Evaporating Clouds on Meditation Retreat

The purpose of a meditation retreat is to keep a meditation technique going all day, every day. If you get distracted, return to the focus space. As my teacher says, “Go in one straight line.”

I have done over thirty weeklong meditation retreats. With that practice, I’ve gotten skilled at this task. However, I typically have a conflict come up again and again, related to sleep and energy levels.

Usually, on meditation retreats, there is time in the afternoon and in the evening to rest and get some sleep. However, this should not be a distraction from maintaining your practice. This has caused me some grief over the years. Usually, I’m tired, and want to get some sleep. However, I want to make the best use of the retreat and keep my practice going.

This conflict would come up reliably at least twice a day, in the afternoon and the evening. Do I go to sleep, or not? Asking this question again and again felt emotionally exhausting.

An Evaporating Cloud diagram helped me illustrate this conflict. The want — to sleep or not, to nap or not — is a binary conflict. I can’t do both. However, they each have a need which is not in conflict. When I choose to sleep, I am meeting my need to feel rested, relaxed, and happy. When I choose not to sleep, I am meeting my need to maintain the practice. Those needs are not in logical conflict, in the same way that sleeping or not is.

In both cases, my intention is to make good use of the retreat:

So then the question became: can I meet my need to feel rested, relaxed, and happy without sleeping? Or can I meet my need to maintain the practice while sleeping?

It is possible to maintain the practice while sleeping, but for me, at least, the challenge level here is very high. So it seemed easier to meet my need to feel rested, relaxed, and happy without sleeping or while sleeping less. I came up with these interventions or injections:

  • Take a short nap
  • Take a caffeine nap (drink caffeine and then take a short nap, which relaxes and energizes)
  • Take a shower
  • Go for a walk
  • Do yoga/stretching
  • Switch techniques (which keeps things fun and interesting, and can also be relaxing, but maintains and can even increase momentum with the meditation practice)
  • Do meditation while supine / laying down

By drawing this diagram, and generating so many possible solutions, I felt liberated. Each afternoon and evening, I found myself excited by getting to choose how I wanted to meet my need to maintain the practice and feel rested/relaxed/happy. In the afternoon, I might take a caffeine nap; later that evening, I would take a shower. The next day, I would do lying down meditation in the afternoon and go for a walk before continuing to sit in the evening. I found my momentum in the practice was increasing and my excitement about it was expanding dramatically.

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