Retreats in the normal daily world - how to work around committments

Nicola Joanne Dunn, modified 13 Years ago at 5/14/09 1:39 PM
Created 13 Years ago at 5/14/09 1:39 PM

Retreats in the normal daily world - how to work around committments

Posts: 15 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Forum: Dharma Overground Discussion Forum

OK so this is pretty long, so bear with me, especially if you start reading whilst I'm posting it all up. Wait til you get to the bit where I 'sign' my name. That's the end!

So, I said I'd post something about retreats, and how they can be managed around a full life, whether it be family committments, work, ill health, or whatever. Quite often, in various traditions of Buddhism, retreats are recommended, or even just part of the way along the path. Quite often these can be very short retreats - week long isolation, or specific text study retreats with other people (Shedra we call them in the Tibetan Tradition).
Though coming from a Tibetan Buddhist background, I know more of my own tradition, and we have a tradition of three months, or three years. The three year retreat is more commonly for people wishing to become Lamas, but nowadays a lot of people seem to be looking to do more and more retreat time, putting in the kind of time that is more commonly seen in a monks life, or a Lama's life.

Also, people seem to be very interested in doing self retreats, rather than group retreats, and how to do these with commitments, and how to set them up, and decide what to do, and schedule things.

So, I've been wondering how we can do this whilst still maintaining contact with the world if we need to, since I personally am quite severely disabled, and I simply cannot cut off my ties to the world, not even for a week, as I have demanding care needs and a serious need to at least maintain contact with my boyfriend and various health care professionals to maintain my physical and mental health.

Other people have other committments, such as work, or family, that they can't just take a break from and put the world on hold for weeks, months, years at a time.
Nicola Joanne Dunn, modified 13 Years ago at 5/14/09 1:40 PM
Created 13 Years ago at 5/14/09 1:40 PM

RE: Retreats in the normal daily world - how to work around committmen

Posts: 15 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Also, I'm a big believer in the idea of living Buddhism. That is to say, not just following ritual, studying texts, but really applying it to your life.
We can learn every single text by heart, and still known nothing if we don't apply it.
So I also kind of like the idea of maintaining contact with the outside world, at least in part, so that we can learn to apply the things we're studying, or the new insights we've found through our retreat practice.
It almost makes the retreat a way of focusing on applying the things we've learnt into our life.
Anyway, for whatever reasons, if you can't just give up contact with the world for however long, but still feel the need to do a retreat-style 'thing' for however long, then this is the thing I've been really thinking hard about for a long time, and this is what I'll be attempting for a (lunar) month long retreat starting on 24th of this month.
I chose the 24th as it's a full moon, and that's important in Tibetan Buddhism.

So my ideas and plans and stuff.
The really basic idea of this is to set a schedule for each day, that is flexible because of things that just come up and emergencies, etc (my health is very random, and people with young children might have to go do things, and so on).
I guess the important thing is to work out what you want your retreat to be based around. Being from the Tibetan tradition, I like the idea of a sort of shedra, though not taught, obviously, since it's a self retreat, not going to my Sangha and having a teaching over several days.
So I'm picking a few texts that I want to study, I'm also alloting time for Tibetan language study, pujas, meditation, and I'm thinking of working out what koan training is like, but using it in a form of answer seeking meditation to some of the important questions in my life at the moment.
Nicola Joanne Dunn, modified 13 Years ago at 5/14/09 1:40 PM
Created 13 Years ago at 5/14/09 1:40 PM

RE: Retreats in the normal daily world - how to work around committmen

Posts: 15 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
I'm also planning on setting aside time for walks outside when it's sunny as my mental health does well if I'm out in the sunshine, and fresh air is good for the physical health. I often go for long walks (I rely on batteries not leg power, and my wheelchair can go a fair distance!) whilst listening to Buddhist Geeks podcast, or other dharma podcasts, or audio books, or mp3's of mantra chanting, and such things. So in a way it's like a walking meditation.

