General retreat information


The schedule and what happens in retreats in our network varies, depending on the teacher. What is common is that there are periods for sitting meditation (usually between 30 and 45 minutes), an instruction period (usually one or two per day, sometimes in the form of a guided meditation), a dharma talk and meetings in a small group or privately with a (or the) teacher(s). These meetings often happen in walking periods or breaks.

There is also an optional yoga or exercise period in the morning, sometimes another later in the day, walking meditation periods and free time. And there is a work period: usually 45 minutes to help with food preparation, meal clean-up or generally keeping the place clean. Having a work period helps keep the cost of the retreat down.

It's not necessary to go to everything on the schedule. Sometimes people sleep in and don't go to the early morning yoga. Or they might get up early but go for a walk. Sometimes in the first few days of a retreat people get tired and they might go to bed early or nap sometime in the afternoon. It's also not necessary to be able to sit for long periods on a meditation cushion on the floor. Sitting on a chair is fine. Upright chairs are recommended.

For the functioning of the retreat people need to turn up to the work period or do their job if it's outside a work period (eg wash-up after dinner). In general people are encouraged to do as much of the program as they can.

The following is an example of one retreat schedule we use:

5:45 Wake Up
6:00 Yoga or Exercise
6:45 Sit (ie Meditation)
7:30 Breakfast
8:15 – 9:15 Work Period
9:30 Meditation Instructions & Sit
10:30 Walk
11:15 Sit
12:00 Walk
12:30 Lunch – Rest
2:00 Inquiry or Guided Meditation
3:00 Yoga
4:00 Sit
4:45 Walk & Stand
5:00 Light Meal
6:30 – 7:00 Sit, followed by 10 min break
7:10 Dharma Talk
8:00 Standing Meditation
8:30 Evening Poetry / Sit
9:15 Rest

Some retreats have breaks rather than walking meditation. Some don't have scheduled sitting periods. Insight Dialogue retreats are different again but still have some features of the schedule here.

Retreats are conducted in silence, meaning that apart from talking to the manager and the teacher(s) there is no talking apart from necessary communication. While this can be strange for new people in the beginning, it doesn't take long to become accustomed to it (even like it) and it tends to help quieten the mind.

The retreats in our network are quite different from the ten day Vipassana retreats run under the tradition of S.N. Goenka. (eg at Blackheath in NSW or at Pomona in Queensland). They differ in the schedule, the mix of activities, the atmosphere and the type of meditation (even though they are both called "Vipassana").

Retreats are opportunities to settle and allow a calmness and focus to develop in a supportive environment. Some people have their own issues they wish to work through and find the quiet space useful for that. Other people are more intent on getting to know what Insight Meditation is about, or they know what it is about and see the retreat as an opportunity to practice.

The food on our retreats is vegetarian and usually special dietary needs can be catered for.

While the cost of the retreat includes food and accommodation, it does not include any payment to the teacher. The teachings are offered with a spirit of generosity and there is the opportunity to respond with generosity by giving support to the teacher and the teachings. A box is put out for this (called "dana") towards the end of each retreat. Buddhist teachings and practices were passed on for centuries by monks and nuns who were supported just by the generosity of others and we keep to that spirit by not putting a price on the teachings themselves. Some teachers depend completely on dana for their income, others take time off work to lead retreats.

Usually the silence is lifted before the end of the retreat and participants have an opportunity to get to know each other. Retreats often end with a closing circle where anyone who is inclined can talk briefly about their experience.

Each retreat has a contact person and you can find out from them before a retreat about what is proposed for a that particular retreat.


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Image taken at 2007 Dharma Gathering by Sandy Harman