Benefits of long-term meditation
Spending time in a retreat is like recharging a battery. Once you
have charged a battery, you don't let it just sit around. You instal it
in an appliance and use it until it runs out. Then you recharge it.
Similarly, when you need to recharge yourself you go for retreats.
The serenity of meditation.
The difference between charging a battery and going for a retreat is
that the length of time spent in a retreat cannot really be equated with
the time you charge a battery. If you charge a battery longer, that does
not mean it can run longer. Once the battery has reached full capacity
it cannot be charged any more. Charging after that point is useless. But
this does not happen when you go on a long-term retreat.
First, before you go for long retreats, you should have undertaken
short weekend retreats. Also, be aware of the length of the longer
retreat you hope to accomplish - ten days, twenty days, a month, three
months, or a year or two? You have to prepare your mind and body for a
long retreat. You do this by attending several graduated short retreats
that last a weekend, three days, a week, ten days, two weeks and a
Once you know you can handle a weekend retreat comfortably then go to
the next longer one. When you know you can handle that retreat easily,
move on up to the next longer one.
Sometimes even a weekend retreat is boring and painful if you are not
prepared. How can you prepare your mind? When you go for a retreat,
don't bring your office with you. Leave it behind. People are generally
unable to let go of their work. They are used to their daily and weekly
routines, full of TV, company, gossip, uncontrolled eating, drink,
drugs, sex and travel. When they go for retreats they have to let go of
most of these routines. Since they are accustomed to working under great
pressure, even in retreats they are tense and anxious. They want to get
something out of meditation as quickly as possible and then get back to
their work. Don't go for retreat in this frame of mind.
Try to think that you have left everything behind for a while and now
you have all the time in the world. Nobody - no work, nothing - is going
to bother you. Use all the time for your practice. What happens to you
if you do not have this kind of attitude is that you begin to feel bored
and tired of meditation. You find meditation is a waste of time. You are
in the same situation as when you were at work or at home or with
company. If you start your retreat with this attitude, you will wish to
achieve some benefit as quickly as possible, and to go home or to work
to enjoy what you have been doing before you went for the retreat.
Moreover, in a short retreat you experience a great deal of pain and
discomfort. As you become impatient, your aches and pains become more
acute. Naturally, in a short retreat you experience more physical
discomfort, for you are not used to sitting in one place for a long time
or to staying in one place for a long period of time by yourself without
listening to the radio or watching TV, or without chatting with somebody
or reading a newspaper, or perhaps doing some computer work.
When you try to look at yourself introspectively, taking stock of the
garbage you have within yourself, you experience a great deal of
discomfort. How much time do you have in a weekend retreat? Not more
than two days. Before the body gets adjusted to the new situation, the
new practice, the new discipline, the retreat time or your holiday time
is over. Then you may conclude that all you got from a retreat is aches
and pains all over your body, or boredom. Then you decide never to go
for a retreat again. As you have not had any previous retreat
experiences, what you don't know is that it takes a couple of days for
your body to become adjusted.
Short retreats, however, are beneficial for preparing yourself for a
People who have done meditation by themselves on their own should
expect to face courageously whatever arises in their bodies and minds.
Meditating alone by oneself is also beneficial in that you can make your
own schedule. You can avoid any human contact. You can choose a quiet
place. Even when you go to a group meditation, you meditate by yourself
without worrying about other meditators.
However, group meditation also has its own benefits. When you are in
a group you receive silent group support.
When you feel depressed or disheartened or disappointed you can
notice others meditating. When you see them, you feel encouraged. You
may think: if they can do it, I can too. Let me try it.
Also, in group meditation there are times for Dhamma discussion and
you can benefit from that. In a short-term retreat, you hardly settle
down and get used to the new way of looking at yourself before the
retreat is over.
Moreover, as we have mentioned earlier, your mind is fully
preoccupied with the pain and discomfort you are going through during
the whole period of a short retreat. This does not permit you to pay any
attention to the changes taking place all the time. The benefits of a
longer retreat are many. You can see the changes in the aggregates
taking place every moment.
In long-term retreats, you have plenty of time to get over those
difficulties. Noticing changes in your body and mind is a very good way
to learn to overcome your hatred which keeps nagging you all the time.
As long as anger troubles you, you cannot meditate properly.
Secondly, you can see clearly the connection between your intense
greed and continuous suffering. Thirdly, you can very succinctly notice
the total phenomenon of your life operating without anything permanent
in it, just like an ever-running machine. You realise there is nothing
you can do to stop the process of growing, but to accept it cheerfully.
This is where you will achieve real relaxation, real joy and real
happiness, which can be equated with eternal bliss. This is where you
see that all the aggregates are inseparably functioning together. This
acceptance of yourself is the beginning of an entirely new life. This is
where you are firmly rooted in your practice.
Prior to this experience you would go from retreat to retreat,
looking for a better teacher or a better meditation system. Now you
realise you have found it within yourself. You don't need to go
anywhere, seeking another new teacher. Prior to this you would have been
pretending to know meditation, possibly even teaching meditation,
without knowing what you yourself were doing.
Now you realise that this entire rat race is simply a waste of your
time and energy.
Source: Bhavana Society, a Forest Meditation Centre.