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FAQ about Retreats
What is retreat life like?
At IMS's Retreat Center, most courses follow a typical daily schedule that starts at 5:30 am and ends at 10:00 pm. The day is spent in silent practice with alternate periods of sitting and walking meditation. Three meals are served – breakfast, lunch and a light dinner. Comprehensive meditation instruction and talks about the Buddha's teachings are offered daily. In addition, group or individual meetings with the teachers about meditation practice take place at regular intervals.
A short work-as-practice period is set aside each day, usually lasting 45 minutes–1 hour. This gives retreatants an opportunity for mindfulness during everyday activities, from chopping vegetables or washing dishes to vacuuming or cleaning bathrooms. This voluntary service period is essential to the smooth operation of IMS and allows us to provide our courses at affordable rates.
Our retreat environment, with its simple yet nourishing lifestyle has been developed over several decades and is designed to support and enhance your meditation practice.
At IMS's Forest Refuge, the daily schedule is less structured. Learn more about a personal retreat.
What is a typical daily schedule like?
Here is a typical daily Retreat Center schedule. Please note that it is only tentative – a more precise schedule will be available on your arrival.
5:30 am – Wake up
6:00 am – Sitting meditation
.... 6:30 am – Breakfast .....
7:15 am – Work-as-practice period
8:15 am – Sitting meditation with instructions
9:15 am – Walking meditation
10:00 am – Sitting meditation
10:45 am – Walking meditation or meetings with teachers
11:30 am – Sitting meditation
..... 12:00 noon – Lunch .....
1:45 pm – Walking meditation
2:15 pm – Sitting meditation
3:00 pm – Walking meditation
3:45 pm – Sitting meditation
4:30 pm – Walking meditation
..... 5:00 pm – Light Dinner .....
6:15 pm – Sitting meditation
7:00 pm – Walking meditation
7:30 pm – Dharma talk
8:30 pm – Walking meditation
9:00 pm – Sitting meditation
9:30 pm – Late tea, further practice or sleep
Why are retreats in silence?
Once your course begins, you will be asked to honor what is known as 'noble silence' – a quieting of the body and voice that helps cultivate a calm and peaceful retreat environment. This powerful tool greatly enhances the deepening of concentration and awareness. Noble silence also fosters a sense of safety and spiritual refuge, even in a course filled with up to 100 participants.
Since walls are thin at IMS and everyone lives together in close community, your willingness to embrace the silence and simplicity helps everyone – it not only acts as a support for your own practice but is also a direct way of supporting your fellow retreatants.
Our teachers request that you not engage in other forms of communication while on retreat. Please turn off your cell phones for the duration of your stay and leave behind your laptops, iPods, iPads and other communication devices so that you can commit to your retreat wholeheartedly and reap the benefits of that commitment. Noble silence includes not reading, writing, keeping a journal, receiving mail, or otherwise keeping busy and distracted. By leaving at home the many activities and communications that worldly life entails, you offer yourself the gift of stillness.
Please give our office number to a family member or close friend to use in case of emergency so you do not have to check your cell phone. If you have fragile or dependant family members that you need to stay in contact with, please notify our office so arrangements can be made.
Silence is broken at the end of Retreat Center courses, in time to allow you to talk and share your experience with other participants.
At the Forest Refuge, silence is maintained continuously.
What is teacher dana?
IMS teachers are continuing the ancient Buddhist tradition of freely offering the teachings. What this means is that most Retreat Center teachers receive no compensation for teaching at IMS, and rely instead on the generosity of course participants for a sustainable income. At the Forest Refuge, where retreatants often stay for long periods, IMS supplements teacher dana as needed to provide an adequate offering.
There is an opportunity to offer contributions to the teachers at the end of your retreat.
Click here to learn more about teacher dana.
Is a retreat appropriate for me at this time?
An intensive silent retreat can be a positive and life transforming experience. At the same time, meditation practice can be strenuous and requires some stability of physical and psychological health.
