Prospective students often ask us whether we offer shorter retreats or weekly instruction with practice at home. Our answer is usually that we encourage beginning students to complete a basic course retreat and that regular retreats from worldly pursuits are critical for everyone to develop their spiritual progress.
I would like to take a moment to explain the reason for this advice. In order for us to truly benefit from insight meditation, we must first admit to ourselves that a foundation for real happiness can only come from the inside. In other words, we must renounce the external world in a sense as our primary source of happiness. This is very difficult to do while we are being continually bombarded by the opposite message, tempted by sensual indulgence and harassed by worldly demands. Furthermore, our intention to seek happiness from the inside is a powerful foundation for a successful practice. If, on the other hand, we have not fully committed to developing our spiritual side, we are not really ready to begin our journey. It would be as if we want to go out to work but are unwilling to leave the house.
How then can we start our insight meditation practice if we are too busy to do a retreat? If we have decided that we want to prioritize meditation, we must look at what else we are doing with our time that we can postpone in order to make space for our own happiness. Interestingly, if we find ourselves overwhelmed with worldly tasks and responsibilities, this by itself could be a reason to do a meditation retreat because it will help us to effectively order our life priorities. Then, when we have attained new found wisdom from our meditation practice, we can come back to our worldly endeavours with a renewed sense of purpose and efficiency born of heedfulness. In that way, everyone can observe for him or herself that a decision to invest in long-term happiness is the most valuable decision we can ever make.