Inside A Week Long Meditation Retreat

A few short weeks before Christmas I was deciding what I would do for the holiday period. I had a few ideas, but most required a lot of money, pushing in on other people’s plans or the stress of throwing something together when there really wasn’t anything obvious or very appealing. The period between Christmas and New Years has always been a dead time with poor weather when I preferred to be doing something somewhere else, removed from daily routines. For this reason, Winter is the natural time for meditation retreats and my Shambhala meditation community offers 1, 2, 3 or 4 week versions.  Yes some people go on retreat for a month at a time. I realized this year was my perfect opportunity to go so I drove off by myself to Sky Lake Lodge in Huson Valley, NY to meditate mostly in silence without technology for a week with 20 people I didn’t know. 

There were generally two reactions when I tell people what I was doing:

  1. A week? Is it really silent? Oh my God I wouldn’t last a day, i.e. why would you do that to yourself.       OR
  2. Wow that sounds amazing, you’ll be so relaxed and centered.

To be honest, as Day 2 was waning and I was sitting in the third 2-hr segment of sitting and walking meditation that day, I was starting to feel more along the lines of reaction one.  Oh shit. If I’m bored and not inspired on day 2, is this week gonna suck?  The great thing about such fearful driven thoughts (and all thoughts) is that they are gone as fast as they come if you don’t keep regurgitating them to yourself. About 10-20 seconds actually.

This is the critical moment in everyone’s retreat.  You could follow the “quick judging, wish-I-was-somewhere-else mindset” and choose to bail on your commitment for something more pleasurable/comfortable or equally unuseful you choose to stay but frame the retreat as a burden/mistake and be miserable.  Alternatively, if you follow the mindfulness instructions given, you just let go of that fearful thought, like all the others that popped up in the last minute of meditation, and see what happens.  There is major comfort in the truth that everything changes naturally.

Within minutes I was feeling different, enjoying the simple peacefulness of sitting in a quiet cozy hall in a beautiful snow dusted forest.  After dinner I felt all-together different about the retreat, focusing on the delicious, healthy food Yolanda had prepared for us.  That evening I picked up an interesting book on Enlightened Design (think Buddhist feng shui), which made me feel exhilarated with ideas. The next morning the world was fresh and the sun shined bright over the snow as we walked around the pond. By that evening I was so inspired by a verbal reading about creating an enlightened society that I was furiously writing about how Unite can have a part in creating it. So you see the state of mind is in such great flux and there are so many amazing things happening all the time that you need not get stuck inside your head pitted against your “problems” and “irritations”.

Meditation trains your mind just like a muscle, so that it can remain stable and catch itself when it starts to “re-act” previous moments or ideas neurotically, defensively, selfishly, etc.  By remembering to relax and trust in the goodness of the world we can let those thoughts go, even if just for a few minutes. With practice we build strength in our mind’s ability to catch itself and can come back to the clear and present mind.

We all have been that person that gets triggered by something or someone and spins off emotionally blah blah blah. Its like you cannot talk to them at all because they aren’t really HERE.  They are in their mind stirring up bullshit. Well meditation is the ticket out of being that person; out of being rude, cowardly, forgetful, disengaged, unmotivated, unhappy and just about any other mental disposition we rather not have. There is not much difference between training to run, training to eat less sugar and training to be more mindful/relaxed/happy.  My wish is that we engage in all these worthwhile pursuits.

It is no surprise to me that Shambhala’s leader and key author, Sakyong Rinpoche, is a marathon runner and fitness/nutrition aficionado. I cannot recommend any program more for improving the quality of your life than Shambhala’s secular approach to Buddhist meditation.  While some retreats are too hardcore (no interaction at all) and some too soft (senseless chit chat and spa services), Shambhala always goes for the right balance just like Unite.  I highly recommend starting off with an intro to meditation and a weekly evening course. CHECK OUT SHAMBHALA.  They also have tons of great books and audio tapes by Pema Chodron and Sakyong amongst others. I love to talk about it so please feel free to reach out to me personally

I was so inspired here that I am looking into hosting a Unite Summerfest Retreat @ Sky Lake Lodge Aug 7th-10th! Are you interested?

For those who haven’t been on one of my retreats, I’ll give you a little idea of what they combine but honestly most people have said it was one of the best vacations they have had.  Why?  Well it’s because Unite Retreats aren’t just in magical places, infused with fitness, astoundingly relaxing, embedded in nature, enjoyably introspective, hilariously social, and graced with the most delicious healthy food found anywhere.  They are the perfect balance of all those things: Heart.Muscle.Mind.

I need a read from people to see if this new retreat will book up before I commit money to reserve it so please email me if you have some interest.

Coach Gavin McKay

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