineages and styles will help you connect and feel your way towards what makes sense. But really when you meet that one teacher who just does it for you, or who blows you away with what ever quality they have, then that is probably going to be your main practice lineage. So until then keep putting your feelers out.

As far as your partner. I will be more frank than others maybe. If your partner cant be without you for 10 days or a week.... well.... your practice life is going to suffer if that habit is not dealt with. That sounds like many a co-dependant relationship I have been in. Just wont work if you take your Dharma practice to a level of wanting to engage in solitary practices or go to teachings that require travel and time. Its only been now, that I have a partner that is also a practitioner that I have been in a relationship where practice is not questioned as far as things like "I'm going to a retreat" or "I'm going to a teaching in two months.... oh, you cant get time off of work? I hope you do not mind if I go, I value our time and relationship and love you, but I could die any moment and I want to connect with my guru and the teachings."

Anyhow. I pray all works out for you in successful retreat!!

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Re: First retreat

Postby Jikan » Thu Nov 14, 2013 10:17 pm

bryandavis wrote:Greetings,

First off it is really great you are willing and ready to do a retreat. I would go with the goenka retreat. Since you have not committed to one lineage or tradition, the Goenka retreat will have the least amount of "lineage stigma" so to speak, not saying there is no lineage to it or that it doesn't have its own characteristics, but you will get a lot of sitting in, done in a structured formal way. I follow the Tibetan model personally.

Also going to as many short weekend retreats in different lineages and styles will help you connect and feel your way towards what makes sense. But really when you meet that one teacher who just does it for you, or who blows you away with what ever quality they have, then that is probably going to be your main practice lineage. So until then keep putting your feelers out.

As far as your partner. I will be more frank than others maybe. If your partner cant be without you for 10 days or a week.... well.... your practice life is going to suffer if that habit is not dealt with. That sounds like many a co-dependant relationship I have been in. Just wont work if you take your Dharma practice to a level of wanting to engage in solitary practices or go to teachings that require travel and time. Its only been now, that I have a partner that is also a practitioner that I have been in a relationship where practice is not questioned as far as things like "I'm going to a retreat" or "I'm going to a teaching in two months.... oh, you cant get time off of work? I hope you do not mind if I go, I value our time and relationship and love you, but I could die any moment and I want to connect with my guru and the teachings."

Anyhow. I pray all works out for you in successful retreat!!

bryan.


:good:
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Re: First retreat

Postby seeker242 » Fri Nov 15, 2013 1:00 pm

duckfiasco wrote:
How did you decide on your first retreat? What did you look for?
Was there anything you would have done differently, looking back on it?



I looked for a group of people doing meditation practice, that's it! I went to the first one that I came across, which happened to be a Korean "kyol che" zen retreat and I went for 7 days out of the 90 days of the retreat. This was also my very first experience with any meditation at all. I had not done any meditation at all before going, not even a 1/2 hour of it! It was a very good experience! Would not have done anything differently.

Honestly, I don't think it really matters which one you go to. Any of them would be good.

Also worth noting that my partner isn't too thrilled with the idea of being alone at all while I do this.


Hmm, how do you skillfully tell someone to stop being selfish? That's a good question! Depends on the person I guess.

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Re: First retreat

Postby duckfiasco » Fri Nov 15, 2013 11:49 pm

Thank you all very much for your input! It's been more helpful than you know.

Jikan got me looking closely at the schedules. They look like they're rigorous in different ways. Here's the Zen schedule:
3:50 am Wake up bell
4:30 Zazen
6:50 Service
7:20 Breakfast (oriyoki) in dining hall
8:30 Work period begins
9:50 Warning bell to clean up
10:00 End of work period
10:30 Zazen
12:20 Service
12:30 Lunch (oriyoki) in dining hall
2:30 Zazen
5:20 Service
5:30 Dinner (oriyoki) in dining hall
7:00 Zazen
9:20 Formal Tea/Zazen
10:00 Monastery doors locked

Would it be safe to assume that the very, very long zazen sessions are broken up with kinhin? I suppose I could ask. I'm also not sure what the "work period" is.

Here's the Goenka schedule, also rigorous but broken up a lot more.
4:00 am Morning wake-up bell
4:30-6:30 am Meditate in the hall or in your room
6:30-8:00 am Breakfast break
8:00-9:00 am Group meditation in the hall
9:00-11:00 am Meditate in the hall or in your room according to the teacher's instructions
11:00-12:00 noon Lunch break
12noon-1:00 pm Rest and interviews with the teacher
1:00-2:30 pm Meditate in the hall or in your room
2:30-3:30 pm Group meditation in the hall
3:30-5:00 pm Meditate in the hall or in your own room according to the teacher's instructions
5:00-6:00 pm Tea break
6:00-7:00 pm Group meditation in the hall
7:00-8:15 pm Teacher's Discourse in the hall
8:15-9:00 pm Group meditation in the hall
9:00-9:30 pm Question time in the hall
9:30 pm Retire to your own room--Lights out


The Zen retreat ends up with 8 hours 20 minutes a day, but the sessions are LONG, yet spread out. The Goenka retreat comes in at almost 11 hours a day, but in shorter sessions. I really have no idea which would be more challenging.