If you have recently experienced considerable trauma, significant depression or anxiety, or are currently experiencing strong PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), a silent retreat may not be appropriate for you at this time in your life. A therapist can help you assess the wisest course duration for you, or if it’s best to wait a while before signing up. Daily life practice may be more beneficial meanwhile.
What if I cancel?
At the Retreat Center
If you need to cancel your registration, please contact us as soon as possible. Cancellation fees are $50 if you cancel four or more weeks before a course begins; if you cancel less than four weeks before your retreat begins, your full deposit is forfeited. For any retreat with a You Choose rate option, cancellation fees are $25 if you cancel four or more weeks before a course begins and $50 after that. For weekend retreats, cancellation fees are $50/$125.
Cancellation fees apply if you are confirmed into a course from the wait list and do not accept. So please notify us immediately if you decide you no longer wish to attend.
All cancellation fees support our Scholarship Funds.
At the Forest Refuge
Please contact us as soon as possible if you need to cancel. If you let us know more than 60 days before your retreat begins, the fee is $100 (or your full deposit if less than $100 was paid). If you cancel 60 days or less before your starting date, you forfeit your full deposit.
Changes that move or shorten the dates of a confirmed retreat are considered cancellations. If you change part of your retreat more than 60 days before the confirmed start date, the fee is $100. If you change part of your retreat 60 days or less before the confirmed start date, you forfeit a deposit amount proportional to the length of time cancelled, with a minimum fee of $100.
Date changes that lengthen your confirmed retreat incur no fee.
All cancellation fees support our Scholarship Funds.
How do I get to IMS?
IMS's Retreat Center and Forest Refuge facilities are both located in central Massachusetts, a little over 2 miles north of the town of Barre; about 50 minutes (by car) west of Worcester, MA; 2 hours west of Boston; and 4.5 hours north-east of New York City. There is no public transportation service directly to Barre.
The Retreat Center and the Forest Refuge are in different locations on IMS's property, around 0.9 miles apart via road.
Please follow our detailed directions.
How do I share a ride?
This is a wonderful way to connect with fellow IMS retreatants while simultaneously conserving financial and environmental resources. If you can offer a ride to or from IMS, or are seeking a ride, please visit our Ride Board, which is available to anyone confirmed for an IMS retreat. To access the Ride Board you will need the password that was included in your course confirmation material.
The Ride Board can also be used to coordinate group van sharing arrangements with the limousine services shown below.
When do I arrive at and leave the Retreat Center?
Please arrive at the Retreat Center between 1:00 pm – 6:00 pm on the opening day of your course. If you've never been here before, we ask that you arrive by 5:00 pm at the latest. This will give you time to register and settle in to your room, before taking an orientation tour of the center and having a light dinner. The retreat will begin in the early evening.
Most courses end in the late morning on the final day of the course. After a closing ceremony, there is an opportunity to talk with fellow participants, as well as to purchase books, tapes and other items.
When do I arrive at and leave the Forest Refuge?
Please contact the Forest Refuge office (firstname.lastname@example.org or 978-355-2063) before your start date to schedule an arrival time between 2:00 – 7:00 pm. All Forest Refuge retreatants are welcomed in person on arrival and meet with IMS Retreat Support staff before entering the retreat environment.
On the day of your departure, you'll need to vacate your room by 10:00 am. However, if you're not scheduled to leave the center until later in the day, you're welcome to continue practicing beyond this time – your luggage can be safely stored in the Forest Refuge administration building.
If I need to stay locally, are there accommodations?
Yes. View the list.
How do I register for the Retreat Center?
Registrations for Retreat Center courses are accepted online, by mail or in person. For security reasons, we do not accept registration by email. We will return any incomplete applications, including those without sufficient deposit.
We process registrations by date received or by lottery.
If you register online, you will immediately receive an email acknowledging receipt of your application.
Whether you register by mail or online, you should receive further correspondence indicating your registration status within one week. If you do not hear from us within this time, please contact our office.
