The Complete Plan to Make Your at Home Meditation Retreat a Success (Plus Templates)

Published by Olivier Devroede


I often have the feeling that I want to deepen my mindfulness and meditation practice but I do not have the time or money to go on a longer retreat. Therefore, I try to occasionally have one at home. In this post, I share how to best do this.

You can greatly improve the succes of your at home meditation retreat if you follow this easy 10 step recipe:

Set up a thorough motivation

Before we start on this journey, we should get straight about something: yes, a mediation retreat at home is a wonderful and rewarding endeavor, but it is not something that is easily accomplished.

It all depends on the type and length of the retreat, but at some point, you might want to quit because you are bored, a negative emotion is arising or your back is starting to hurt.

In my case, it is mostly all three of them. And when you are in an ‘at-home meditation retreat’ setting, the temptation to quit will be much greater than when you are in a setting where you paid 1000$ and dozens of people are there meditating with you.

Here are two tips on how to set up your motivation and not lose it during the retreat.

Be clear on why you want to do the retreat

You should be as clear on your motivation as the wings of this butterfly. Image courtesy of Eddy Van 3000

So before starting on this endeavor, I’d like you to ponder the question of why you want to do the retreat in the first place.

Usually, it is because you have started to see the benefits of meditation and you want to get better at it. Or you feel called to deepen your practice. You can also do a little web search for the general benefits of meditation and the specific benefits of retreats to get you more fired up.

Whatever it is, feel this emotion. Usually it gives you great resolve and motivation.

Now, write this down on a piece of paper. You can add a few sentences that explain why you chose this topic.

And now, very importantly, before each day of your meditation retreat, re-read this text and try to identify with the feeling of the original motivation you had.

Identify the possible pitfalls

Beware of common pitfalls when starting out you at home meditation retreat.

You will need our motivation back whenever you feel like stopping. just reread your manifesto whenever that happens.

But, it is also a good idea to prepare a list of possible show stoppers that might coerce you to stop and to already find some remedies.

You should make your own list each time with all the experience gained, but here is a small sample to get you started:

  • It is too boring: remember that this is a typical thing in meditation. the aim is to just let it be
  • My back hurts: change your position. Go from sitting on the floor to a chair. Or lie down. Mix it up but try to not fall asleep.
  • A difficult emotion arises: you should just let it be. The great thing about an at-home meditation retreat is that you now have an extended period to work with the emotion. If it is too overwhelming, you should try to divert your attention to some neutral thing. Also, check up on the section on reviewing the basics of this article.

Decide on the format of the retreat

Now comes a very important topic: you need to decide the format of your retreat. And there are several factors that you must consider.

Silent retreat or not?

This factor is so important that I give it its own place in my list of ten factors. You can find the full discussion at the end of the article but my point of view is clear: make it silent!

Recommendation: do a silent retreat

Length of the retreat

If you are a beginner or if you live together with a bunch of people I would not make the retreat too long.

To reap most of the benefits, you will need at least half a day of meditation. So 4-5 hours. So this is the recommended length if you have never meditated for longer than 15-20 minutes. This will already be a challenge.

But you need to conscious of the fact that extending the retreat over several days will bring in results that are never possible when you do only half a day or one day long.

The reason is that it takes at least 2 days for the mind to begin to really settle. At that moment, unexpected things start to happen. I remember some of the insights that just sprang to my mind on the 4th day of a retreat. Something really unexpected.

Recommendation: half a day or one day if you are a beginner. But longer periods yield more results.

What kind of meditations will I do?

To meditate for this long, you need to mix it up. Sitting for 4 hours straight is possible, but only for trained monks. I do not recommend that.

So you should alternate between sitting and walking meditations. This will give you the opportunity to learn all styles of meditation. The other reason is that sitting will make your body very soar. You will greatly appreciate the movement. Believe me.

Another great addition is to add a mindful yoga session in the morning. That is a great way to wake up and to prepare for the long sitting sessions. If you are more into Chi-Gong or Tai-Chi, those are excellent alternatives to yoga. It does not really matter as long as it is mindful movement.

Many beginners use guided meditations, but I’d advise against using that. the whole aim is to go deeper and having guided meditations will hinder you. So just use a timer and nothing more.

And lastly, to conclude a day or half-day of meditation, include a loving-kindness session. That is a wonderful way to conclude the wonderful work that you performed. This is the only place where I would consider using a guided meditation. But if you can do without, that is obviously better.

Recommendation: do mindful yoga in the morning, alternate between sitting and walking meditation, conclude with a Metta session.

Include time for reading or listening to meditation talks

The long hours of meditation are best alternated with reading some inspirational texts. This gives the mind a moment to relax. Photo courtesy of Vladimir Pustovit

If you do a retreat of only half a day, this is not needed. The time is short and it is better to use it for meditation.

But staying inspired and on track is very important.

Plus, doing long meditations tends to tire the mind out. So having some distraction is welcome. We are in for the long haul. At least we are filling ourselves up with related content.

If you are looking for great talks on meditation and Buddhism, you can head over to Audio Dharma who has hundreds of free talks.

