January is just around the corner – which means for a lot of lucky people that they get to do extra meditation because this is traditional retreat month in the Kadampa Buddhist tradition.
So, I thought I’d say something about retreat in the hope that some of you can do some. I know a lot of you, probably most, have to work and are not able to take a month or even a week off for retreat; so this article is also a bit of encouragement simply to get meditating in general ☺️
On retreat we stop all forms of business and extraneous activities so as to emphasize a particular spiritual practice. ~ New Guide to Dakini Land
Starting several decades ago, when Geshe Kelsang first came to the West in 1977, up to six weeks each year have been put aside in the larger Kadampa centers for retreat. I personally benefited from this for many years, when I lived at Madhyamaka Centre and everything closed down for retreat. Sometimes we were even snowed in = bliss. We didn’t have Facebook back then to lure us away from thinking deep thoughts – heck, we didn’t even have the Internet. I count myself lucky that I didn’t need any will power whatsoever back then to turn all the gadgets off.
Nowadays addiction to being always “on” is a serious problem for people who want to go deep and stay deep. If we’re not careful, not only can these addictions take us away from a guaranteed source of peace in terms of using up our time and interest, but we end up going for refuge to them, seeking relief in them instead of Dharma.
I know how I feel when I go for refuge to social media or entertainment rather than to the guaranteed peace, joy, and satisfaction I get whenever I bother to take Dharma to heart. And it’s not that nice, to be honest. How about you?
I can honestly say that I have never gotten bored in retreat. Quite the opposite. It is those mindless habits of wanting or expecting endless distraction that really bore me. I tend also to have fewer delusions on retreat – and delusions are pretty tedious.
These January retreats engendered in me a love for using this bleak mid-winter time to go deep — to dive below the surface of the crazy ocean waves of samsaric suffering & overly complicated conceptual thoughts into clarity and bliss, into Lamrim and Tantra. They are the best possible way to start the new year, and my hands down favorite times.
We could all aim to do a few extra good deep meditations at home this month to get some control over these mad, mad times and set this new year up in the way we’d like it to continue… how’s that for a new year’s resolution?
And if you haven’t learned to meditate at all yet, now could be a really great time to start 😊
(Update: I wrote this article several years ago — and the years since, particular 2020-2023, have all proved to be even weirder! Retreat is very needed in our world. If we have the chance to do any at all, we can also hold the space for others.)
If ever there was a good time to get some perspective and space from all the craziness, the beginning of 2017 (and 2023, ed) would seem to be it. Still four days of the strange 2016 to go, and the last two days alone have brought us the deaths of George Michael and Carrie Fisher (and just now her mother, Debbie Reynolds). Closer to home, in 2016, we lost Patti, Tessa, and Mimi. And even closer, amongst Kadampas we recently lost Colin, Gen Tharpa, and Naimah.
This is all skirting dangerously close now to the one-by-one steady dropping off of everyone in my generation, including all my friends. Soon, not a person I grew up with will be left. And it is certain that I am no longer going to die young.
Plus, the number of celebrity and personally-known deaths of course barely scratches the surface of the millions of other deaths in the last few days, let alone in the last year. (An average of 55.3 million humans and untold billions of animals and others.) Any illusion we may be under that we are long-term residents of this world is just that, an illusion. We’re here on a month-by-month rental with nary a day’s notice.
Making the most of our precious time
Our most valuable and rare possession is our precious human life, but we don’t have a whole lot of time left with it. All we have to look forward to, really, is spiritual realizations, insofar as everything else is dust in the wind. And to gain these realizations – actualizing our full potential and bringing about an end to suffering — we need time.
And it’s hard to love, there’s so much to hate
Hanging on to hope
When there is no hope to speak of
And the wounded skies above say it’s much too late
So maybe we should all be praying for time. ~ George Michael
To have time, we need to MAKE time.
This is what going deeper into our center, our spiritual heart, as explained here for example, can do for us – it can make us more time. It gives us a certain sense of timelessness in fact. Identifying with our pure inexhaustible potential instead of with our annoying off-kilter delusions makes us feel far more alive and present, and so time slows down. We might even feel for a change that we have all the time in the world.
I hear a lot of people, including me, complaining that life is too busy – and ordinarily it can feel that way; but I think that a lot of that feeling of busyness comes not from all that we have to get done but from not having sufficient mindfulness and concentration. These qualities, which improve on retreat, give us all the time, space, and freedom from surplus worrying thoughts we need to do what needs to be done.