All retreatants are expected to participate in the entire course – this means arriving on time and staying through to the end of the rereat. Prior approval of both the teacher and our office is required for anyone wishing to arrive late or leave early. Once a retreat is in process, such movement is disruptive and places an additional burden on other retreatants, especially with regard to work-as-practice periods. Your room cannot be guaranteed if you arrive late; the full course fee will be charged regardless of length of stay.
Please contact our office if you are chemically sensitive.
IMS strives to provide a safe, peaceful and efficient environment for meditators. It is with regret that we find, at times, the need to turn someone away. Please know that we take great care in such situations – the discernment process is thorough and always with the intention to protect the majority of those who practice here.
How to I apply for the Forest Refuge?
There is an application process to practice at the Forest Refuge. It is recommended that applicants have already participated in either six one-week retreats or one six-week course, or have an established and long-term commitment to insight meditation practice.
If there is no accommodation available at the time you wish to come, we encourage you to keep your application in process. You may like to change your dates, or we can put you on a wait list, if your application is approved. There are often cancellations from those already confirmed, and spaces open up. You can also contact us for updates about space availability.
If accepted into the program, we ask that you commit fully to your stay and observe the Retreat Guidelines.
Each application is carefully reviewed; you will receive an email notifying you of our decision. If you are accepted into the program, we will provide you with a link to our online registration form. Please complete it and pay your deposit by the due date.
If you are unable to complete an online registration and deposit process, you are welcome to take care of it by mail, by phone or in person. Please contact the Forest Refuge office for more information - call 978-355-2063 or email email@example.com.
How do I pay my balance?
At the Retreat Center
Click here to pay your balance.
If you'd like to find out the current amount due for your Retreat Center course, please email our Registration staff or call 978-355-4378 exts. 170, 175 or 180.
At the Forest Refuge
Click here to pay your balance.
If you'd like to find out the current amount due for your Forest Refuge stay, please email the office or call 978-355-2063 ext. 10.
What clothing should I pack?
There are two mottos for clothing during your retreat – "Be prepared" and "Be comfortable."
Weather in Massachusetts is seasonal and extremely variable, especially in the spring and fall, so we recommend that you come well prepared, with clothing selected for comfort rather than style. Outdoor temperatures may be warm enough for short-sleeves and cold enough for heavy coats, sometimes within the same day or week!
Winters are cold, and there can be rain, snow or ice. For those who like to walk outside, especially along our marked trails through the woods, we suggest you bring a pair of boots or hiking shoes. As your meditation practice deepens, cool weather may affect you more than usual. Even for indoor wear, you may appreciate long underwear, light gloves, a cap or scarf, warm sweaters or a shawl, and heavy socks. Summers can be hot, and modest lightweight clothing is the norm, including shorts. Please do not bring clothing in noise-making, rustling fabrics such as nylon.
For your comfort in the dormitory accommodations, be sure to bring loose sweat suits, a bathrobe or other kinds of clothing that allow you to go with ease between your room and the bathroom facilities.
At the Retreat Center, please bring a sufficient supply of clothing to last the duration of your course. Our laundry facilities are available only for hand-washing of clothes. (The exception to this is the Three-Month Retreat, during which laundry service is provided.)
At the Forest Refuge, washers and dryers are available on each floor of the dormitory accommodation building. Unscented laundry detergent is provided.
What other essential items should I bring?
-- Indoor-only, soft-soled shoes or slippers. This helps contribute to the silence and overall cleanliness of our retreat environment.
-- For a Retreat Center course, sheets, pillowcase and towels. (Please note there is a limited supply for those with travel weight restrictions.) For a Forest Refuge retreat, linens and towels are provided.
-- All necessary special foods and beverages.
-- Plastic containers for special foods.
-- Medicines, vitamins, supplements, etc. If you have an existing medical condition, bring enough of all prescription medicines to last throughout the retreat.
-- Unscented personal hygiene products. We ask that you anticipate your needs and bring unscented soap, body lotion and other hygiene products with you. (We stock a small selection of these items, for those with travel weight restrictions.) IMS provides unscented shampoo and conditioner in all the bathrooms.
