Meet Krishna, a young adult living in Berkeley, California. Krishna previously shared how Young Adult Weekend Retreats played an important role in establishing a daily meditation practice. In this post Krishna shares the experience and benefits of a weeklong retreat.
When I attended my first weeklong retreat, I did not expect the spiritual intensity and growth I’d experience in a matter of just six days. I had just moved into an apartment the day before the retreat. The challenges of the move-in had sent me into spasms of anger against my closest friends. Burdened with this great agitation, I found myself driving to Tomales.
By the time the retreat ended, I was a different man. In the months that followed, the retreat’s impact grew even stronger. This is my attempt at capturing some of my experience at the retreat.
The retreat’s theme was “reducing self-will.” Until this weeklong retreat, I hadn’t even come face-to-face with how self-willed I really was!
I protested constantly against the worksheets I did during the retreat, believing them to be misguided. I was the #1 initiator of objections at the facilitated discussions. To the credit of the retreat facilitators and my fellow attendees (all long-time meditators), they always answered my comments with compassion and non-judgment.
Puzzled by the sheer intensity of my objections, I stopped to consider the possibility that, just maybe, I was actually self-willed.
I later learned that weeklong retreats have a different theme every year, and usually rotate after a few years. I know that by the time I do another retreat with this theme, I’ll be such a different person that the retreat will be brand new to me! I’ll face a new set of challenges with my self-will then.
During the retreat, I spent every day on a different one or two of the eight points. The seventh and eighth points – spiritual fellowship and spiritual reading – were woven into the fabric of the retreat itself. Typically, we enjoyed two meditations a day (+ another optional meditation or mantram walk before lunch.) We had delicious, home-cooked, vegetarian meals, and meal-time doubled as spiritual fellowship time. I got many great tips & tricks and shared many laughs during these meals.
We also had 3-4 hours of free time every day, and an additional 1-2 hours for contemplative study time. My favorite part was the 3 or so hours we spent in facilitated workshops, “pair and share” sessions, and Q&A discussions each day. And finally, we spent an hour or so a day watching Easwaran’s videos, some of which were so searingly direct that I remember them to this day.
I was able to discern my mind’s subtle objections to EACH of the eight points for the first time. Some insights that would have otherwise taken me years, I was able to have in a matter of days because of the concentrated spiritual environment.
Difference from Weekend Retreats
Until this retreat, I’d attended only young-adult weekend retreats – which, as I’ve written previously – are super-fun.
In this retreat, I experienced in a new way the really hard work that goes into living a truly spiritual life. The sheer willpower it took, the feelings and emotions it brought up, the depth of self-introspection it forced me to engage in – it was all breathtakingly challenging.
For the first time in my life, I started to take naps during the day, just to recharge.
Lest I give you the impression that the retreat’s schedule was packed, it wasn’t.
I slept 8-9 hours a night, and every day, there was at least 3-4 hours of unstructured free time. I really took advantage of the free time: I took naps, went for beach walks, ran or played outside, did light reading and socialized with the other attendees.
Krishna playing volleyball during one of the afternoon breaks.
Going into the weeklong retreat, I’d expected a fun vacation that would relax me. I wasn’t expecting a deepening of my personal growth and spiritual yearnings in unexpected and strong ways.
The many suggestions I received from fellow attendees and facilitators were life-changing. For months afterwards, I’d review my worksheets from the retreat every day after waking up. This included statements like (paraphrasing), “A good friend is like a mirror, and I appreciate it when a trusted friend points out how I could handle a particular situation better.”
I was able to ask a great many questions I simply wouldn’t have been able to ask in a shorter retreat. This wasn’t just because I had more time. It was also because the deeper I went into the retreat, the deeper I grew, and the deeper my questions!
In the day on the mantram, I learned how much more I could be “in the mantram.” I began to see the mantram not just as a tool, but as a state of being. That day, I got closer to falling asleep in the mantram than I ever had until then.
In the day on putting others first, I discovered some strategies for how to put my landlord first (who I hadn’t been too happy with). By the end of the retreat, I felt calmer, happier and more loving about my relationship with him.
I Don’t Need a Spiritual Teacher!
Before the weeklong retreat, I’d look askance at anyone who spoke of having a “spiritual teacher.” Inwardly, I’d feel sorry for them automatically being in a cult. It didn’t even matter who the spiritual teacher was!
So, naturally, I was the last person I believed would accept anyone as his spiritual teacher. I definitely wasn’t looking for one.
Yet, by the end of the fifth day, though nobody ever mentioned it, I suddenly realized – of course, Easwaran is my spiritual teacher. It wasn’t so much a decision as a revelation.
The Impact of Accepting a Spiritual Teacher
I’m deeply committed to personal development in general. It would be dishonest for me to say that all of the good in my life was due to the retreat. Definitely not! I also have friends, family, strangers, providers, coaches and coincidences to thank for all of my growth!
Nonetheless, accepting Easwaran as a spiritual teacher was a breakthrough moment that continues to reverberate even now, 18 months after the retreat. It has immeasurably deepened my spirituality.
In accepting a spiritual teacher, I admitted my own helplessness over a host of problems. I admitted that there was someone who knew better.
In accepting my powerlessness, I finally unleashed my power within.
The Social Angle
Unlike at the young adult weekend retreat, I was the youngest person at this retreat by about 25 years. Immediately, I had to wrestle with my then-natural dislike of “old people.”
By the end of the retreat, I felt like I’d been adopted by all the retreat participants as their child.
I also got many opportunities to practice putting others first. I felt comfortable knowing that we were all trying to do our best, and were ultimately on the same journey,
I felt a degree of kinship and commonality with “old people” that’s since expanded to all “old people,” not just those few retreat attendees.
There are participants from then that I still keep in touch with regularly. Others feel like friends when I meet them, even though all we did was spend one week together.
Krishna (right) discussing the eight points with another retreatant.
Overall, the retreat was a turning point in my relationship to God.
At the retreat, I felt challenged and pushed to my limits. I’m told people’s first weeklong retreats are sometimes this way.
In the months following the retreat, I cultivated a healthier relationship with my landlord and roommate. I stopped getting speeding tickets! I became slightly more productive at work. Of course, I can’t attribute these improvements to just the retreat, and yet, the retreat helped me crystallize those goals, helped me begin my work on them, and gave me a safe, supportive environment to wrestle with them. I feel special gratitude for the many moments of grace and insight I felt throughout the six days.
After the retreat, I walked away a slightly better man. The lessons of the retreat have aged well, and I’ve internalized them in ways big and small.
The retreat was a small but important battle in my life-long war against my self-will. I look forward to the next round.