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  • Writer's pictureJ Felix

What to Expect on a Winter Retreat (Outdoors)

Before a practitioner takes his or her seat to meditate outdoors, most of the work has already been done. Let us not minimize this effort. It takes firm resolve to begin a practice, a strong will to maintain one's resolve, courage to act, and a willingness to venture outside one's comfort zone to meditate in the cold. This inner work must be done prior to attending, and it must be done alone. Only you can choose to subject yourself to the rigors of this discipline, to face discomfort (indeed, to seek it out), and to challenge yourself. Only you can mediate the inner dialogue between the part that wants to remain in the familiar and the part willing to expand into the unknown; the part that wants to stay home, and the part that recognizes home as neither a frame of wood and stone nor of sinew and bone. Only you can determine if this discipline of Self discovery is worth your effort and time.

If you decide to register and attend, obstacles remain. For one, it may be childcare, for another it may be an appointment that needs rescheduling, for still another, finding an employee to mind the business or a co-worker to manage the office for a few hours. Some degree of planning and coordinating may be necessary. Moreover, we are not meditating at a retreat center nor quiet meditation hall where you will be accommodated, catered to, or fed. Come prepared.

Nonetheless, you've committed. You arrive and park. There is a 10 minute walk to the meditation ground from the parking lot. Light exercise. We acclimate and connect to Nature- a practice which reduces stress, anxiety, and depression. Formal meditation begins with the walk from the parking lot to the meditation ground- full attention on walking: the shifting of body weight, the lifting of a foot, the foot fall.

Once you arrive at the meditation ground, you set up your space: tarp or mat, cushion, etc. After introductions, we begin with preliminaries and a grounding meditation to center ourselves in the present.

Cold is our guru. The cold will teach you more about remaining equanimous than you can learn from attending talks on equanimity (assuming you accept its instruction). You will learn how to remain calm in stressful environments and comfortable in uncomfortable situations. You will reconnect with primal parts of the self that have grown soft and weak in comfort. With practice, we learn to reset our baselines to stress (which is perceptual), callousing the mind to hardship. We reframe our relationships with ourselves- integrating the weak and strong parts into All-That-Is and accepting What-Is. We cut mental elaborations with ruthlessness, so that the mind can abide in its pristine state.

We practice deep breathing exercises to change our biochemistry, increase our pain threshold, and tolerance to discomfort. We scan the body and use feedback to train the mind.

The course is 2.5 hours, roughly the time it takes for an elite athlete to run a marathon. Instead, you will practice observing the ever-running mind as it meanders up and down avenues of thought, traveling the ever changing mindscape to nowhere, negotiating the fickle weather of emotions, co-creating its reality. No medals or trophies will be awarded for your effort. Quiet and confidence are their own reward.

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