The Urban Retreat

See also the page for the FWBO International Urban Retreat planned for June 2009.

Note: this page only part reproduces Urban Retreat: Introduction. All three, complete, documents form a unit and should be read together. Click on the hyperlinks above and each document will download automatically.

The Idea Behind It

We originally developed the idea behind the Urban Retreat as part of an overall strategy at the Sheffield Buddhist Centre to help people integrate their practice into their everyday life. We have a large and thriving Sangha at Sheffield, but while we felt people were easily developing friendships and a sense of community, we wanted to think of ways to encourage them to ‘go deeper’: to make the Dharma really transform their lives.

The advantage of the Urban Retreat is that it enables people who find it difficult to go away for a week’s retreat to bring a retreat into their normal working and family commitments. Instead of being put off going on retreat altogether because of a lack of spare time or money, they build a period of deeper practice and reflection into their normal life.

However it goes deeper than this. The Urban Retreat has a strong transformative effect on anyone who takes part because they start to reflect on how to make their normal life supportive conditions for their practice, how to live an ideal urban life. It is common for people to experience very positive mental states on retreat, but on their return have the ‘post-retreat blues’: a period of difficulty as they watch their mental states return to their habitual level in their ordinary surroundings. It can be very painful to find that your everyday conditions cannot match up to those on retreat, and watch as those conditions affect your mental states. The Urban Retreat is a way to bring retreat conditions into the everyday, and most people find that by changing their conditions for a week they learn valuable lessons for the future.

The set up of the retreat

The retreat begins with a day event at the Centre. This has three purposes. The first is that in order to take up the commitments it is vital to feel that you are doing it as part of a group, which offers encouragement and support. This theme is brought out in the retreat in different ways, which I shall go into later, but the main thing is to get people together at the beginning and at the end. If you could start the retreat after a weekend that would be even better as it would allow more time for meditation and ritual practice together, but people who come on the Urban Retreat often find it more difficult to commit for more than a day.

The second purpose is to provide ways in which people can reflect on their lives and bring out what they want from the retreat, what would help them to get there and what hinders them from getting there.

The third purpose is to bring out of that reflection what they might be able to take up over the coming week and to support them in doing that. It is vital that everyone makes their own commitments that they are likely to follow through. If they take up someone else’s suggestions that don’t fit into their everyday life, they will feel disheartened and a failure when they are unable to do them. Therefore, a large part of the day is spent filling in a diary sheet for each day of the week that enables them to think through what they could do as part of the retreat. The second part of the day focuses on creating a supportive structure to implement their commitments using the seven point mind-training principle of the ‘five forces’.

The retreat ends with a day retreat to enable people to share their experience with others and to reflect on anything useful they might have learnt about setting up good conditions and bringing their practice into their everyday life in the future.

The Diary

We ask people to fill in the diary in order to concretise their reflections and to write down all they intend to do during the coming week. The point isn’t to overwhelm them or put them off, but to help them to implement their intentions. Therefore it is very important that people don’t feel that they have to fill in every box for every day, but to remind themselves of what they plan to do. There is a separate page for every day to allow space for making each day’s commitment appropriate to what they are doing that day. It is also important for people to reflect on what they did each day in order to see what lessons they can learn for the future, and to give them a more focused discussion on the last day retreat.

Most people start off by writing too many commitments down on the first day retreat and have to change the diaries during the week. It is worth pointing out at the beginning that that is okay. We are doing the retreat in order to learn about how to bring our practice into our lives in a realistic way, and part of that learning process is to be flexible. What we don’t want is everyone to feel guilty and a failure because they had expectations that they couldn’t fulfil. I usually advise people at the end of each day to reflect on how the day went, writing down something in that day’s diary, and look at the next day’s diary changing whatever is appropriate.

Vajratara

August 2005
Here is an English-Chinese version of the Urban Retreat Diary — somewhat modified (by Dhammaloka and Ruan Yinhua)

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