Wednesday, 21 March 2012

TIPS FOR A HOME SADHANA RETREAT: 1) PREPARATION



One of Anandamayi Ma's western disciples, the Frenchman Swami Vijayananda (he died in 2010 but check him out on the internet, very saintly and wise guy) made a very interesting comment in an interview once, saying that there was so much depression and psychological upset in the West because many had a deep longing for renunciation, not just spiritual practice - and yet could do nothing about it or even express it, as the traditions had fallen out of awareness in society, unlike in India or southeast Asia. Is that what's calling you? You don't have to go the whole hog, but I believe that in every one of our spiritual journies we need to be alone at some points.


Maybe its time for you to spend just a little time apart and dive deeper into your practice. For that you need a retreat. You know what? You don't have to go on a course, you don't have to pay oodles of money to some dubious teacher, you don't even have to fall into the expectations or dictates of others. How do you do this? You set up your own home retreat.

This very simple discipline is surprisingly neglected in the West. We feel we need permission to do such a daring and unusual thing. It seems even an unnatural thing to do, so conditioned are we to the idea that we must be active and out there in some way or other. And we will be alone! Gasp! Or maybe as a couple or a family we will do this retreat.

But let's assume you are deadly serious in intent, and you have a weekend to spare, but have to work on the Friday and the Monday. So, ideally, your retreat will maybe begin in earnest on Saturday morning with a preparation on Friday evening, and end Sunday afternoon - just as a course would. The only thing is that you will not be exhausting yourself by travelling anywhere and, as I said, your pockets will not be lighter as a result!

This first post will outline what I've found works very well as a basic retreeat structure:

RETREAT PREPARATION

1) BUILD IT ROUND MORE PROLONGED MEDITATION PERIODS
This will be the core purpose of the retreat. You will not reflecting on your every thought, you will aiming to still your mental activity.

The very minimum to try to aim for is to meditate an hour at a time, and preferably at least twice in a day. But if you feel able, try and extend this up to 2hrs a time or 3hrs a time, as much as you can. Over 3 hours will leave you seriously out of synch with the world, and so you will have to be careful. But the idea generally is not just to dip into and out of a meditative state for 20-30 minutes. You will NOT go crazy if you extend meditation, but do this with common sense and remember that if you have problems sitting in one posture, change posture as often as you need. But don't lie down to meditate... and keep your spine erect.

2) IF YOU CAN, STAY IN YOUR HOUSE AND GARDEN FOR THE RETREAT
I've learned through trial and error that planning this kind of weekend inadequately, and rushing out to go shopping in the middle of it to get food etc, is a recipe for disaster. The staying in the confines of your house and garden is a surprisingly tough restraint, but it pays fantastic dividends. So get all the food you need on the Friday. 

3) NO TV, NO PHONES
Aha... that also will be part of the retreat. Deep meditation followed by hours of watching people with guns or scantily clad bodies creates a dissonance and upset that you do not want. Retreats plus 100 text messages is also a no-no. You are aiming not to divide the mind and focus intently.

4) JOURNALLING IS OK
If your energy bubbles over to such an extent and you need an outlet, write it all down... but NEVER act on some insight or imagined message you think you may have received on a retreat.

5) HATHA YOGA/TAI CHI/GARDENING/HOUSEWORK etc OK
You are going to need to do something physical for a scheduled period of time to ground all that silent activity. But ONLY for a strictly allotted period (see suggested timetable in post #2). Don't go crazy and spend the retreat polishing every bathroom tile until midnight. But do this activity in the spirit of conscious quiet awareness, as a meditative practice.

6) WAKE UP EARLIER THAN USUAL, SLEEP EARLIER THAN USUAL
Waking up late on a retreat probably means that what you need is simply rest from a busy week, and if that's what's calling you, wait for a time when you are not so exhausted.

7) LOWER EXPECTATIONS
You are simply on a little break, so do not expect to have angels dancing outside your door and the Lord bowing at your feet. Your mind will be whining constantly and you may even feel tearful and full of self-pity that you are being denied your usual customs and opportunities for indulgence. That's OK, but don't fall for the tricks of the mind. Stick to it.


8) EAT LIGHTLY
A huge big blow-out meal in the middle of your retreat will be a disaster, and means you're going to fall asleep in the afternoon. If you must eat expansively, do so at the end of the retreat for your Sunday evening meal.

9) CHANT/SWADHYAYA
This is an indispensable part of my retreat schedule, but it might be sdomething you've never done or don't really know how to do. In which case, make up your own prayers, or recite something of meaning, in front of your altar/puja. the idea is to do this kind of activity for at least half an hour.

10) CREATE A SACRED SPACE WHERE YOU WILL MEDITATE
I am lucky enough to have an entire room for spiritual activity... a 21st century cave (with central heating). If you have a room, use it and create a wonderful sacred atmosphere where the chitti rays will build up and up and up. Or maybe outside in a place you will not be disturbed, but make sure you will not be plagued by insects wherever you sit.


11) USE COMMON SENSE AND BE FLEXIBLE
If an emergency arises, deal with and abandon the retreat if necessary. Don't make a religion about this. It is a voluntary exercise and if conditions are simply inauspicious, be gentle and bend with the wind.


12) BUT BE DEADLY SERIOUS OF PURPOSE!
Flexibility, yes... but have an inner core purpose saying "I'm going to dedicate this time for a retreat... I'm going to do it." Begin the retreat with a formal sankalpa, a little ceremony in which you outwardly express your desire and your aims...

ON TO PART TWO....





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