I'm preparing massive life changes with this retreat; I didn't celebrate Losar (Tibetan New Year), because of my health. My mental health has been terrible this year, and now it's time I sorted myself out and fixed a lot of the problems I've created because of that.
I also really need to work on various aspects of my life, and get myself in a much better shape, which will help my health overall anyway. So I'm going to be fasting in this retreat and treating it as my own Losar - where we do spring cleaning of both mind, body and house.

Normally Tibetans would fast after noon, having eaten in the morning, but due to my medication and a very long time of bad habit inducing bad health and mind issues, I don't get out of bed til after noon, so that would be impossible for me, so I decided to go for almost ramadan-style fasting. But whereas they would eat before sunrise, and break the fast after sun set, I will eat just after I get out of bed, as that is the beginning of the day for me, no matter what time it is. And I will break fast at around 7pm so I'm not eating after 8pm.

I'm hoping this will really get me in to the habit of eating better, and wanting to eat better.
A month is meant to be pretty much an ideal amount of time for fixing something into the mind as a habit
Nicola Joanne Dunn, modified 13 Years ago at 5/14/09 1:41 PM
Created 13 Years ago at 5/14/09 1:41 PM

RE: Retreats in the normal daily world - how to work around committmen

Posts: 15 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
And since I'm doing it as a Religious thing, and I'll be distracting myself from hunger with my practice, meditation and study, I'm hoping it will go well, and foster a big change, as I eat really badly at the moment, and it's not helping my physical health at all.

Having looked at this, for those who are interested in fasting on retreat, I've also looked at the sort of things you should eat whilst fasting. If anyone's interested in fasting, say so and I'll share what I've learnt.
Also, I will be having no dairy for the entire time, as I'm actually lactose intolerant, but can't resist cheese... so I should cut down, and maybe a month without will lessen the desire!

So my schedule.

Rather than put down times and lengths for each thing I want to do, I know that that would cause problems. I might wake up having dislocated my hip, and not be able to sit and meditate for a while, or for a long time. Whereas the next day I might be fine and be ok to meditate for ages.
Or whilst studying, I might dislocate my wrist. (I'm not imagining bizarre meditation injuries, by the way, my medical condition means that just to move, causes dislocations, and all of my joints dislocate).

For those with family or work commitments, they might have a child who isn't well, or is not sleeping, or they might have an extra meeting, or whatever, things come up, if we schedule things by time slots, it will only cause us stress when things do come up and we feel our retreat is being disturbed.
Nicola Joanne Dunn, modified 13 Years ago at 5/14/09 1:42 PM
Created 13 Years ago at 5/14/09 1:42 PM

RE: Retreats in the normal daily world - how to work around committmen

Posts: 15 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
I've noticed that as calm as we can get whilst meditating, often we get really irritated if we feel anything is impinging on our meditation - just think, you've set up this wonderful retreat, and finally it'll be perfect because you won't have to stop working, and you can still help around the house with the kids, etc, and then something gets in the way right when you're in the middle of breaking into the next jhana, and it pulls you right out!
Frustrating?
Well... that's life.
And the whole point is to live life as it is, and with whatever it throws at us.
So no time slots with perfect times and lengths of times for what you want to do. It's just too much hassle.
Flexibility is your friend.

So basically, I set up a day like this:

Wake

Breakfast

Morning Practice (My own Manjushri Sadhana - this is my personal practice, each person in Tibetan Buddhism does a personal practice, and it varies depending on your circumstances and what the Lama reccomends)

Spring Clean - a bit of tidying around the house

Buddhist history - I'm currently sitting down and teaching myself more about Buddhism, and the basics of Buddhism, and about the history of Buddhism. Every time I learn something, it's only to realise I don't really know anything! This is also time to learn about Buddhism, rather than to learn Buddhist things really - to increase my knowledge, rather than my insight.

Tibetan Language Study

Practice - Medicine Buddha (I do this for pretty obvious reasons)

Text study - I'm choosing to properly study Daniel's Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha, and probably Patrul Rinpoche's Words of my Perfect Teacher during this retreat. I may choose a small sutra as well, not sure yet.

