A common practice among Meditation Therapy, especially among beginners and moderately experienced, is meditation retreats. I, in particular, have been in several of them, some excellent, others not so much. I even have dear friends who promote – great – retreats for meditators. Today we will talk about this type of activity.
Are retreats the only option for meditation? Are they the best option? Do they only bring advantages? Well, that depends on what you are looking for, as it can be a “double-edged sword.” We will list here, in this text, some advantages and disadvantages of this practice.
The first advantage of the retreats is intent. It inscribes, pays and goes somewhere to live a few days of (almost) asceticism, and he has already made a decision. You want to learn to meditate … or you want to practice even more meditation. It is usually a person who no longer has barriers to meditation, or at least has already overthrown most of them. Its layout makes the practice easier, and the first results more visible.
Another important aspect is that the meditator will find people who, like him, are willing to meditate without hindering the method. This group strength creates a very conducive environment for meditative practice.
A third convenience arises for the beginning meditator. Especially for the one who never meditated. In workshops or in-company courses the environment does not always leave you unwilling enough for him to indulge in technique, and so he sometimes does not know (or do not realize) the changed state of consciousness typical of meditation; At least not in the first practice … and this may make you discredit the technique. In a retreat, on the contrary, he will more easily know the meditative state, and will soon realize that meditation has effects (at least he will notice short-term effects).
One more gain would be in the regenerative pause, in constructive leisure. To stop with everything and to go somewhere to connect with yourself is an always welcome activity, even if it is not for meditation. Even more so when you exercise this technique that brings so many benefits to your practitioner.
But, not everything is flowers, when talking about meditation retreats, and the main disadvantage of them is explained by an effect similar to what is called “learning dissociation.”
Imagine two young men who, to spend a few nights studying for tests, used amphetamines (medicine with a stimulating action on the nervous system). However, their test scores were not good, probably because they had lost a good few hours of sleep. Someone then had an idea not to let them study in the last 24 hours before the race, to avoid that the organization of the information was betrayed by the memory: it did not work. Someone else suggested that they sleep well last night before the race: it did not work either. Then someone had the idea to give them amphetamine before the race, and the grades improved a lot. Because? Now, because brain chemistry at the time when learning was required (test time) was the same brain chemistry in which learning occurred. Before that, learning and its application took place at times of distinct neurochemistry, and learning was not fully applied. There was a dissociation between learning and its application, which determined a low effectiveness.
Another important information is that there is a relationship between the environment and neurochemistry (the chemistry that exists in the nervous system, especially the one within our brain). When we’re lying comfortably in our bed, in the warmth of the bedroom, our brain chemistry is one. When we’re at work, this chemistry is different. When we are at a party, the chemistry of our mind would already be of a third type. And so on. Different environments, different sensations, different memories associated with the environment: different neurochemicals. There is a relationship between the environment we are in and the brain chemistry it promotes. That is what we would call “the chemistry of the environment.”
Therefore, it is not always possible to bring all the learning gained in a retreat, in the midst of nature, in a quiet country hotel, to the environment of home, or work. When we get to work, it seems that “all those stressful feelings come back to haunt.” When we return home, it seems that “all the family problems again disturb us.” It is the effect of the environment on our emotions and, consequently, on our neurochemistry. And that would explain why it seems that, after a few days of “full meditative beatitude” in the mountains, everything returned to the same “Hell” as before. Meditation does not seem to work inside. Some people even doubt and wonder if those sensations they met at the retreat were real, or if they were only suggested.
That is the reason for trying to take the teaching of meditation to the environment of cities, of work, of daily life. The learning is done in the same conditions in which it will be applied daily. The environment in which we learned will be the same in which we will practice. Not only does this tactic make meditation a more doable method, but it also helps change the chemistry of the environment. The atmosphere work does not seem so unhealthy anymore. The city does not look so inhospitable anymore. Meditation will be more within us when it is more within our lives and our usual environments.
Note, therefore, that there are pros and cons in meditative retreats. Knowing its advantages and disadvantages is what will allow you to judge when it will be most appropriate for you – or not.