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lifeflame's avatar

How should I structure my sessions for a three day sitting meditation retreat?

Asked by lifeflame (5790 points ) February 1st, 2011

I’ve been wanting to do an extended vipassana (sitting meditation) retreat for myself for a long time now. There’s a center that offers 10 day courses, but due to work complications, I’ve never managed to find two weekends free.

But life is short, and there is no time like now…. so, carpe diem! I’ve set aside three days during Chinese New Year, and found a quiet room where I can sit undisturbed. Now I need to plan a schedule for myself—how long to sit for each time? I was thinking of starting with 50 minutes a round (which is my current maximum so far), and doing walking meditation in between the sits. I’m expecting to work up from there… see how it goes… it’s going to take some self-discipline!

Any advice from people who have done an extended retreat before? I have done sitting meditation before, and I practice standing meditation / tai chi/ hands on healing fairly regularly, so it’s not new to me. But I’ve never tried an extended retreat before… so I’d would love to hear from those who have done this before…

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8 Answers

Megan64's avatar

On the website they have a general schedule of what the day is like; I would use that as a guide. It’s too bad you can’t get there to do the large group meditation. I’ve not been, but my friend said it was powerful.

Cruiser's avatar

I never did this but the people I know who have have spoke highly of the experience. I would create a strict schedule of your “program” based on the program you may have attended. I think the harder part will be keeping the flow of your time throughout the day calm, relaxed, directed and free of distractions.

I would have a bunch of good books to turn to during your down time, meditative music of course, plan out some calming asanas to do everyday along with pranyama’s and daily walks in the woods. Also, planning mindful meals that you can enjoy making and eating throughout the day should give you a very relaxing experience! Oh…and lots of candles! Enjoy!

Harp's avatar

At our temple, we’ve done quite a bit of experimenting with how to structure retreats, and here’s what we’ve found works best for us.

The rounds:
We sit 50 minute rounds, but allow for a posture change halfway through. Most people will rearrange their legs at this point or readjust their cushions, but even just taking the weight off your butt for a couple of seconds goes along way toward alleviating the discomfort. After the full 50 minutes, we do 10 minutes of walking meditation. We used to do shorter rounds (35 min.) separated by 7 minutes of walking, but in a retreat situation that makes you feel like you’re constantly getting up and down. And frankly, I find the system with the longer rounds less physically punishing.

The “blocks”:
The day is broken up into “blocks”. Each block consists of 2 or 3 rounds, separated by walking. Between blocks, some other form of practice (chanting, a dharma talk, outdoor walking meditation), a meal, a work period or a rest period. So here’s what a typical retreat day at our place looks like:

Morning block starts at 4:45 with fast outdoor walking meditation to clear the head. Then 2 rounds of sitting, followed by chanting.

Breakfast, work period, rest period.

The “talk” block starts with a round of sitting, then a talk which is as long as a round, then another round of sitting.

lunch

Afternoon block is 2 rounds, followed by a chanting service.

A free period when people can exercise, stretch, walk or sit informally (not a rest period).

1 round of sitting (this helps refocus after the free period)

Dinner, rest period.

Evening block is two rounds of sitting, plus another half round. This ends the day at 9:30. All in all, you will have been on the cushion about 10 hours at this point.

That’s the formal stuff, but most people use some of the nighttime hours and some of the rest periods for additional informal sitting. Many will sit in chairs for this informal sitting.

I should mention that we have a strict “no moving” policy during the rounds (except for the midpoint posture change. I hear that other places have more formal sitting sit over the day, but allow for more fidgetting to compensate. And there are plenty of other places that have more rigorous schedules than ours.

Clearly, if you’re doing this solo you’ll have more freedom to play with the structure. But do impose some kind of structure, because it will get difficult and painful. In a three-day retreat, you’ll spend a good chunk of the first couple of days in a cloud of fatigue, pain, and mental/emotional garbage. You’ll start to get beyond all that toward the end, but you’ll need the structure to carry you through that initial slog.

Enjoy!

gailcalled's avatar

@Harp: Welcome back

Harp's avatar

Thanks!

Jeruba's avatar

@Harp! Hurray! Wonderful to see you here.

Harp's avatar

[blush]

lifeflame's avatar

Thanks, Harp. What you described is exactly what I was thinking.
OK, jellies… here I go!

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