Recommendation: download some talks related to meditation for when the mind tires. This is also recommended in the evenings when you do a multiple-day retreat.

Template for a half day at home meditation retreat

So now that we have made our choices, we should put them into a template. Usually, on intense multi-day retreats, people get up early, so I used this in my template too.

6:30 – 7:15 Mindful Yoga
7:15 – 8:00 Sitting meditation
8:00 – 8:45 Breakfast
8:45 – 9:30 Sitting meditation
9:30 – 10:15 Walking meditation
10:15 – 11:00 Sitting meditation
11:00 – 11:30 Tea or Coffee Break
11:30 – 12:00 Loving Kindness Meditation

As you can see, it is quite intense. But do not get discouraged. just take it one meditation at the time.

Template for a full day at home meditation retreat

6:30 – 7:15 Mindful Yoga
7:15 – 8:00 Sitting meditation
8:00 – 8:45 Breakfast
8:45 – 9:30 Sitting meditation
9:30 – 10:15 Walking meditation
10:15 – 11:00 Sitting meditation
11:00 – 11:30 Tea or Coffee Break
11:30 – 12:00 Short sitting meditation
12:00 – 14:30 Lunch and time to rest or read
14:30 – 15:15 Sitting meditation
15:15 – 16:00 Walking meditation
16:00 – 16:45 Sitting meditation
16:45 – 17:00 Tea or Coffee Break
17:00 – 17:30 Walking meditation
17:30 – 18:00 Sitting meditation
18:00 – 20:00 Supper and time to rest or read
20:00 – 21:00 Listen to a meditation talk
21:00 – 21:30 Loving-kindness meditation
22:00 Time to go to bed

What if I want to a longer retreat?

Essentially, longer retreats take the template of the full day and then repeat the same pattern day after day with the exception of the last day.

I think this is the best for an at-home retreat as well. There is something comforting about the routine that is actually motivating.

I always find myself bored the first two days, but by day three, I get enthusiastic at the thought that we are going to do yet another meditation.

Read up on the basics before you start

As you will be meditating for an extended period of time, it is best to do it correctly. You should have a clear idea of what the techniques are you want to apply.

When you go to a meditation retreat, usually there is some amount of guidance that reminds you of these.

Why is that?

Because during a retreat one is challenged in a different way than during a 30-minute meditation session. The difficulties are greater.

And we tend to forget the basics when we come into uncharted territory. We try to improvise and this is not a good idea. So either use a guided meditation session in the morning to remind you of what and how to practice or do it by reading about it.

I have a full article on how to structure your meditation practice for success. In this template, there is a short reflection to remind yourself how to practice, each time you practice. I think this is a great way to start a session.

Get your house mates to respect your privacy

I think one of the biggest obstacles to having an at-home meditation retreat is the people living with you.

If they are not into meditation like you, they will not participate in your endeavor. Worse, they will not even respect what you do and just barge into your meditation to ask all sort of things of you.

Therefore, you should make clear agreements with them that for the duration of the retreat, they should not try to keep you from the meditation.

You could agree on a dedicated time slot where they can ask you questions, but this should be kept to an absolute minimum.

You should make them aware of what you want to do, even if you do only half a day. In this way, you limit the frustration from having to ask them 3 times to stop interrupting you.

Make the meals and breaks part of the practice

Prepare your meals beforehand. Traditionally, vegetarian meals are served since meat is heavier to digest and might make you more sleepy. But Ultimately, the choice is yours. Image courtesy of Marco Verch with this license.

The important thing about a meditation retreat is to spend a longer period in meditation or mindfulness. So do not break it when taking a break or having a meal.

Try to guard your effort and stay mindful of what you are doing. This is an excellent opportunity to practice the skill of mindful eating. Which is arguably one of the hardest to master in my humble opinion.

But do not try to hold on to the same level of concentration as during the sitting or walking meditations. You will burn out if you do that. Make it a light awareness of whatever you are doing. Much the same as you would do in the informal mindfulness practices.

Make sure that everything is ready for the meals and breaks so that you do not need to rush off to the grocery store to get bread.

Prepare your meals and breaks at the same time you decide on the schedule of your retreat.

In that way, the only thing left to do is to mindfully prepare the meal or snack and to eat it in the same way.

It goes without saying that you should keep up the same attitude during a resting period where you are reading or just enjoying the view. Keep a light awareness of the body to have a continuity between the formal practices and the rest of the day.

Unplug

It is critical that you unplug during the full length of the retreat from all your mobile devices and computers.

As I said earlier, the mind needs to be able to settle in order to get the wanted results.

I will illustrate this with an anecdote from one of my own retreats:

When I went on my very first silent retreat, that was five days long, I told my wife that I would look at my phone once a day to check that everything was ok with the kids.
I am a worried kind of person, so leaving them for a whole week was uncomfortable for me.
So two days into the retreat, I felt a little bored and decided to quickly check whether my wife had sent any messages. She did. But since I did not have the time to read it through, I had to put my phone down and leave for the meditation.
My mind had already settled a bit, so I was able to feel the pull of the message from my wife as something I had just added to the meditation. I was worried and anxious and really wanted to know what she had sent me.
So after the afternoon session, I could not hold it anymore and went on to go to read the message that said: ‘We wish you good luck in the meditation, kisses’.
As you can see. I was fretting over this for no good reason.
The great thing about this is that I learned the power of distraction of even a simple text message. Especially when the mind does not have anything else to put his teeth in.

