A few weeks before the quarantine arrived, my Buddhist friend jokingly remarked that it would be a three-week silent meditation retreat. Unfortunately that was at the end of February – back when three weeks of lockdown seemed like an incredibly long time. We stocked up on beans and Tylenol, but we didn’t Really I think life as we knew it would come to a standstill – especially not for months. But it did, and with it came a familiar wave of fear.
I found meditation– –especially the focused type who are taken on retreats– –a welcome relief from past stressors. If you subscribe to meditation-oriented newsletters or social media accounts, you may have seen this resources or suggestions for creating your own silent meditation retreat at home. You may have rolled your eyes, continued scrolling, or sat up from your couch-wide expanse. Or you did something for everyone. While a home retreat doesn’t feel as instinctively appealing as an in-person retreat, there may be something behind the idea.
I attended a week-long silent meditation retreat at the Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Marin County, California October. In many ways, it prepared me for this quarantine time – there wasn’t much to do, I couldn’t talk to people, and I ate a lot of raisins. Still, I had decided to withdraw, I knew when it would be over, and we weren’t in a pandemic – three factors that have a significant impact on the tenor and quality of self-isolation, at least for me.
Even so, I believed I would find some semblance of peace in quarantine and decided to take part in a meditation retreat in my own apartment. I went to one of my favorite teachers, Jack Kornfield, and clicked on one of his Self-guided half-day meditation retreats: “Find freedom wherever you are.”
On the one hand, meditation is an activity that is conducive to self-management. It’s lonely and I meditate alone every morning anyway. On the other hand, I found the community at the Spirit Rock Retreat deeply helpful. Without the social pressure to participate in the experience with my colleagues (although, of course, nobody put pressure on me to do anything), I wondered if I would even show up for the meditations. That’s why I decided to start half It’s worth meditating alone for a day – I didn’t want to overwhelm my willpower.
Kornfield recommends making a schedule for yourself his suggestion. I put a Saturday morning aside (I mean, does the day of the week no longer matter?) And limited the meditations, alternating between sitting, walking, doing yoga and occasionally snacking.
This is the schedule I set for myself. Kornfield recommends starting at 6:30 a.m. I took a bit of creative freedom and started at 9:00 am for a variety of reasons, namely because I woke up at 8:40 am. He also recommends alternating between sitting and walking, so I have:
9: 00-9: 30: sitting
9: 30-10: 00: Go
10: 00-10: 30: Sitting
10: 30-11: 00: Mindful movement / yoga
11: 00-11: 30: Sitting
11: 30-12: 00: Lunch and writing
12: 00-12: 45: Sitting
I immediately realized how important it was for me to prepare my room for retreat. Kornfield recommends setting up a “container of silence”. This means figuring out where to meditate and tell the people in your life not to interrupt you. I live with my sister and I insisted on telling her that I would retire. Unfortunately, I let her know about this while I was taking a toilet break in the middle of the retreat, so it wasn’t exactly “quiet,” but it was close.
Some meditation halls offer a multitude of wonderful pillows, which my apartment sorely lacks. Instead, I got by with my own meditation stool – I actually bought it as a footstool to watch TV, but I got the cheapest on Amazon without checking the size and it turned out to be too short to do anything else, than meditate on it. I threw in a rolled-up towel and a pair of slippers and voilà!
When I meditate at home, I like to turn a space heater directly in my face to convince myself that I’m in an infrared sauna – that’s probably bad for my skin, but it’s toasted and comfortable. However, after 15 minutes with the space heater, I turned it off. It distracted me from being mindful. (I was sweating; it was no longer comfortable.) There is also a mirror in my room. Trying to meditate in front of a mirror immediately made it clear why meditation halls don’t have them – every time I opened my eyes, I was there! I turned from the mirror.
Kornfield also recommends setting an intention – mine was “to stay”. Even if I was distracted or wanted to do something else, I told myself I wouldn’t. I would stay. And I did, so I think setting intent helped. The fact that we are under quarantine and cannot leave our apartments also helped. I had to stay – there is no other place to go.
My biggest struggle was to stay away from my technology. I used my phone to schedule the meditations but wanted to keep it on airplane mode all day. Give an airplane mode phone to a tech addict woman and tell her Not using it is like giving a child candy and telling them to read Moby Dick instead of eating the chocolate bar. Taking over my own phone was nowhere near as effective as locking it on other retreats I have attended. For example, airplane mode didn’t stop me from taking it to the bathroom out of habit. Still, I didn’t check Twitter for six hours – quite an achievement.
I got used to walking and yoga more smoothly than to sitting. My stool wasn’t comfortable for long seating, but pacing around my tiny space helped. It turned out that I could deal much better with the feeling of my feet hitting the ground than in a meditation center because I was already so familiar with my surroundings. I was less distracted and was actually able to stay in my body instead of speculating about roaming geese (Spirit Rock is beautiful and known for its natural fauna). The same goes for yoga – I had a much deeper awareness of my physical sensations as it was better to watch my breath than look under my bed. It’s not that clean down there, FYI.
I learned a lot on the home retreat. For example, I noticed that my carpet was a lot dirtier than I originally thought. I don’t think I have time to vacuum it, probably because I’m so busy meditating. There was also my sister’s cat problem. I learned that she hadn’t slept all day, as I’d always believed. The moment I started meditating, she jumped into my lap. Her litter box is in my room, so I couldn’t throw it out entirely and just had to accept it. That’s okay – that’s what meditation is about. To notice and accept the cat sitting on you.
At home, I wasn’t confident at all. Every time I have meditated in group settings, I have been deeply afraid of others knew When my mind was floating – when I wasn’t just to notice But thoughts arise fully engaging with you. When I dreamed of Timothée Chalamet instead of turning inward. Of course, no one really judged me, but that perception changed the experience. Fortunately, I was free from this fear on my own. Timothée came and went and I wasn’t afraid of judgment.
Overall, I found the retreat at home to be a very positive experience. We do not always have perfectly idyllic circumstances in which to meditate, and sometimes we have to adapt to the world around us. The withdrawal filled me with a feeling of calm that I had not been able to settle into since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis. Much like I cannot control this pandemic, I cannot control the cat that is sitting on my lap. And I felt just a little more conscious of that after half a day of meditation in a confined space.