Retreat Summary from July 2-9
Dharma Drum Mountain frequently hosts week-long meditation retreats in Chinese, and occasionally hosts similar retreats in English. I am grateful to have benefited from the special opportunity to participate in a seven-day retreat at Dharma Drum Mountain this July.
I mulled over the question of whether I should participate in the retreat for some time before committing to attend. What if I discover after a couple of days that such an intensive meditation retreat is too much for me? What if I experience incredible pain or discomfort and I’m not allowed to move from my seat? What if I miss important activities at work while I am away?
I couldn’t be happier that I finally put my concerns aside and decided to attend.
In many ways, the retreat was indeed an intensive meditation experience. When we arrived at Dharma Drum Mountain on July 2, we handed in our communication devices (cell phones, computers) for safekeeping. We weren’t allowed to talk or write notes during the retreat, although we could communicate with monks and volunteers using paper and pen if necessary. We were expected to follow a clearly structured schedule every day from 4am to 10pm, and learn rules associated with activities like entering rooms or sitting down.
What I found, however, was that this structure provided us with an incredible opportunity to become familiar with our minds and learn methods for developing calmness and mental clarity.
One of the most useful exercises for me was a guided relaxation led by Venerable Guo Yuan, Managing Director of Chan Practice at Dharma Drum Mountain, on the second day of the retreat. Venerable Guo Yuan stressed the importance of a relaxed body for being able to meditate well. His relaxation exercise involved a series of slow stretches and a guided meditation in which we directed our attention to various parts of the body one by one, from forehead to lower legs, in order to let go of tension. Thanks to Venerable Guo Yuan’s calm presence, I felt very relaxed and content to be on my cushion by the end of the exercise – it was like sitting there for a long period of time would be no problem at all!
This experience turned out to be a turning point in my attitude toward the retreat. Whereas before I had felt worried about facing discomfort, the guided exercise helped me feel confident that I could use relaxation techniques to recognize and let go of mental and physical discomfort that I would experience. Rather than run away from discomfort, I could view discomfort as an opportunity to observe how my mind works without having to get caught up in the associated whirling of thoughts and emotions. This attitude proved to be a powerful means for developing greater self-understanding as well as a more stable and clear mental state throughout the retreat.
Luckily though, the monastics leading the retreat had an excellent sense of what type of a schedule we could handle, and organized a varied series of daily activities for us. Sitting meditation sessions were interspersed with yoga practice, stretching exercises, working practice, walking meditation, chanting services, prostration sessions, morning and evening dharma talks, meals and rest periods. Every day we also had the chance to enjoy the beautiful environment around Dharma Drum Mountain for some of the sitting and walking meditation sessions. In benefiting from such a varied schedule, we had the opportunity to learn how many different activities could help us in our meditation.
The monastics and volunteers who organized the retreat did a wonderful job ensuring that we had nothing to lack in terms of basic necessities. We were served three delicious vegetarian meals every day by volunteers who dedicated their whole week to the retreat. Soaps for washing clothes, hairdryers and items we may have forgotten to pack were available for our use, carefully labeled so that we wouldn’t have trouble finding them. Any questions we wrote down on paper were promptly answered. We also contributed to keeping the environment clean and orderly through performing daily working meditation tasks, such as wiping tables, sweeping floors, cleaning bathrooms or washing serving dishes. It was very peaceful to observe how everyone did their part to maintain the environment, without talking or causing distractions.
The retreat provided me with new understandings about myself, and how I relate to myself, and I feel that insights gained will have an important impact on various aspects of my life. I am very thankful to the monastics who offered us their teachings and led us through various exercises throughout the retreat. I am also thankful to the volunteers and many others who made the retreat possible. I hope that many of you reading this will also feel inspired to attend a seven-day retreat at Dharma Drum Mountain in the future.
(Shared by Anna,One of the Participants of the 7-Day Retreat)