Self retreat schedule

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This topic contains 8 replies, has 6 voices, and was last updated by  ward 1 year, 2 months ago.

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    I’m planning to do a self retreat using TMI (samatha-vipassana) method. Alternating between sitting and walking is popular on dry insight retreats, for example (from A Reformed Slacker’s Guide to Stream Entry):

    4.30 awaken
    5.00 walk
    6.00 sit
    7.00 breakfast
    7.30 walk
    8.00 sit
    9.00 walk
    10.00 sit
    11.00 walk
    12.00 lunch, shower, rest, sit, etc
    13.00 walk
    14.00 sit
    15.00 walk
    16.00 sit
    17.00 walk
    18.00 sit
    19.00 walk
    20.00 sit
    21.00 walk
    22.00 sit
    22.30 recline

    My question is: is this a good schedule for TMI-based meditation? If not, what would be a better one?


    Ted Lemon

    That’s a longer schedule than Culadasa normally does in retreats. It might be okay for a single day, but we normally start sitting at 7am and the last sit is normally scheduled for 8pm, with a fair amount of slack time in the middle. Culadasa’s retreats aren’t quite as hardcore as some other lineages do. You might want to try a mix of 30-minute, 45-minute and 60-minute sits, rather than doing them all the same length.


    Hi micro,

    If you’re already fairly concentrated, this rigorous schedule should work well; an increase in concentration has, as a side-effect, a decreased need for sleep, so ~6 hours won’t be a problem.

    If you’re familiar with the mind-system model in TMI, you could say this happens because the sub-minds in a mind-system unified by meditation are no longer wasting their energy by incessantly generating desire- and aversion-based thoughts and feelings at an unconscious level; the act of meditation is a much less energy-intensive process than our usual neurotic mental activity!

    Now, if you are not already concentrated (~Culadasa Stage Eight), then it will take you a while to acclimatize to sleeping less. (I’m assuming you don’t normally sleep six hours, though maybe you do?). You’ll have to build up the requisite concentration in retreat to reduce your sleep needs.

    Therefore, in my opinion, it’s counter-productive to begin a retreat by immediately reducing your sleep. That just makes your meditations dull, which creates a further obstacle to building concentration. I think it makes more sense to get your usual sleep at the start, build up concentration, and then naturally reduce your sleep when the unified mind no longer requires as much.

    Most Theravada-style retreats such as Mahasi and Goenka allow only 4-6 hours of rest, as you propose in your schedule. Perhaps this is because of that school’s ascetic character. It may also be because they overlook the correlation between sleep and concentration, mistaking novice and intermediate meditators’ greater sleep needs for laziness.

    I hope this helps. Please let me know if you have any more questions, or if I can clarify anything.

    Yours in the Dharma,

    DT Teacher


    Michael Dunn

    One’s retreat schedule will vary depending on your retreat experience and your meditation level, neither of which are mentioned above. So here are some generic tips about a schedule.

    – Great to have a schedule and try to keep it, but also to be gentle on oneself. Know that a schedule written on paper is easy and ideal, but as you know, life doesn’t unfold like a bunch of words on a piece of paper. Expect challenges, changes, adaptation.

    – A retreat is built up to a point of deep intensity and just being on retreat doesn’t guarantee anything. If you are doing a 3-week retreat you may want a softer schedule the first week, second week full-on work, then lighten up a bit before your departure.

    – I notice you haven’t put dinner or rest periods in there. If you are fine not eating dinner or are adopting that practice, fine, but if you do need that nourishment for your mental and physical practices then be sure to honor your needs. I’ve noticed that simple cooking and cleanup can take a lot of time, so perhaps you need more than an hour to cook a super nutritious meal, eat, clean and rejuvenate.

    – 15-minute rest blocks are great, allow the mind to relax, especially early on in the retreat – be gentle.

    – focus on the practices that yield the most results. Perhaps you benefit from sitting 90 minutes some sessions – great, don’t break the sit for something else, be flexible if something is working for you.

    – Feel free to do some asana practices as needed to allow the body to support your mind for the retreat.

    – If you aren’t used to waking up at 4:30, then acclimate yourself to do so prior to entering retreat or during the first week. If this just causes exhaustion and fatigue later in the day, then modify your sleep and wake times to support your daily practice. 10 hours of good practice is better than 16 hours of crappy practice b/c you are so tired.


    Dharma Treasure teacher-in-training


    Hello, I am not an authorized teacher, but I have done many solo and group retreats with Culadasa. I agree with all the advice Michael and others have given you. I would only add two thoughts from my own experience. If you are an advanced meditator and have a healthy, well-functioning ego, then cracking through the illusory walls of the separate self can be as important as increasing or maintaining levels of concentration. For this, I find that getting less sleep than usual and – especially – meditating at night are great. There is a long tradition in Theravadin, Zen and Tibetan Buddhism of starting a meditation session at 3 am. Thus, if you want and need six hours of sleep per day, then you could try sleeping from 8:30 pm to 2:30 am, taking care of hygiene and maybe drinking a cup of tea or coffee, and then beginning meditation at 3 am.

    On some of my retreats, I also have slept as needed for two hours at a time for a total of four to six hours a day. That is, I do not sleep for more than two hours at any one stretch.

    I would not advise this schedule if you are not an advanced meditator or if you or other members of your family have suffered any type of serious depression or other mental illness. I also would advise that you get at least a few good nights sleep before ending the retreat and returning home. Finally, I would say that it is imperative that you do use a schedule like this to reinforce the ego, i.e., you do not see it as a way to attain a goal or be a hero. You would simply be setting up different conditions than those to which you are accustomed to see what happens. Be curious about the effects. Watch your mind.



    Of course, I meant to say that it is imperative that you do NOT use a schedule like this to reinforce the ego.



    Jeremy said “…the sub-minds in a mind-system unified by meditation are no longer wasting their energy by incessantly generating desire- and aversion-based thoughts and feelings at an unconscious level; the act of meditation is a much less energy-intensive process than our usual neurotic mental activity!”

    Wouldn’t it be more correct to say that the thinking/emotional`submind projects less content into consciousness, thus freeing up mental energy? This would be consistent with Pacifying The Mind, p1 (p. 223).


    Hi Ward,

    Yes, the process I was describing is indeed pacification of mind. Thank you for pointing that out.

    The reason subminds eventually stop projecting distractions into awareness is precisely because they cease to generate them at an *unconscious* level. In other words, the subminds learn to set aside their individual agendas – to stop producing distracting thoughts and feelings altogether – and instead participate in the meditation. They become a (voluntarily!) captive audience to what’s going on in consciousness, and because they are pacified, they only generate and project an object into consciousness if that object fits within the parameters of the meditative intention you’ve established. At this point, in Stage Eight, the meditation becomes effortless. Before, in Stage Seven, the unconscious processing of distractions was still occurring, so you had to exert effort to keep distractions from intruding into consciousness. And once the unruly mind has been pacified, all the energy that formerly went into processing distractions gets “freed up,” as you said.

    By the way, the reason your mindfulness continues to increase dramatically in Stages Eight, Nine, and Ten can also be attributed to the fact that these subminds stop generating material unconsciously and instead adopt the intention simply to watch whatever is in consciousness. This produces a felt sense of a huge, spacious, and quiet mind.

    Does that help clarify what I meant?


    DT Teacher



    Yes, thanks much. It’s hard to imagine that my subminds will ever “shut up and listen,” but I’ll try to stay open to that and hold the intention.

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