Now It’s Personal: At-Home Meditation Retreat

After years of sitting meditation retreats, I’ve brought the practices into my daily life in many different ways. Among the most rejuvenating practices is creating a personal retreat day at home.

Here are some DIY instructions for building your own mindfulness retreat at home. Having done this a few times, I can tell you that it’s tough to get started…. It helps if you have an established meditation practice and retreat experience. Yet even for newbies, if the intention is here, then awareness is here in the moment and at home.

1. Make Time
Pick a date well ahead of time, and hang on to it. I found 24 hours when I knew I’d have the house to myself, and I cleared it in my calendar. This is harder than it sounds. Then I had to protect the time: Oops! I scheduled something, and then had to reschedule it. Yikes! I received not one, not two, but three last-minute requests to teach… and had to face the perpetual making-money vs. making-time decision. Make time. Make time. Tell everyone that you’re unavailable that day.

2. Structure Freedom
Especially if you haven’t done a home retreat before, a schedule can be very helpful. Decide how long each meditation period will be, and how frequently you want to sit. Consider what kind of movement you may want to do: yoga, walking, qi gong, dancing…. I like active movement or asana in the morning and a couple of hours for slowing down into restoratives in the afternoon. Build in time to prepare delicious meals, and maybe even time for (my favorite) a nap. You get the idea. Create a plan before starting the day, so you don’t have to deliberate (or waver). Write it down. It’ll free you up for more a more continuously meditative mind-state. Stick to it, or notice what happens when you don’t.

3. Unplug
Seriously. Turn off the phones. Cover the TV. Shut down the computer. Minimize contact with the outside world. If this will be difficult, then you might want to note limited, specific times in your schedule when you’ll check email and phone messages. If you check messages, notice what happens in your mind and body! In a sense, this is a decision-point about the depth of silence you want to invite into your retreat. Decide: Will you do any writing or reading? What about listening to music? Using art supplies? Again, if you’re new, I suggest going as radio-silent as possible for as long as possible. At the same time, be kind to yourself. Notice the moments when you want to turn to familiar habits and distractions. Home, as a setting for practice, is ripe with all our favorite activities and distractions.

4. Use Props
Here are the items I like to prepare ahead or have close at hand: A sitting cushion for meditation. My yoga mat and yogic paraphernalia. Healthy, organic foods I enjoy. Comfy clothes that I can sit in and move with indoors or outside. A downloaded dharma talk, for the end of the day. (You could even download some guided meditation instructions, if this would support your sitting practice.) Oh, and don’t forget a timer so you don’t have to keep an eye on the clock! This list of props makes it sound like you’re going to be doing stuff when the day is really about not doing, but gathering key supplies means less fussing and greater simplicity during the day.

5. Enjoy Yourself
This seems obvious, but it can be the death knell of an at-home meditation retreat if you make it into too much work and yourself into your own worst meditation boss. Sitting with ourselves can be challenging, but why make it harder than it has to be? I give you lots of permission to pause between meditation periods to take a bath, or sing out loud. Mindfully, of course.

Now that I read back over these five instructions, they seem pretty good for life in general: Make time, structure freedom, unplug, use props, and enjoy yourself! Let me know how it goes.
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