-- Please consider washing the items you bring with an unscented laundry detergent and softener before you come. Please do not wear any scented products on the day of your arrival and throughout the retreat.
-- If you are acutely chemically sensitive, please let our office know.
-- If you have ever been to an emergency room because of a medical condition, bring your doctor's telephone number in case the condition comes up while you're on retreat.
What other optional items might I want with me?
-- Extra blankets (winter).
-- Extra batteries.
-- Extra US $ cash/checks. If you are likely to need cash - for purchase of small hygiene or medical items - please bring it with you as IMS does not cash personal checks. We accept credit cards (Visa and MasterCard) and checks to pay for registration fees and donations, as well as for the purchase of books and other items for sale at the end of your retreat.
-- Since there are few structured sitting periods at the Forest Refuge, no bell is rung in the meditation hall. You may want to bring a silent watch or clock there, to keep track of time.
-- Insect repellent and/or head net. During spring and summer you may want to bring insect repellent and a head net to protect yourself from Massachusetts' especially-carnivorous, biting insects. Please remember, however, that strong-smelling repellent should not be worn in the meditation hall. (A limited number of head nets are available for shared use.)
-- Portable fan. During hot weather a portable fan is often useful for your room.
-- Your own meditation cushion or bench. IMS provides a basic zabuton (mat) and zafu (cushion) for you, in the meditation hall. Chairs are available for those who cannot sit on a cushion. Please bring any extra meditation props you may need, such as additional cushions, a meditation stool, a shawl or throw rug.
-- If you wish to practice in your room at the Retreat Center, please bring your own meditation items for this. For a stay at the Forest Refuge, you don't need to bring an extra zabuton – each bedroom has one in it.
-- A small flashlight.
-- Cloth napkins.
-- For longer-term retreats, if you need to send out mail, please bring paper, envelopes and postage stamps.
-- For a stay at the Forest Refuge, you may also want to bring a small CD player with headset or earphones for listening in your room to recorded dharma talks.
What should I not bring or use on retreat?
Please don't bring on retreat any scented hygiene or laundry products, since these can significantly affect fellow retreatants with chemical sensitivities. In addition, don't pack candles, incense or 'noisy', rustling clothing.
Once your retreat starts, we ask that you refrain from using cell phones or other communication devices. And please make sure your watch doesn't beep.
What are accommodations like at the Retreat Center?
IMS's Retreat Center facility includes three dormitories, all with single rooms: Bodhi House, Karuna House and Shanti House. All are connected to the meditation hall...read more
What are accommodations like at the Forest Refuge?
Accommodations at the Forest Refuge are all single rooms, each with a twin-size mattress on a low wooden bed frame, two pillows and two blankets. There is also an individual thermostat to adjust the heat, a sink, closet, desk and chair. If travel...read more
What will I eat?
What if I get sick on retreat?
Important health care information
While our wish is to provide all who come on retreat at IMS with an environment most conducive to deepening meditation practice, there are practical limitations regarding the level of support we can reasonably offer. The following information outlines these limitations – please read this before your retreat begins.
In particular, we are unable and unqualified to provide medical and psychological care. For this reason, we request that – apart from unforeseen emergencies – you take care of your own health needs during your stay at IMS.
Participation in IMS programs is at the discretion of the teachers and IMS administration at all times. If, in the opinion of IMS, you are unable to continue to participate productively in your retreat, you may be asked to leave.
If you are seeing a therapist and/or any other mental health professional, please inform them of your intention to participate in a silent retreat. If they have any concerns about your attendance, it is important to follow their recommendations.
Waiver of liability
On your arrival, you will be asked to sign a waiver of liability and to provide details regarding an emergency contact. Your cooperation with this is necessary in order for you to attend the retreat – you will not be allowed to participate unless we are given this information.
IMS will make every effort to communicate with your contact person in the event of an emergency. She/he should be someone who can either collect you from IMS or help to make transportation arrangements if you need to leave your retreat early.
