Why my next retreat will be solo

Published on August 31, 2011 by      Print
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By Laura Neal

Most readers of Recovering Yogi will understand why years ago I stopped going to the big yoga conferences and centers. Now, it seems like my annual meditation retreats are also about to become a thing of the past. For the past few summers, I’ve sat a long silent retreat at a large center. But no more, and here’s why.

First, be assured that I’m not picking on one particular place or tradition. I’ve done several, and they all share the same inherent flaw: there are people there.

Even in an atmosphere where communication is forbidden, there are still things that I just can’t transcend.

Here’s a list I came up with last week on retreat (but only during the breaks, of course):

  1. You have a roommate. Now unless you’re my husband or my cats (and even that’s pushing it at times) I don’t want you sleeping in the same room with me. And the fact that we don’t talk to each other makes it even weirder.
  2. Communal bathrooms. Enough said.
  3. I always get behind the person who is taking the mindfulness practices way too seriously. Carrrrrefully scooping up a ladle of food. Sloooooowly putting it down on their plate Staaaaanding there in front of the salad dressing and meditating upon which to choose. Staying blissfully aware of each and every detail of the present moment — except for the fifty other people in line who are waiting for you to mindfully hurry the fuck up.
  4. In a roomful of a hundred people, I guess it’s inevitable that at any given moment there is going to be someone who needs to cough, sneeze, blow their nose, clear their throat, hiccup, burp, or fart, but Jesus people, come on! At least try a little restraint. And by the way, what do you normally eat that your digestive system gets thrown into complete chaos by the healthy vegetarian retreat food?

But some of it is all me. For example, when the tape of the guy chanting sounds to me like farm animals having sex, I giggle. Every time.

So what does this tell me? Clearly, I need to meditate more. And I will. But my next retreat will be alone. I’ve done solo retreats, and they’re hard. With no pretty shawls to covet or bad hairstyles to critique, all that’s left is for me to look at my own mind. Plus, any farts I smell will be my own.

About Laura Neal

Laura Neal is happy to be home in Bar Harbor, Maine at her irreverently and indulgently named yoga studio, Cattitude. She is actually quite serious about the Buddhist path and really doesn’t mind having to save all sentient beings, as long as she can do it through email.

Laura is on Twitter.  

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  1. MountainGirl says:

    Utterly true for me as well. At a yoga retreat center a few years ago, I suddenly realized staying home and doing yoga would be far more enjoyable, the food would be better, and I wouldn’t have to share the bathroom. Not to mention it would be a damn sight less expensive. I haven’t been back since. Every so often I still like the energy of a yoga class, but 99 percent of the time I’d rather practice by myself.

    • Yogini5 says:

      I feel the same way and I live nowhere near mountains, unless you want to call the concrete canyons “mountains” … it’s my bank account and my schedule that keep me in a relatively yoga-sparse zone, including lack of streaming speed (an extra shout-out to certain marketers of online streaming yoga, too :-) ]

      Yes, in this big, self-important city where I live, there ARE more yoga studios than there are Starbucks … I have my antennae zoomed on high, and so when the class participants are sending out dedications for their practices “to all who could not practice with us today” you can bet I am energizing my practice on their collective intentions … even if in an asynchronous manner.

      That being said, please everyone keep envying us New Yorkers. Who am I to disabuse you of your notions … ye who live comfortably elsewhere …

  2. Chrissy says:

    Great article! I don’t think that I could be fully quiet ….even all by myself!

  3. Caroline says:

    Thank you for discouraging me Laura! It is a relief to finally be able to tick the retreat thing OFF my bucketlist. I’ve been thinking about going on a Vipassana retreat on and off for a few years now, but never going! Add to your list getting only about 6 hours of sleep, not being allowed to eat after 4pm and having your whole day spelled out for you (in silent sign language, obviously)…well, I just, prefer to hug trees etc. They’re pretty silent too, and they don’t fart (or I’ve been too blissed to notice)

  4. Jenifer says:

    may i humbly suggest either A. convents or B. cistercian monks?

    there are reasons.