So the message of this little story is to make sure all is off. Also, make sure that people with whom you communicate regularly know that you will not answer your phone so they do not get worried and come to your doorstep to see if you are still alive.

Journal

Journaling will allow you to get your mind clear. Later on, you will be able to reflect back on what you have written. Photo courtesy of Negative Space

Meditation retreats are excellent opportunities to reflect on your life and put things together.

One of the tools I like the most for doing that is to journal.

I usually do not journal during the year, or at least not a lot. But when doing longer meditations, your thoughts start to refine and insights start to come.

And I know very well that a week after the retreat all will be gone. So keeping notes of what you learned and experienced is something I highly recommend.

What is more, when I reread my notes (usually at the next retreat), I see that I again come to the same conclusions. That is actually the aim of meditation, to familiarise oneself with life and to draw firm conclusions on how to be happy. I am happy to say that the conclusions often point in the same direction in my case.

So make sure that in your list of things to have at hand during the retreat is a notebook where you can journal.

Just do not make the mistake of taking notes while you are meditating. There is plenty of room in the schedule to do this. Meditation time is necessary for the mind to settle and for the ideas to emerge.

Do not worry, the good ideas will stick with you for a long time as there there are no distractions to take them away. This is very different from how you operate in your daily life.

Make it a silent retreat

I will not lie, doing the retreat in silence will be a huge challenge for some people.

But after my first silent retreat, I was convinced that this was the only way to do it. And I was reinforced in this belief when doing nonsilent retreats. It’s just not the same. The silence will give you access to far more depth in the practice.

For me, the most notable thing I learned was that I talk a lot in my head. Really a lot. It is something I had never noticed. I was commenting on nearly everything. I was also constantly checking the schedule and telling myself what to do next. And then retelling what would come afterward, and then …

But this constant chatter keeps us away from going deeper into the concentration and meditation. If you talk between sessions, you will miss out on the opportunity to get familiar with this inner chatter. Because once you get to notice it, it will tend to go down a bit. Allowing you to get a little deeper in the meditation.

If you think you cannot make it without talking, set aside some predefined moments where you allow yourself to talk.

Maybe insert half an hour in the evening to call your best friend or a relative. Or discuss with a housemate how the day went.

Especially if you do a longer retreat this can be helpful.

Stick to the plan, no matter what

Ok, we now have everything decided. We have a game plan and we are fully prepared.

But if this is the first time you do a meditation retreat, you will at some point be tempted to stop. Or to skip this one meditation. Or to just quickly see what happened on Facebook or Instagram. Or your back hurts and taking a quick nap would be so great.

Don’t do it!

Really, do not do it!

I know you will. I did. But seriously, do not dot it!

Ok, ok. enough joking.

But you will miss out on a lot of benefits if you do. Yes, your back will hurt after 4 hours of sitting meditation. And your knees will get sore also. Furthermore, you will get bored.

That is the time to pull out your sheet of paper with your motivation and read it again.

Look at the pitfalls you identified. If it is on the list, read the answer, and apply them. If it is not on the list, add it and think of a solution.

Know that this is the best thing you can do for yourself now. you are giving yourself the beautiful gift of an at-home meditation retreat!

Have a safety net

When doing a longer retreat, you should really have someone to call when you are getting overwhelmed. Photo courtesy of Ivan Radic

as you can read in my post that discusses whether mindfulness is dangerous, some people can have adverse reactions when meditating for longer periods.

To summarise the post, mindfulness is very safe in 99% of the cases when applied correctly.

But, longer sessions tend to bring out negativity that has not been fully processed.

So you might find yourself struggling with strong emotions that can possibly overwhelm you.

The first thing to do is to just apply the basic techniques (which you have reviewed in the previous step) and continue the meditation.

But sometimes this is not enough. Luckily, this is very rare, but one needs to be prepared. So I advise you to warn a friend about what you are going to do. Especially if you are doing a week-long retreat for the first time and you make it an at-home retreat.

Because in that case, you have no idea how you are going to react.

And in regular meditation retreats, there is always the instructor that you can turn to. Even at night.

So make sure this friend knows what you are going to do and that she or he is available to be called at night (if possible).

Now, I had several wonderful retreats and never had any problem, but I have also seen people struggle. So be prepared and know that you are going to come out of this better than you went in.

Conclusion

You now have the full and complete plan to make your stay at home meditation retreat a great success.

Let me know in the comments how it went and what are the insights you gained from doing a prolonged meditation.

Featured Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels
Unplug photo courtesy of Virginia State Parks



Olivier Devroede

Hi, I’m Olivier Devroede and I have been meditating seriously since 2009. Due to the great benefits I have seen in meditating, I decided to become an MBSR trainer myself and start a blog.

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