We are none of us strangers to suffering, but Dharma gives us the ability to break free, and retreat gives us the opportunity to spend more time in Dharma. What’s not to love about spending several hours each day in freedom and happiness?! Even with poor concentration, we are generally more peaceful on retreat than in our ordinary fast-paced, externalized lives. We can become ridiculously happy.
It’s very relaxing not to buy into the hallucinations of the gross mind for a while — to let these fevered imaginings die down, stop taking them quite so seriously. Meditation gives us the chance to see them for what they are and to let them go so we can enjoy the peace and bliss of our own mind in deep rest. I have yet to find anything more relaxing than giving up on trying to find this peace and bliss in objects of attachment or in getting one over my enemies.
Even one breathing meditation allows us to stop shaking our mind and discover that an unshaken mind is naturally peaceful. A whole week or month of doing this gives us invaluable insight and confidence.
I also think that when we meditate a lot our lives start to flow – we are not so much living second-hand through Facebook or the news or Netflix, trying to get our thrills vicariously, or even in the made up narratives of our own lives, the product solely of our conceptual thoughts. We start to abide in the reality of wisdom and compassion, our true nature, and everything flows naturally from there.
Silence is golden
Whether in retreat doing the traditional four meditation sessions a day, or in the space of our own house once a day or so during January, we can let go of the demands of our daily life and reconnect to the stillness within ourselves. We can be quiet, for a change, verbally and mentally.
Silence is powerful. It creates space in our mind and fundamentally changes the way we connect with the teachings and meditations. Observing silence is a powerful method to disengage us from busyness, and it leads us naturally to deeper levels of being. Our heart begins to open and we feel the blessings of all Buddhas pouring into and filling our mind.
Through deepening our experience of meditation we can take our spiritual practice up to the next level (and this will keep us going in the following months when we are back at work.) By integrating this meditative experience into our daily activities we will improve the quality of our life and bring happiness to our family and friends.
I think diving deep below the froth of the ocean waves is also an incredibly important way to identify with our pure potential and disengage from endless feelings of hopelessness, inadequacy, and lack of control that come from identifying with a limited, painful self. We need self-confidence during these difficult times if we are to be of any help to anyone. We don’t need discouragement.
Who am I?
In each of the stages of the path (Lamrim) meditations, therefore, we can get into the habit of identifying with our Buddha nature and the result of that meditation, asking each time, “Who am I?” For example, instead of “I am angry”, “I am lonely”, “I am hurt”, “I am useless at this”, etc., we can think, “I am someone with a precious human life”, “I am someone who is on their way out from this prison of samsara”, “I am someone who has compassion for everyone”, etc.
In this way we can enter the Pure Land of Lamrim, enjoying ourselves each day with these beautiful minds, getting in the habit of identifying with them so much that we can then keep doing that the whole rest of the year.
January is also Heruka and Vajrayogini month. Again, even if our concentration is not brilliant yet, there are a lot of blessings flying around this month, so we may as well tune in the radio receiver of faith as often as we can.
Check out this Onion article if you get a moment, ‘I Can’t Do This Anymore,’ Think 320 Million Americans Quietly Going About Day. Spoof though it is, it still shows how we can all fall prey to humdrum mediocrity, even when things are not going particularly wrong in our lives; and how mediocrity doesn’t make us happy. If you have a chance to do some Tantric retreat, this immersion can be a swift way to transform these ordinary conceptions and appearances into an experience of great bliss and emptiness, transforming your world into the real Pure Land of the Dakinis.
(All this makes me think it should be called “Advance”, really, not “Retreat”.)
One day at a time
I’m gonna swing from the chandelier, from the chandelier
I’m gonna live like tomorrow doesn’t exist
Like it doesn’t exist ~ Sia
Some of my best advice on doing retreat is to take one day at a time – once you’re in retreat you put up so-called “retreat boundaries” of body, speech, and mind, which basically means you’re not thinking of anything outside of the retreat; so there is in fact no need to plan. (And there is never any need to wallow in nostalgia). This means you have a good shot at living in the moment, remembering that today is your first and possibly also your last day. This is really quite unbelievably relaxing.
Practical plan 2023
As always, there is so much on offer this January!
Check out the weeks and weeks of retreat available at our International Retreat Centers: IKRC Grand Canyon, KMC New York, Tharpaland in Germany, and KMC Kailash in Switzerland.
These IRCs and Kadampa Meditation Centers (KMCs) all offer incredibly special retreat programs with experienced meditation leaders that “address the needs of anyone wishing to deepen their experience of Kadam Dharma in modern day times.”
There are even a New Year’s Rocky Mountain Retreat where I live! You’re welcome to join.
And check out this link for any retreats at your local Centers, including 5 weeks guided retreat at KMC NYC.