There's TONS of bad press online about the Goenka retreats. I've assumed that because they're free, in many states, many times through the year, so they have much more exposure. I haven't given it too much credence.

I lean towards the Goenka retreat for its less specific focus on schools as was mentioned here, and it's a retreat designed for beginners. Then I lean towards the Zen retreats because it's the only specific school I have a lot of exposure to, because of some kickass Zen nuns at a priory in town. I've just held myself back from delving into Zen it at all, mostly because zazen feels inaccessible.

I've tried making a pros and cons list, and they're both the same length :rolleye:

And I agree that time apart would actually be beneficial for my partner and me. I work from home, so I'm always there. We haven't spent more than a day apart in at least three years. The tricky part will be communicating that skillfully. Thankfully, our relationship is solid.

Thank you all again for your input and any help. I'll be starting the process of getting time off and signing up in the next few days here.
Namu Amida Butsu
The Perfect Way knows no difficulties
Except that it refuses to make preferences;
Only when freed from hate and love,
It reveals itself fully and without disguise.
- Sengcan (tr. Suzuki)
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Re: First retreat

Postby futerko » Sat Nov 16, 2013 12:03 am

Oriyoki for breakfast, lunch and dinner! :tongue:

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Re: First retreat

Postby ClearblueSky » Sat Nov 16, 2013 8:44 am

If it were me, choosing between those two, I would do the goenka retreat. Those zazen sessions are just so incredibly long, especially as you say it's your first retreat. Little sessions more broken up definitely feels easier than really long sessions but less of them.
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Re: First retreat

Postby seeker242 » Sat Nov 16, 2013 12:23 pm

duckfiasco wrote:Would it be safe to assume that the very, very long zazen sessions are broken up with kinhin? I suppose I could ask. I'm also not sure what the "work period" is.


Yes, but they don't include that in the schedule as it would make for a very long page schedule. It's normally half hour of sitting followed by 10 minutes or so of walking, then another half hour sitting and 10 min walking, etc, etc.

Work period is "active meditation" or "work practice". Essentially various chores around the house, grounds, etc. Cleaning bathrooms, vacuuming rugs, sweeping, preparing food for lunch, raking leaves outside, shoveling snow, etc, etc. Any kind of work that would need to be done for whatever.
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Re: First retreat

Postby kirtu » Sat Nov 16, 2013 8:55 pm

duckfiasco wrote:Would it be safe to assume that the very, very long zazen sessions are broken up with kinhin? I suppose I could ask.


Zazen is broken up into periods with kinhin. But you should ask anyway. There can be a big difference between 30 minute periods and 45 minute periods. Some places do sit longer in fact. Then you can discover dukkha.

I'm also not sure what the "work period" is.


Work period is where you work. In the field, repairing the grounds, cooking food, cleaning, etc. It is the first opportunity that you have to take your realization off the cushion and into the world.

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Re: First retreat

Postby duckfiasco » Sat Nov 16, 2013 9:35 pm

I knew asking here was the right thing to do :)
I feel much better informed now and have gotten some great information.

I talked with the Zen monastery, and they corroborated what seeker said.
The zazen is 50 minutes sitting, 10 walking in alternation.
Not surprisingly, they also recommended against the Goenka retreat.
They said the retreats have videotaped teachings instead of a live person. Does that make a big difference?
They also said the retreats offer a standardized approach with interviews given by lay volunteers, but the sesshins offer tailored instructions from monks and teachers.

I think no matter which one I choose, there's the potential for great merit and benefit to all beings.
So that's a relief at least. Neither choice is "bad".
I know that personally, my body and restlessness are likely to go through hell.

At the moment, I'm leaning towards the Goenka retreat anyway.
A main reason is what Clearbluesky said.

I've never been able to easily decide on anything.
Taking refuge December 1st is a bit daunting but I'll do it.
And even if I have to flip a coin or throw darts, I'll pick a retreat before Tuesday.
I'll give my reasons in case this thread is helpful for someone else looking into their first retreat.
Namu Amida Butsu
The Perfect Way knows no difficulties
Except that it refuses to make preferences;
Only when freed from hate and love,
It reveals itself fully and without disguise.
- Sengcan (tr. Suzuki)
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Re: First retreat

Postby duckfiasco » Wed Nov 20, 2013 2:53 am

I've decided to go to the Goenka retreat.
It mainly seems like the development of concentration and vipassana could be applied to lots of other practices later on.
I also would rather use my single retreat opportunity next year to deepen what I do now, and not as a way to satisfy curiosity about something I've only dabbled in (zazen).
I can explore Zen more by attending weekly services in town.

I also feel more confident trying something designed with beginners in mind.

I've started brainstorming with my partner for things he might like to do while I'm gone.
I think once the shock wore off of being apart for the first time in several years, he's starting to appreciate how important it is.

I'm looking forward to doing something of benefit.
I'll be going for the January 29th - February 9th retreat in Washington.
Namu Amida Butsu
The Perfect Way knows no difficulties
Except that it refuses to make preferences;
Only when freed from hate and love,
It reveals itself fully and without disguise.
- Sengcan (tr. Suzuki)
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Re: First retreat

Postby ClearblueSky » Wed Nov 20, 2013 8:42 am

Congrats, may your retreat go well!
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