How to do personal retreat during lockdown

As discussed in our previous article, we can also choose to treat our time in lockdown as an opportunity to do a personal retreat. In this article we discuss some of the things to consider while planning a personal retreat.

Subject

We have been doing a regular Vajrasattva purification practice. This could be used either as (a) the subject of the personal retreat, repeating the Vajrasattva purification practice in each session; or (b) the subject of Session #1 of each day. Other purification practices could be followed in the same way, like prostration to the 35 Buddhas.

Another approach is to follow meditations. This are particularly useful for those new to meditation or Buddhism. The two books below describe meditation technique and outline the key points traditional Buddhist meditations.

Another approach is to use the session times to read and reflect on a subject. At the moment we are re-reading the ‘The Four Noble Truths: The Foundation of Buddhist Thought’ by Geshe Tashi Tsering (ISBN 0861712706). You can read a few pages, then sit in meditation to reflect on what you have read, reflecting on questions like the ones listed below. When we reach a conclusion then we would use a placement meditation to steep our minds in that conclusion.

  • How does what I have read fit with other Buddhist teachings?
  • What are  the areas that I do not understand that I should ask about?
  • How does what I have read compare with this body, this life, and my experiences?
  • How can I use what I have read and apply to my day-to-day life?

Daily Timetable

We put this daily timetable together for weekend retreats. We broke the day into 4 sessions with breaks for meals and coffee. A 10am start and 7pm finish meant that we were not trying to fit too much into a day, after all it is the weekend and we need time for rest and relaxation.

Each session is 1.5 hours long, which is plenty of time to fit in setting the motivational prayers and dedication prayers in each session. This is just a suggested daily timetable, you can change the start and finish time, make the session times shorter, take longer breaks, add more session times, and so on. It is important not to push yourself too hard with a very long retreat schedule, very long session times, or very short breaks. Be gentle with yourself, if you need a break, take a break.

Start Time Duration Activity
10:00 00:30 Coffee.
10:30 01:30 Session #1 & set motivation.
12:00 01:00 Breakfast.
13:00 01:30 Session #2.
14:30 01:00 Lunch.
15:30 01:30 Session #3.
17:00 00:30 Coffee & kora.
17:30 01:30 Session #4 & dedications.
19:00 Dinner, chillax.

Structure & Boundaries

You can use the daily timetable to do retreat for a few days. Before doing retreat for any longer than a few days, you should reach out to a teacher at your local Buddhist centre for guidance.

It is important to be prepared for the retreat. This includes practical considerations like having the food and other essentials that you need for the duration of the retreat. This also includes being mentally prepared for a full day and to face some quite challenging subjects. It will be different from watching TV on the sofa!!

The daily timetable offers structure for the retreat. It is also important to consider other ways of establishing personal boundaries for the retreat, including:

  • Take the five precepts for the duration of the retreat – vowing not to kill, not to steal, not to engage in sexual misconduct, not to tell lies, and to no intoxicants.
  • Only to listen, watch, and discuss Dharma-related subjects.
  • Only going outside for a walk on your own, not to run errands like going to the supermarket.
  • No contact with other people unless they are also participating in the retreat, and even then to discuss Dharma-related subjects. Let your friends and family know you will be unavailable during the retreat and to only contact you if they are in trouble or there is an emergency.

If you get into trouble during the retreat or there is an emergency then immediately break the retreat to go get help.

Lama Zopa has provided some excellent advice here:

This is pure Dharma practice—watching the mind and if you see attachment, clinging to this life, the thought of the eight worldly dharmas take over your mind and your life you try to cut it by applying the remedy, the meditation, like a weapon to destroy it.

Love, @happyops