Entering and Departing Silent Retreats

Many ask, “How do I enter into a silent meditation retreat and then re-engage the world upon departure?  You can just experience the retreat and then create your own guidelines for next time or perhaps these guidelines might be useful to begin with.  I have shared these guidelines for entering and departing silent retreats at home or at retreat centers. The silence may align you with your breath and perhaps allow life to unfold without tampering with it for a day, week, month, or however long your retreat.  Here are a few suggestions:

Entering Retreats

  • A week to two weeks prior to the time of your retreat, go to bed early, rise early, sit, eat less (mostly green vegetables, brown rice, etc.), read less, less TV (news, movies), less phone and email, reduce work and contact with others.  LESS…
  • Walk more to move angst.  Drink calming tea such as Tulsi (Holy basil).  Bathe more often.
  • Refrain from any serious conversations or dialogues that need processing but cannot be completed before your retreat.
  • Let your friends know you are gifting yourself with silence and express gratitude for how they have supported you thus far in your journey of life (you want them to feel you are taking them with you in your heart and that’s it is for them as well)
  • If you are driving to the retreat or have to drive on the days of your silence, no music, no news, no conversation if possible.
  • Put down all books your reading (including spiritual books) and all writing (including journaling).
  • Let go of projects you are working on at least three days in advance.
  • Arrange for someone to sit with the children, elders, and pets.
  • When your retreat starts take in each moment as the retreat and not see yourself as sitting for a whole day, week, month, or however long your retreat. Take in each moment of the retreat as it reveals the true seamlessness of life. No matter what relative time has been set it is an infinite experience.
  • See the retreat as an extension of the life you are living right now, as a continuum, no different, just one day breathing and seeing, walking, eating…then another day doing the same. Seeing the mundane life as it is.  No distractions.
  • Congratulate yourself for taking time out of your life to commit to an act of love for yourself and therefore everyone around receives such love and light
  • Carry an inner smile.  Laugh at the mind.
  • Allow the schedule that has been provided to be a container to dwell in freedom. You do not have to do anything but let your body settle back into the time you are giving it to rest.
  • Do not bring a lot of belongings from home, especially things that might remind you to “do something.” Keep everything to bare necessities. Simple.
  • While retreating you have an opportunity to cease harming, worry, automatic habits and behavior. You can simply witness your life as you move through each moment.
  • Express your concerns in a spiritual discussion with a spiritual companion or teacher. If none is available write your concerns down until you can speak with someone who can provide appropriate guidance.
  • Look out into the open land, sky or ocean and see it as your life—vast, open, empty of clutter (an image you can carry inside you)
  • Cry
  • Breathe

Departing Retreats

  • Keep experience to yourself for a while. Let the cooking of your life settle. Say to your friends, “I gave myself a wonderful gift and I am still being with it. “
  • Try not to spend time judging your experience — good or bad.
  • Continue to sit and settle your thinking each day. Build on the experience.
  • Listen to everything. Listen to the sounds around you. Listen to those who are speaking. Listen longer than usual.  Listen.
  • Engage in activities that are in alignment with peace. Take nature walks. Bathe. Avoid parties or large gatherings for some time. Avoid long conversations.
  • If at work set the timer on your cell phone (or computer) to sound every 30 minutes to remind you of the breath and experience of the retreat.
  • Live the teachings for some time and wait a while to speak to others about what you have learned.
  • Cherish every moment as you did in the silence–the difficult and the not so difficult.
  • Enjoy being a sleuth in the mystery of your life.

Eventually entering and departing will become seamless and you will see how your life has changed. You will no longer need guidelines.

Be well.

Zenju Earthlyn Manuel (updated June 2015)

Posted in dharma-notes
3 comments on “Entering and Departing Silent Retreats
  1. Monza Naff says:

    Fantastic advice, Zenju Earthlyn! I have been on many retreats, silent and otherwise, and I’ve needed this advice and not heard it before now. You’re spot on! Thank you for your wise counsel. Blessings to you, my friend.

  2. MedusasMuse says:

    just reading this made me breath deeply. I am not going on retreat any time soon, but I think these suggestions are useful to create a peaceful time within your own day. Why not take a weekend at home and follow this advice?

  3. drew says:

    I am going on a my first (weekend) silent retreat soon.
    For years I have been put off going to silent retreats, (especially longer ones), because of the apparent focus on rigid discipline and lack of emphasis on self-care.
    Your article puts a very beautiful light on silent retreats and gives useful and practical tips on how to take care of oneself before and after a retreat.
    The lead-in time is significant enough to have a flow on effect which I imagine would be very empowering and soothing for an attendee who may occasionally find themselves at odds with an over-zealous facilitator.
    Thank you.

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