How to Tell If You're Ready for a Meditation Retreat


by WITHIN Cofounder Hannah Knapp

If you've been meditating for even a short time, you've probably heard whisperings about meditation retreats. Anyone who's been on one will tell you, "Just go," often without much explanation of why.

That's because going on a retreat is a powerful, but very individual, experience. It can be hard to describe what each of us goes through while we're meditating for days (or weeks) at a time; we just come out knowing that it was totally worth the time we spent.

But if you've never been on a retreat, how can you know if you're ready for that experience?

Here are four questions to help you decide if now's the time to do it.

Question #1: Are you feeling curious?

For some students, gradually building their practice over time, without the added intensity of a retreat, works great. They don't really feel the need to go faster or deeper, and don't have much curiosity about how that might do that. No judgement here - that is a totally fine way to be! - but if that's your sense, then now is not the time to do a retreat.

For other students, there's a hunger and curiosity about what it would be like to accelerate their practice. The intensity of a retreat is the single best way to do that.

They feel a sense of excitement mixed with fear about what it might be like. They're willing to try it and find out. If you're feeling that way, now is the time to sign up for a retreat, regardless of whether or not you feel "ready."

Question #2: Has the glow started to wear off your meditation practice?

Often, when students first dive into meditation, they are super excited about it. They experience the immediate benefits - they feel calmer, less anxious, more grounded - and enthusiastically build their practice for several weeks.

Then, the glow starts to wear off. They hit a plateau. The ways meditation helped at first are less obvious now that they're familiar with the feeling. They can't quite get the same hit of relief that they did at first. They feel discouraged and frustrated.

This is the perfect moment for going on a meditation retreat. Hitting that plateau in your practice isn't an indication that it's time to give up; it's a clear signal that you need to stick with it, and go deeper.

The crucible of a meditation retreat - whether it's just a day, the traditional 7- or 10-days, or months - will give you what you need to get past that plateau to the next level of your practice.

Question #3: Are you feeling open to inspiration?

One of the benefits of sitting on a meditation retreat is the exposure you get to ideas for applying mindfulness to your daily life. The retreat leader will typically offer talks on how to engage in everyday life with the same awareness you're developing through your meditation practice. Because you're hearing them straight from an experienced teacher, with periods of meditation before and afterwards, the ideas tend to sink in more deeply.

Many students leave retreats inspired to make specific changes, from how they approach situations they're dealing with, to what they want to do with their lives.

If you're feeling that itch for change, but some uncertainty about what exactly to do, sitting a meditation retreat can be extraordinarily clarifying. On the other hand, if you're pretty content with how things are, the retreat may not be as much of a powerful motivator for change.

Question #4: Have you meditated with and without guidance?

Typically, meditation retreats include some instruction on a specific technique or approach for meditating, but then you're on your own to practice in silence. If you've only ever meditated with someone guiding you - through an app, or live in a meditation class - you may feel a bit lost or uncertain of how to handle being in silence. We recommend sitting on your own a few times before going on a retreat.

On the other hand, if you've only ever meditated solo, your first experience of doing it while sitting next to someone else who's also meditating may be unsettling. We recommend having your first group meditation experience in a shorter, less intense environment than a retreat. Find a meditation group near you, or come to one of our classes, to get a taste of what it's like. Then, you'll be better prepared to go on a retreat.

If your answered yes to any of these questions, you're probably ready to go on a retreat. If you answered yes to all of them, there's no question. Join us at our next day-long retreat, and see what it's like to get away for a day of silence.

What are your favorite places to go on retreat? Tell us in the comments below!