    1. 3 meals a day, that may or may not be vegetarian, but always taste like grandma’s cooking (assuming your grandmother, like mine, was a good cook);

    2. no obligation to participate, in fact, don’t participate. monks and nuns go about their daily duties. they have lots of them. you get in the way. go over there, to that tree, out of the way, and do whatever it is you are doing over there. thanks, love in christ, the monks and nuns here.

    3. it costs, like $6 a night or something. and it’s your own room. and it’s “clean as” (to use the phrase they do in NZ). That is to say, if it were dirty, this would be sinful, and the nuns and monks make sure there are no sins happening — within their control at least — in their spaces.

    i mean, seriously, the one place had the most gorgeous french linens because, i think, they’re actually harder to launder and you have to take the time to iron them, which gives cloistered monks and nuns more to do, which is why they live there. because idle hands lead to the devils work.

    so go over by that tree, and do whatever you are doing, out of the way, because there is work to do. stop trying to participate.

    4. cicstercians observe silence at all timess outside of prayer and related religious services. you are not invited to attend, and you are not invited to talk to them in between these services. there might be one or two monks who will talk to you, because they are designated to do so. Do not ask them how they make their cheese, wine, or fudge. Not only are they not allowed to talk, they are not allowed to talk about it. it’s the entire income for the cloister. So, you ain’t getting it out of anyone.

    5. Cheese, wine, and FUDGE people. FUDGE. you can buy it and take it home, and you can order it online and get it as christmas gifts for everyone. Yes, FUDGE FOR EVERYONE.

    See, catholicism isn’t all bad.

    Anyway, I recommend: http://www.monks.org/retreats.html — this is where Thomas Merton lived, btw, and he was pretty cool. Read that page, and you read the politer version of the rules above, particularly “STFU and go over there” sentiments. :D

  5. Jenifer says:

    FUDGE, people, FUDGE: http://www.gethsemanifarms.org/

    and cheese and fruitcake too. seriously, service is good, price is nice, and you support monks who don’t force you to participate when you go there on retreat.

    “STFU, sit over by that tree, and have some fudge” retreat.

    • Yogini5 says:

      There’s a mission like that somewhere in Northern California I think.

      If I had grown up Christian I would have given it a thought.

      What about this Buddhist place I heard about where you can just go there and they leave you alone? In Arizona?

      • Jenifer says:

        but do they have fudge?

        and, you don’t have to be christian to go there. you just have to live with the crosses around, which — really — is not that much differnt than any other religious iconography, KWIM? like, i go into some yoga studios and there’s hanuman all over the place and ain’t nobody hindu. so, you, know, you live with it. :D

  6. Sillyananda says:

    Love your site…
    enjoy the silence but don’t ignore the enlighting power of burping …. ahahaha!

    Maybe all is so simple if we don’t indulge in acting ourselves (bad acting… no oscar for us)
    I’m in troble deep with yoga and meditation retreats… because sense of humor is lacking… maybe too many “persons” and so few human beings…. ??? i have only questions …. :) !
    i like more to be light and silly as my name… don’t try to be deep and then drowning in a child pool..
    sorry for my silly english… and please laugh at me…!!!
    thanks to all of you to be here… !!!

    SillyAnanda !!!

  7. John R says:

    Ok so I about laughed my arse off at that salad bar part of your article. OMG it is so hard not to smack the crap out of overlays slow mindful people. If you walk into a place to eat and it is a salad bar, step back and look at it all if you want to be mindful. And then get in line and do your thing and move it along. Lol. And this is my issue on everything in life. Stand back look at it all and be mindful, then jump I. Do your thing and move it along so the rest if us can do the same. Or else get the frack out of my way because I know what I’m doing if you don’t. Ok. Thanks for the opportunity to rant. Oh and how do I join your mailing list. I didn’t see a subscription link. Thanks John

  8. Joslyn Hamilton says:

    Hi John – on the upper right there’s a box that says “Get stories by email.” Just pop your email address in that bad boy!

  9. Sari says:

    yuck, what a sad post from a cat women. and she is how old?

  10. Why my next retreat will be solo. ~ Laura Neal | elephant journal says:

    [...] retreat will be solo. ~ Laura Neal  Originally published by our elephriends over at Recovering Yogi on August 31, [...]

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