Thursday, June 30, 2016

Finding peace at a meditation retreat

My Experience at a Meditation Retreat

Why Meditate?

Attending a meditation retreat has been on my bucket list for quite some time. While I've been meditating at home semi-regularly for about a year, I felt like I needed more guidance to build up the skill set.

Sometimes, you just need to hit the reset button and meditation is perfect for that. 

Meditation can help people to:
  • deal with stress
  • combat lethargy
  • combat depression
  • increase a sense of peace
  • deal with interpersonal relationships
  • fight anxiety
  • find happiness

I had been dealing with some stress lately and thought it was time to seek out more information and get some knowledge on the topic of meditation. I did some research and asked my friends. One of them recommended the West End Buddhist Temple in Mississauga so I thought I would check it out.



Many of the retreats I had come across before this were weekend events and the scheduling had been tough to figure out. Others I had found were just one hour classes -- I felt I needed something a little more in-depth than that.

Since this particular retreat was a full day (from 9am-4pm), it seemed like the perfect balance and looked like a great way to introduce myself to the concept of a silent retreat.


Most true meditation retreats are free and are considered a valuable community service. A donation to the temple can be made if you choose to do so, but there is no official "cost" associated with this retreat. It's important for me to mention as well that I didn't feel pressured or obligated to donate either before or after the class. A simple donation box is available and you can leave something if you like. 

Retreat Details

The retreat was held at the temple which is in Toronto's west end. While it is called a "temple," it is also a meditation centre and I found that the monks were equally welcoming to people from all religious backgrounds. I, myself am not a Buddhist but I went with an open mind and felt comfortable with the lessons.  I do find myself drawn to some of the teachings and lessons as I feel they promote peace and calm.




I really believe in "good person-ism" and feel we can all learn from every religion and culture of the world - as long as we are open to the idea. 

With the exception of some short prayers and chanting at the beginning of the retreat, I'd say this was pretty non-denominational. If you'd rather skip that part, I'd suggest arriving at 9:15am for the first lesson of the day on "mindfulness meditation."

Students are asked to dress modestly (no tanktops or shorts) and wear white if possible. If you don't have anything white, light colours are good too.

My advice is to take a sweater or shawl and socks. I found as my body sat in stillness, my temperature dropped and I was glad I had some layers with me. Also, it was my personal preference to have a notebook and pen so I could write down any quotes or lessons that stood out to me.

Note: If you do come late, be very quiet and mindful of other meditators as you join the class so you don't disturb them. 

 

 
The lessons

The retreat is led by Bhante Saranapala, a Buddhist monk and meditation teacher. He is truly amazing to listen to and gives everyday examples to make the teachings more accessible for a North American audience. He is very knowledgeable and travels all over the world to teach people about meditation. 

He also hosts this retreat every month for free just to introduce people to the concepts of meditation.
Over the course of the day he guided us through:
  • mindfulness meditation (a guided practice)
  • mindful eating 
  • walking meditation
  • vipassana (silent) meditation
Each retreat has a different theme discussion and this time it was "blessings". The idea is to see things that happen in our life as blessings and not annoyances and how this can change our stress level. He also talked about how it's important that we cultivate blessings in our life by making contributions to our work, home life and community/society. It was all very practical and useful advice which I definitely benefitted from hearing.


Guided Meditation 

In this practice, there were extended silences but Bhante would lead us with direction on paying attention to our breath, posture and thoughts. It was mostly quiet with short breaks where he would speak. We practiced with our eyes closed and were guided out of meditation with the sound of a cymbal. 

Mindful Eating

A full lunch and snacks are provided at this retreat as well as tea, coffee and water. Before we were sent for lunch, Bhante guided us on the concept of mindful eating.

The idea is to eat slowly and with purpose. Lunch is a silent time at the retreat. He instructed us to look at each spoonful and to think about the colours, textures, smells and what we think it would taste like before actually going ahead and tasting it. The lunch in itself was actually a type of meditation in a way.

mindfully sipping tea outside the temple

Walking Meditation

We were then guided in a session of walking meditation. I had never really understood this before, but essentially it is to walk around (indoor or outdoor) being very conscious of the movements of your body as you take each step. After a session (45 minutes) you feel very peaceful and relaxed. The feeling is said to stay with you longer than it would after a regular meditation session.

Here are the steps if you'd like to try it at home:
1) stand with your feet firmly planted
2) take a deep breathe 
3) keep your hands at your sides, behind your back or wherever they are comfortable
4) walk in slow motion and try not to think of anything else but the motion of your feet, legs and muscles


Tip: I did this with my shoes off on the grass as I felt this was a great way to also practice "grounding," I'd recommend saying the word "walk" in your mind with each step to make it easier to keep your mind on the meditation.

Vipassana Meditation

Vipassana is a completely silent practice where you are guided to begin and end the session. There is no other instruction except to breathe in and to pay attention to your breathing. I found this to be the most difficult session of the day and a huge reminder that our minds go a mile a minute. I did feel after the practice that this is something that I could get better at with practice and time. 

Post- Meditation

The feeling of peace and relaxation after doing a session like this was truly amazing. Afterwards I didn't even feel like going anywhere or doing anything - and it was Saturday night! I felt very much at peace and calm.

In the week after the retreat I returned back to my regular business and house hold tasks but what I've noticed is that the teaching helped me to think differently about certain things. I slowed down and had a sense of being more present and aware of my environment and what people were saying. I was even more aware of what I was doing and saying.

That evening's sunset was even more beautiful after the lessons I learned


I took many lessons away from this experience but the ones that were most helpful to me at this point were:
  • if something bothers you, think about it, accept it and then let it go
  • if something is 99% bad but 1% good, focus your energy on the 1% 
I think even just walking away with a few key points is a step towards a more peaceful state of mind.
So far I've really loved the experience of getting to know more about myself through meditation. It sounds like a simple thing but it's amazing what a little silence and stillness can teach you about yourself. I'm looking forward to learning even more.

Meditating at home

If you'd like to get started and don't have access to a class, try some of the recommendations below:
  1. Look for a guided meditation on youtube. These can be as little as ten minutes long. Try this one: Ten Minute Meditation
  2. Try some apps that I personally love: Headspace is a great one to help you start meditating more regularly
  3. Take a yoga class. It is different, but the quiet and stillness are the same. It might be a great way to enter into the world of meditation
  4. Practice being mindful about your daily chores/tasks. When you are doing something like cooking, folding clothes or ironing, try to focus all your energy on that one little task. Don't allow your mind to think about other things while you do it.

If you have any tips for meditating at home or stories about how meditation has helped you and you'd like to share, please leave me a comment...I'd love to hear from you!











2 comments:

  1. wow, those place are awesome for Meditation . I also looking like that places in near my home. but I could not find it. Thanks for sharing

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    Replies
    1. Hi Shohan - it really was a great place to go and I can't wait to go again. Hope you are able to find something soon. For now, you can also look up free videos on Youtube that will guide you through a meditation practice at home.

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