You can also think about using January to get along to some inspiring meditation classes and establish a good meditation habit for 2023. Check out this link for meditation classes in your area.
Over to you. Do you have any encouragement to share from retreats you may have done in the past?
Meditation: simple easy instructions for getting started
Thank you Luna!
Doing retreat (long or short , in solitary or on groupe , strict silence or half day silence ….)It is been for me the most important mean to deepenng my understanding and experiencing in a much more deeper way of the subjects of the teachings of Dharma .
It is so true for me that making our time for Retreats is very important if we really wish to go more deep in our spiritual progress …
During theses pricieuse retreats which are appearing from Geshela ‘s Compationste Mind, I had never been feeling bored but always feeling connected so intimely with my Root Guru and with all the other beings … Faith and precious Bodhichitta were in my niveax naturally present through the blessings of my Guru and all the gurus of our Lignage.
During and after all the retreats , I always felt my mind has been getting much more open and balanced with an increacing space of mental peace even after the very “bad sessions ” (there were lot 😁) during which I could be very distracted or with a lots of obstructions internally or externally .
It is amazing , I always felt happy and peaceful after the sessions whatever had happened during the session .
In order to be able to benefit all beings just like all Boudhas , I must try try try to my best ability now and in all my futures lifes to creating ,creating , creating the causes until attending enlightenment !
“My breath is like a mist about to vanish , my mind is like a candle flame about to die in the wind, since there is no guarantee that I will not die today , now is the only time to take the real meaning of humain life : attainment of enlightenment .”
I feel so delighted that in January many of us can do Retreats through live stream or in person.
Thanks to Venetable Geshela and all his emenationd , we have so many choices !
Infinite gratitude appearing appearing and appearing deeply from my heart ❤💛🙏🏻💛❤
Thank you for this inspiring comment!!! xxx
I have the extraordinary good fortune to do generation and completion stage retreat first with my home center of KMC Hollywood, w Gen Rigpa, and then 2 weeks in IKRC Grand canyon with Kadam Morten. Thank you Geshe-la and all you amazing teachers for giving us all the opportunity to walk the blissful journey to the Pureland through Kadampa programs and retreat. Love to our worldwide Kadampa family and Happy New Year! Brooke
To be honest, there is nothing more valuable than this opportunity, IMHO. Have a wonderful time!
Thank you Luna! I’m going to print this out and keep it with me while on retreat. Such beautiful and practical advice.
For me it’s definitely one day at a time, one session at a time, one moment at a time, we then discover there is nowhere we would rather be. Maybe a special feeling arises and that connects us to previous special feelings we may have had in the past.
I often wonder how on earth it is so easy to forget such special feelings?
On retreat our faith can become our life force, then our motivations are always from the heart instead of something being pushed around in the head. Just the tiniest drop of faith and compassion for others and suddenly our own problems disappear like wisps of incense.
On retreat we have an opportunity to sit down with the future self that we would love to become.
Beautiful comment — what a memorable last sentence!!!
You are one of my Bodhisattva heroes 😍
Your ability of keeping the Kadampa Life in my heart on the Path is unmesarlble xx Thank you! Thank you!… Obrigado…
aww, my pleasure! Thank you.
I really do enjoy reading your blogs. They are light yet realistically portray our human situation and the need to go inside for peace. Please continue sharing your wisdom. Thank you Luna!
What a lovely comment, thank you so much 😙☺️
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Very inspirational 😊
oh good 😊
Thank you Luna….I needed some inspiration….
glad to be of some help to my twin …
I am booked for two weeks of silent retreat at KMC New York in February – one week of clarity and one week of emptiness! 💗 I will be working in January but I put together a lovely schedule of Lamrim and preliminary guides sessions for the five weeks before NY to prepare. I can’t wait to go back through my notes from guided preliminary guide retreats I did this year with Gen Samten (refuge and mandala offerings) and Gen Losang (Vajrasattva and guru yoga) and do at least one session a day. If the legal project I’m on ends early (which is likely), I’ll be able to do more sessions a day! ⚡
Hopefully, 2017 is the year I get up to Denver for some teachings from you now that I’m just around the corner in Dallas.
Thank you so much for the encouragement. Unfortunately, even those of us with regular practices need to be reminded to go deeper. And deeper. And longer. It is so easy to let (conventional) life get in the way of real spiritual progress. Sadly, I predictably need a daily jolt (how about a meditation on death?) to properly reorder my priorities. Thank you for today’s. With love, Chuck
my pleasure! The more reminders the better. Until that day when we are simply living it.
How wonderful a mission!
Anonymous is me, Chuck. Maybe the imputation version of empty.