How to Plan a Personal Day-Long Mindfulness and Meditation Retreat

From time to time it can be helpful to dedicate a longer period of time to deepen your practice of meditation and mindfulness. Setting aside a day, a weekend, or a week can provide a rare and welcome oasis amid the densely packed business of daily life. Since you will likely never "find" the time, we encourage you to make the time.

Simplifying your outer life for a day can help you to discover and develop the richness of your inner life. For even just one day, forget that you have a TV, let the phone answer itself, set aside all the e-mail and busywork that tend to gobble up and dominate your time, attention, and life.

Given our busy lifestyles and obligations, taking a day for ourselves can seem like an unreasonable luxury, but if you can arrange it, the time can offer inspiration and value that will enrich the relationships to which you return. Couples can benefit from taking such a retreat together, and in supporting each other in an occasional day of solitary retreat (see guidelines below). So often in everyday life we lose ourselves in our relationships, and it can be very empowering, inspiring, and fulfilling to simply, quietly, be mindfully all-one with yourself for a day of meditation in a relatively undistracted way.

Planning Your Day

In preparation, make a plan to minimize intrusions and, if time permits, clean up or unclutter your place a bit. For some people it can be helpful to put out some pictures of loved ones or inspiring teachers, or arrange some flowers, candles, and perhaps some music that uplifts your spirits. If by chance visitors stop by, greet them warmly and explain that you are devoting the day to work on a very important project and try to find another time to get together with them.

The first step, as in all meditations, is to set a clear intention for the day. Why is this day important to you? What qualities or strengths do you wish to cultivate and bring more alive during this time? Which specific meditation practices or themes do you intend to focus on during this rare and precious time?

We suggest that you choose one or two meditation practices you have been drawn to, and deepen your practice of them during this day. When in doubt, try to keep it very simple and let this be a day of mindfulness meditation.

Beginning the Day

Ideally begin each session by affirming your connection to the sources of inspiration that support and inspire you in your practice.

Then shift your attention to a practice that develops your concentration, such as mindful breathing, the nine-part breath, the elemental purification breaths, or the mindful repetition of a mantra or prayer. Any of these practices will help you develop the calm intensity and presence of mind necessary to stay more focused with whatever meditation practices you choose to work with throughout the day.

Once you have inspired and focused your mind, turn your attention to your chosen meditation practice. Emphasize the quality of attention you are bringing to your practice by starting with short, focused sessions -- three to ten minutes at a stretch to begin with. Then mindfully take a very short break -- a minute or so -- to stretch or mindfully look around, and then once again refocus your attention for the next period of meditation. Continue with short, focused periods of meditation, being vigilant not to slip into dullness or distraction. Don't get too concerned about using a clock or timer for your meditation sessions; simply take a short break to refresh yourself when you notice that the quality of your attention is starting to drift or wane.

After a half-hour to an hour of these short, quiet sitting meditations interspersed with brief breaks, make a smooth and mindful transition into some kind of mindful move-ment: slow mindful walking, stretching, or even moving or dancing to some music that you enjoy. Keep your awareness anchored in your body -- experience your aliveness, the flow and tingle of sensations and vibrations coursing through you. After about twenty to forty-five minutes of mindful moving, return to stillness, inspire and focus your mind, and continue with your quiet meditation practice.

Middle of the Day

Follow a similar rhythm throughout the day: quiet meditation alternating with moving meditation. When appropriate, drink a mindful cup of tea, or prepare and eat a mindful meal. It may also be helpful to weave some time of inspirational reading and reflection into the day, especially if you are in need of some upliftment. Slow down and continue to maintain a continuity of attention as you move, drink tea, or go to the bathroom. Let every action of this special day be done with mindful tenderness, and a sense of inquiry, discovery, and appreciation.

If during the day you find that mental dullness or heaviness is an obstacle, read something inspirational or contemplate some theme that will uplift your mind, such as gratitude for the precious gifts of your life, or for the beauty of nature. Taking a shower or going for a mindful walk may also help to re-energize you and leave your mind fresh and clear for your meditations. If you find that you are really exhausted, give yourself permission to take a nap, then mindfully resume your practice when you awaken more rested.

If your mind is really agitated and distracted, it may be helpful to practice mindfulness of breathing, the nine-part breath, the elemental breaths, or to recite a mantra to help settle the mind. Sometimes going for a mindful walk in nature, or even a mindful run, can help you burn off some of the agitation and leave you feeling more peaceful and calm, ready for more still and quiet meditation practice.

If possible, watch the rising or setting of the sun and moon, watch the stars come out, and appreciate the wonders of the natural world. A day, weekend, or week of meditation in nature can offer a welcome opportunity to remember your place within the larger circle of life.

Ending the Day

Finally, at the end of the day, pause to reflect, write in your journal, and harvest the insights from this rare and precious experience. Reflect on the gifts and lessons of this day, and upon their significance and meaning for how you will live the days of your life to follow. Ask yourself:

  • What has been the greatest gift or blessing of this day?
  • What has been your greatest challenge today?
  • Where today were you surprised?
  • Where today were you most deeply moved?
  • What inspired you the most today?
  • What questions do you end the day with?
  • What clear direction or calling has emerged for how you want to live your life in the precious days to come?
  • Who do you need to connect with and what are your messages to them?
  • What is your heart's prayer as this day comes to an end?

As you mindfully complete your daily rituals and prepare for bed, let your last meditation be one of dedication. Take to heart the blessings and gifts of the day and radiate a wave of loving-kindness, compassion, and gratitude, sending ripples of inspiring strength and blessings to share with all beings.

As you move toward sleep, practice the series of sleeping and dreaming meditations. And when you awaken in the morning, be mindful of your breathing and set a clear intention to carry the momentum of yesterday's inner work into this new day of possibilities and opportunities.

[Adapted from the book "Luminous Mind" by Joel & Michelle Levey]

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