Often I find myself craving a little getaway, but between my calendar and the teaching schedule of the masters, it’s a struggle to get things to line up in my favor. Consequently, I regularly withdraw to devote hours to self-study and personal practice. Over the years I have enjoyed countless lectures, recorded classes, books, and meditations, guiding my own retreats in my backyard. Below is a general formula for “homegrown retreats” and a list of wonderful resources that I use and would recommend to anyone looking to take extra time on their weekends to dive deeper into their spiritual practice.
The Elements of an Effective Home Retreat
A well-designed retreat should leave you feeling fresh and rejuvenated from the experience, typically focusing on one subject and exploring it deeply. Regardless of the topic or the length of your practice, each retreat should reflect qualities to insure you are filling your cup.
Break from Routine
When we go into retreat, we are consciously trying to break away from our habitual behavior, whether it’s for a few hours or a few months. Find a place where you can be quiet and undisturbed for the entire duration of your practice. When we head for a new destination, this breakaway is easy, but when we are home, it may not be as simple to distance our family, friends and social responsibilities. Make arrangements with loved ones so that you can shut off your devices and disconnect without guilt or fear. Find a practice area that brings a sense of peace and relaxation naturally. Enjoy the outdoors. Leave plenty of room in the schedule for slow transitions. Whenever planning a personal retreat, a supportive space to focus on the practice without distraction should be a top priority. It may require traveling. That is completely your choice.
Typically a master teacher leads a retreat and gives lessons and guidance throughout the experience to reinforce central themes and instruct practices. Substitute these instructions with guided meditations. Read a book cover to cover. If you want someone to read to you, a standard 250(ish) page nonfiction audiobook reads between 6 and 9 hours and can be paused, slowly digested, and enjoyed over the whole weekend. Fortunately for us in the age of technology, many retreats have been recorded and can be purchased online as well (and they are already broken down in parts between practices). Pick your study aid in advance and structure your weekend around it. If you plan to have a lot of formal practice, choose something less time consuming and more contemplative for your study. If practicing less and relaxing more, enjoy the wisdom of a master teacher as a central theme for your weekend. Reflect on what you are learning. Maintain a sense of space and do not rush through study materials; leave room to absorb the teachings and explore.
Extended Formal Practice
Typically the biggest deviation from our normal routine during a retreat is the amount of formal practice. Decide on the amount before beginning, setting up a challenging, yet realistic schedule, and stick to it. Include some movement throughout the day to keep yourself feeling fresh. Reserve the mornings for rigorous physical practice to prepare the body for long periods of meditation, and more relaxed and restorative sequences for the evenings. Maintain silence as much as possible.
Many retreat centers include food at part of their experience to insure that their guests are supported nutritionally, because it is often overlooked. The beauty of extended practice includes the resetting of our nervous system to a more relaxed state and our food choices play a large role in engaging the natural healing qualities of the body. Take control of your food whenever possible and cook for yourself on retreat. Collect all your tools and ingredients in advance. Whether you are heading deep into the wilderness or just hiding in your bedroom, make sure that you have all the necessary preparations so that once you begin there will be nothing to break your concentration. Keep meals light in between formal practices, and be mindful of your intake of caffeine, sugar, and other stimulating foods throughout the day.
Relaxation & Self-Care Rituals
If a weekend of seemingly endless practice seems intimidating, try balancing practice with self-care rituals and quiet relaxation. Get a massage, or if that’s out of the price range, learn about Ayurvedic self-massage called Abhyanga. Try listening to a sound bath, journaling your experience, diffusing some essential oils, or just lie outside and stare at the sky. Enjoying tea and cozy blankets are also highly recommended. Stay in silence throughout the retreat to keep the peace going in between practices. Let the senses shut off, give yourself little to do, and simply be.
Sample Schedules & Suggested Study Materials
Notice the flexibility; it’s not based on specific start and stop times. This is just a guideline based on my experience as a student attending retreats in different disciplines, and they can be easily adjusted to fit your needs. If you are short on time, use the Friday or Sunday schedules for mini-retreats of a few hours or half-day. For full single-day retreats, try the Saturday schedule. For extended retreats, repeat the Saturday schedule each day, and finish the final day with the Sunday schedule.
Below is a list of resources that you can enjoy throughout the weekend, ranging between 5 – 8 hours of time to complete. The titles listed here are also audiobooks available through iTunes. A copy of the schedule, a downloaded audiobook, and a full battery for Insight Timer can be all the practice tools you need before finding a beautiful spot to disappear to for a while.
|The Myth of Freedom, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche|
The Little Book of Hygge, Meik Wiking
Good Medicine, Pema Chödrön
Experiments in Truth, Ram Dass
Boundaries and Protection, Pixie Lighthorse
The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran
|The Path is the Goal, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche|
Becoming Nobody, Ram Dass
You Are Here, Thich Nhat Hahn
The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz
The Art of Simple Living, Shunmyo Masuno
Coming Closer to Ourselves, Pema Chödrön
The Courage to Love the World, Pema Chödrön
Retreat Recipe Ideas
I’m admittedly spoiled because my wife does most of our cooking and she is a master of matching flavors to my taste buds. She curated this awesome list of recipes because they offer customizable options, serving as templates that can swap out individual ingredients to taste. These recipes are just ideas and some are admittedly decadent. A happy belly is part of our ideal retreat equation! Don’t be fooled by the word salad on some of these recipes, most of these dishes helped me eat more vegetables when I wasn’t a leafy green eater (and I’ll always be working on it). When in doubt, my advice is listen to your body and always drink plenty of water. Beyond that, it’s your practice – be kind to yourself and enjoy the ride.