What to Expect on Retreat

Hello Friends, a reflection by Ben Mikolaj, former RMI Associate Director

I am just coming back from a weekend Vipassana retreat through RMI which was held at Mt St. Francis retreat center right here in Colorado Springs. What a wonderful experience.

If you have never been to Mt St. Francis it is quite a treat and I highly recommend it. The property boasts a retreat center, nursing home, chapel, and residence for some of the Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. In between sitting meditation sessions, we had individual time for walking meditation on the grounds where we joined some of the local wildlife: deer, hawks, squirrels, birds, and bunnies. In the shade of wooded hills, we walked the outdoor labyrinth and brought mindfulness to each step. Dr. Lucinda Green lead the retreat with her usual engaging energy and care.

For those who have not been on a retreat before and are interested in the experience I can tell you there is nothing else like it. This was a silent retreat with instruction from Lucinda interspersed throughout. On Friday night we checked into the center and found our rooms. By a series of unexpected events this turned out to be my first retreat with a private room! We did not observe silence during that first dinner meal so that we could all get to know each other before settling in for the weekend. After dinner we had our first evening program where Lucinda taught the basic techniques for us to practice that weekend. Then there was a ring of the bell and the real party began. Silence.

On Saturday we had a great opportunity to deepen our practice. Each 45-minute sit was followed by 45 minutes of walking or individual meditation time. In the middle of the day we had small group interviews where we were able to break silence enough to ask questions, share our experience, and get personal teachings from Lucinda. Each meal was vegetarian and well prepared by the retreat staff. We ate mindfully and in silence. In these conditions you can really taste your food.

The attendees ranged in experience from first time retreatant to Vipassana veterans. From the sharing at the end it sounded like everyone got exactly what they needed from the experience. Everyone was respectful, polite, welcoming, and kind. And they were all of these things while not speaking a word.

Lucinda gave instructions on mindfulness of the breath, recognizing vedana (initial sense impression or feeling), impermanence, and the 5 skandhas. We also got to kick off the retreat with some chanting in both English and Pali. I especially enjoyed the chanting.

Sunday just before noon we had our final program and metta meditation before breaking silence for our final meal together. We laughed, joked, and shared stories over lunch before packing up and saying goodbye. At the end we reflected on all of the things we were taking with us from the retreat: peace of mind, renewed energy for practice, an appreciation for ourselves, and a passion to experience liberation. We took many things with us, but we also left some things behind: self-doubt, worry, fear, and our stories. It was a great experience that I hope to repeat in the near future. Perhaps you will join me?