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Far Away Without Leaving Town

Does the idea of a meditation retreat seem like the perfect thing to do right now, but the thought of leaving town for a remote destination seem too complicated and expensive? Well, good news folks – the teachers at Shambhala Meditation Center thought the same thing. You don’t have to check-out of the city to delve deep into your meditation practice, or take your first steps towards attaining one. The 7-Day Urban Retreat is returning for its 4th year at Shambhala Meditation Center on West 22nd street.

The retreat takes place in a large, open room -- accented by white pillars, a soft color palette of pale blue and yellow, and the warm hint of sunlight streaming in through the windows. The daily schedule includes 8 hours of sitting interspersed with tea breaks, restorative yoga, and instructional talks from Senior Teacher and retreat leader, Acharya Suzann Duquette.

Elysha Lenkin visited the Center and spoke with staff member and 7 Day Urban retreatant Seth Freedman to learn more about what to expect from the upcoming program.

Elysha Lenkin: Where did the idea come from for this retreat?

Seth Freedman: All of us here-- staff members and long time members or practitioners-- try to go away at least once a year on retreat. But it’s hard to put your life on hold and go away. Here, we have weekend retreats which are great. But it’s really encouraged to do a long period of sitting meditation. So we were talking about it, and we said wouldn’t it be awesome if we could do it here. And then we realized we could do it here.

EL: The retreat is open to all levels of practitioners. How can the program effectively serve such a mixed level group?

SF: We have to put a cap on the amount of people that come because the head teacher, a long-time retreat leader, Acharya Suzann Duquette, wants to keep track of everyone.

She has meditation interviews every couple days where she meets one on one with each person to talk about things that come up. Sometimes heavy things come up when they participate in a program like this.

There’s not only a head teacher, but there are several meditation instructors (the number of additional instructors is dependant upon the total number of registrants) who also work with students on the retreat. If you are brand new to meditation, they will pull you aside and give you instruction. They also will keep an eye on you. They may help rearrange your cushions, or suggest you take a break to go lie down.

On the cushion, we’re all doing the same practice--from the very beginning level to the very advanced level. If you go to Tibet – the practitioners being introduced to meditation are doing this mindfulness Shamata practice. And if you talk to people who have been meditating for 20 years, they’re also doing this mindfulness Shamata practice—maybe they’re doing a shorter segment and doing other practices as well. There is an element of Shamata in all meditation practices which is why we emphasize it here.

EL: What other types of techniques or practices will be taught?

SF: There’s a meditative walk we do called Aimless Wandering - where you’re just walking around NYC working with this meditation technique. Before doing this kind of retreat – it was really hard for me to step out of the hamster wheel of city living. But after I experienced a week of this retreat –meditating with the city noises -- it was easier to click back into those feelings of being in the city without being wound up.

EL: Unlike the remote settings of many retreats, there will be cell phone service for the participants. Any advice on dealing with devices during the retreat, particularly since they will head home each evening, and leave the safe haven of the Center?

SF: When I did it-- I left an out of the office reply, and I let my regular clients know that I’m not available. But there were things that came up – emergencies at work – that I had to deal with. I wasn’t totally unplugged. But I was very mindful of the boundaries I set for myself.

So you can play with the boundaries of being immersed in that world of work, relationships and family life and also being on a meditation cushion where you’re working with what’s going on in your head. We’re not saying you can’t do that stuff (work on your devices). But see if you can do it in a way that is mindful, and not by the habit of getting sucked into it.

EL: What can people walk away with after doing this retreat?

SF: I hope people can discover something about themselves, and tap into some kind of feeling of workability with life. The way we perceive everything is all ruled by the mind, and if you learn how to relate to that one mind better, it really changes everything else. So I hope people can have a more healthy and productive relationship with their own minds.

The 7-Day Urban Meditation Retreat takes place August 22nd- 29th, 2014. You can attend for the whole week or just a day or two. Click here for more information

Additionally, there will be a random drawing on August 18th for a free, full scholarship to the 7 Day Meditation Retreat. Click here to find out more.

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