Walk if weather is good
Nicola Joanne Dunn, modified 13 Years ago at 5/14/09 1:42 PM
Created 13 Years ago at 5/14/09 1:42 PM

RE: Retreats in the normal daily world - how to work around committmen

Posts: 15 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Spend time on my online game, keeping in touch with people, doing things I need to do, etc. Applying things such as Right Speech, Right Thought, and so on. (Quite difficult to do when you have to deal with really difficult people as you do in online games! Good practice hehe)

Breaking fast

Practice - Chenrezig

Proper meal

Writing up what the day has been like, and spending time with my boyfriend and whatever I normally do in the evening - the evening tends to be my 'social' life, which is rather limited, and tends to be online and in the game I play. Might seem sad, but I can't get out much, and well, maybe I'm pretty sad hehe.
I haven't used my blog really, just posted a first post, so I might actually blog my progress. All things bared type of thing.

In my spare time, I plan to do things that are useful to me and my life at this time, obviously that's going to be different for everyone. For me it involves sorting out various forms that I need to fill in, making myself a web portal with rss feeds from my favourite sites, podcasts, etc, so I can actually keep up with everything I do on the net all in one place, because my bookmarks are insane now!
Things like that.
Spring cleaning - of the life.
It's my Losar though, and that's what the month is used for - a massive spring clean, effectively.

Obviously you can choose different 'themes' for your retreat.
I like the text study idea, and I plan to do another retreat later on in the year with a good copy of the pali cannon.
And then other Tibetan texts.
Things like that.

I think it's perfectly possible to do a retreat around life committments.
I plan to prove just that.
Nicola Joanne Dunn, modified 13 Years ago at 5/14/09 1:43 PM
Created 13 Years ago at 5/14/09 1:43 PM

RE: Retreats in the normal daily world - how to work around committmen

Posts: 15 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
You can do anything really, just work out what time you have free, decide what it is you want to gain out of the retreat. If you want to study a text - then schedule slots to study that text - read it, make notes, read your notes, you know how to study.
If you want to just meditate, then do that.
Slots of meditation, along with other activities that are beneficial on a retreat - gardening, house cleaning, cooking, and so on.
You know what it is you want to get out of it, and do, just put it down in a vague simple schedule like I have above.
I might not get through all of those in a day.
I might get through more.
Who knows?
And it doesn't really matter - you're on your own here, no one's going to tell you you're doing it wrong. You're making your own time to do things that you want to do, to further your practice and better your understanding of things.

Always remember to note down at the end of the day what the day has been like, and what you've gained from it, what troubles you've had, any random thoughts at all.
I was thinking of keeping a small notepad with me all the time for that, if I have thoughts, just put them in there, even if I'm in the middle of writing notes when I'm studying. Just put the spare thoughts and insights and troubles into that notepad, and come back to it at the end of the day.

Then you can do weekly reviews. At the end of each week, go over what you've learnt that week, and the troubles you had. See if you've overcome those troubles. If not, work out how best to overcome them. If they're problems with doing the retreat around your daily life, then work out what would be a better time to do the bits you're having trouble with, or cut down the time a bit.
Nicola Joanne Dunn, modified 13 Years ago at 5/14/09 1:44 PM
Created 13 Years ago at 5/14/09 1:44 PM

RE: Retreats in the normal daily world - how to work around committmen

Posts: 15 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
If it's practice problems, well remember, the overground is always here. You're not cutting yourself off from the world for this one, you can come and ask questions.
You can even use those questions as a meditation!

A bit of practical stuff now.
Even though you're going to be maintaining contact with the world, remember you're doing a retreat. It's not easy to get into, and get out of a retreat.
I don't think it'll be easy even with everyday contact with the world either.
You're going to be upping your practice levels a lot.
Even whilst you're doing your every day things, your mind will be thinking "I'm on retreat... wow.. I'm on retreat!" and all sorts of odd things will happen.
Retreats take some preparation.
I don't really know what preparation really, I'm mostly preparing for the fasting element, and also eating better leading up to the retreat, and cutting out sugars, fizzy drinks, etc. Switching to water only, increasing my vitamin intake, things like that. But a lot of that is fasting preparation.
But it will also help the mind slow down and be calmer and get prepared.

