Meditation Retreat: It can be torture or bliss. . . or maybe both

woman meditating in grass

What is the benefit of doing a silent mindfulness retreat?

Twice a year for over ten years, the Penn Program for Mindfulness facilitates a  4 ½ day silent, intensive mindfulness retreat on the outskirts of Philadelphia. Reading this, some people will think “that sounds like torture!” while others may think “that sounds like bliss!” The truth is, both of these extremes, and everything in between, may be experienced while on retreat.

I spoke with Elise, a busy, working mom and committed meditator, about her varied retreat experiences which at times she describes as ranging from “miserable” to “incrushable joy”.  Still, she considers every one of her retreat experiences life changing and invaluable.

Here at the Penn Program for Mindfulness, we often tell people who want to deepen their mindfulness practice to consider attending an extended mindfulness retreat. Retreats allow you to set aside longer periods of time to commit to intense practice, which for most of us, is not typically an option given our busy day-to-day lives. Retreats also provide a way for us to step out of our usual routines and, as Elise says, “to be really open to what might happen”.

Although it can be uncomfortable at times to simply sit still for so long, there can be great value in the practice of being with the actual experience that presents itself without interfering with it. We get to see just how it is in our minds and bodies as we simultaneously practice cultivating a stable, witnessing presence. When brought back into our daily lives, this observing, allowing orientation to what is happening can make a difference in how we experience anything, and everything.

Dan Harris, ABC news anchor and host of Good Morning America writes about one of his retreats: “After five or six days of nearly nonstop meditation, something happens to the mind. Thoughts slow down. It feels incredibly good, both physically and psychologically.”

Even if it’s not possible to take time to do a formal retreat right now, there are lots of ways to incorporate smaller, retreat-like experiences into your life.

How is mindfulness practice making a difference in your life? We want to hear from you! 

Contact us to share your story, and perhaps it will be featured here on our blog.

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