Make sure you have plenty of paper, pens, folders if you like using them (I do!), the texts you need, and any materials you might need.

If you have a partner, make sure they understand what you're doing - this is really, really important. If they don't understand, it will make things difficult. They might understand if you go off to a cabin in the woods for a month, but the idea of a retreat whilst maintaining contact with the world is a bit radical really.
Make sure they know you ARE on retreat, and that things will be the same as though you were in a cabin in the woods, but you'll also be there and in touch and will be continuing your daily life.
Nicola Joanne Dunn, modified 13 Years ago at 5/14/09 1:45 PM
Created 13 Years ago at 5/14/09 1:45 PM

RE: Retreats in the normal daily world - how to work around committmen

Posts: 15 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Make sure they're ok with the change in things too - you might think it's fine to not do the washing up for a week because you're alloting that time to meditation, but do they?
The whole point of doing a retreat and still living in the world, is that you do things you need to do. That washing up is one of them!

Make sure your close friends know too - if they're going to be expecting all that spare time spent with them, explain you're doing more practice at the moment as a retreat. Make sure things don't get complicated!

Most important of all, enjoy it.
Feel the freedom of being able to do a retreat, and not having to worry about job security because there's a recession and you need a month off work, and your boss might decide that's enough to find your position redundant, or whatever.
Make the most of what you're doing, and don't worry if it feels weird at first.
Don't worry if it feels weird for the whole thing.

If you sit, and sit, and sit, and acheive absolutely nothing but having sat... well you're probably worrying too much, and in the back of your mind is a deep-seated fear that it isn't going to work because it isn't a 'real' retreat.
Well it is!
A retreat in that cabin in the woods is just what you make of it, so how can that be any different from a retreat in your own house, with your kids running around you, or having to get up each day and go into work and do the daily grind?
The time you find to yourself to do the extra practice, and to put in the effort of a retreat, might just feel all the more precious for it being in your normal daily life.
That's certainly what I'm hoping!
Nicola Joanne Dunn, modified 13 Years ago at 5/14/09 1:45 PM
Created 13 Years ago at 5/14/09 1:45 PM

RE: Retreats in the normal daily world - how to work around committmen

Posts: 15 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
I can't really think of anything else to say now, so I'll end this. If anyone has any questions, feel free to ask. If anyone thinks I'm stupid and it won't work at all, and I don't have a clue of what I'm talking about, say so!
I'll let you know how my retreat goes!
If anyone has any other ideas or tips or hints, or things they think I should try out, also let me know!

Oh and if anyone knows about koan training... and how you do meditation on a single question (not a really confusing one like koan training, though I guess questions of the meaning of life and stuff are just as confusing...) please tell me!
I can only imagine sitting there thinking "how do I do this... how do I do that..... umm.... I don't know... how will sitting here help me work it out?".
I've never meditated on questions before.

Djon Ma

Nicola
Nicola Joanne Dunn, modified 13 Years ago at 5/15/09 2:44 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 5/15/09 2:44 AM

RE: Retreats in the normal daily world - how to work around committmen

Posts: 15 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Sorry, forgot to say I would be setting aside time to do T'ai Chi, and my wii fit and some yoga excercises.
I can't do cardio exercise, but I have to keep doing those or I stop walking all together!

Djon Ma

Nicola
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Wet Paint, modified 13 Years ago at 5/15/09 6:32 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 5/15/09 6:32 AM

RE: Retreats in the normal daily world - how to work around committmen

Posts: 22924 Join Date: 8/6/09 Recent Posts
Author: SoManyThoughts

Hi Nicola,
I think it's a really cool idea to organize your life like that for a month. I'd probably have to make a schedule & keep a practice journal or something to help keep myself on track. My free time tends to get disorganized and frittered away very easily.

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