IMS’s remote location
Our Retreat Center and Forest Refuge facilities are located in a rural area that is approximately 45 minutes away from the nearest hospital. A small clinic and a pharmacy can be found in the nearby town of Barre, but there is no public transportation nor a taxi service in the area to take you there.
Because of the small size of our staff, we cannot, as a general rule, provide transportation for you into town. If certain circumstances do allow us to do this, there is a fee to help cover our expenses.
If you are taking prescription medications for any reason, please ensure you bring enough supplies with you to continue treatment for the full duration of your retreat. Discontinuing taking your prescription medications during a retreat is grounds to be asked to leave IMS.
On your arrival, we will also ask for some details regarding your prescription medications. This is so that, in the event of an emergency, we can give the necessary information to Emergency Medical Services personnel. Otherwise, such details remain entirely confidential.
Before arriving for your retreat, please make sure that you have the following in place:
-- The name and contact details of your emergency contact person.
-- Health insurance, or the ability to pay for expenses in the event of illness or a medical emergency. Any costs incurred for health services are your responsibility and not the responsibility of IMS.
-- Contact details for your physician, therapist and/or any other medical professionals whose treatment you are under.
-- An adequate supply of any prescription medications to cover the full duration of your retreat.
If you have any questions regarding the above, please contact us before you come. If your retreat is to take place at the Retreat Center, email the Front Office or call 978-355-4378. If your retreat is to take place at the Forest Refuge, email the office or call 978-355-2063.
What about the flu?
With many people living closely together while on retreat at IMS, it's important that everyone take some simple steps to minimize the transmission of infectious diseases, such as the flu. We ask your help with the following:
-- Please do not come to IMS if you are sick with flu symptoms – we will charge you our minimum cancellation fee only, and issue a refund for the balance. Call our office for more details.
-- If you start to experience flu-like symptoms while at IMS, please see our office staff immediately – they will assist with an appropriate course of action. If you stay on, we will provide a face mask that can be worn in common spaces. If you return home, we will refund you for any retreat time missed.
-- While at IMS, it is essential that all retreatants, staff and teachers clean their hands frequently and thoroughly, either with soap and water or using the hand sanitizer provided.
-- Cover any coughs and sneezes.
IMS orientations, literature and signage will remind you of these practices once you are here.
What if I have a medical emergency?
Emergency medical care
In the event of an acute medical or psychological condition, an IMS representative may determine that professional attention is required. In such situations, IMS staff will call 911 emergency services on your behalf to take you to the nearest Emergency Room.
If you refuse care from 911 personnel, you will be required by them to sign a form acknowledging this, and you will still be liable for the cost of the ambulance call-out. You may also be asked to leave IMS if, in the opinion of IMS representatives, you are unable to remain here safely.
Urgent medical care
In the event of an urgent medical problem that an IMS representative judges is not serious enough to require a 911 call-out, we may be able to arrange for our staff to transport you to the Barre Clinic or to the emergency room of one of the nearby hospitals. In such circumstances, there is a fee to help cover our expenses.
If the medical problem requires continued professional care and you are unable to provide or arrange your own transportation for such care, it will be necessary to leave IMS, for your own safety.
What if I have a chronic health issue or disability?
IMS welcomes all who are genuinely interested in meditation. If you have a chronic health issue or disability that might impact your life on retreat, please speak with our office staff before registering about IMS’s facilities and the level of support that we can realistically offer. For the Retreat Center, call 978-355-4378 ext. 0 and for the Forest Refuge, call 978-355-2063 ext. 10.
What about sensitivity to fragrance and chemicals?
Because meditation retreat practice can lead to a heightened sense of awareness, some participants may develop a sensitivity to odors and perfumes, and some are allergic to many chemicals. Please do not bring or use perfumes or scented shampoos, ointments or lotions, or laundry products containing fragrance. We suggest that you bring unscented products with you, if possible. We stock a small selection of such items that can be purchased on arrival or during your retreat.
If you are acutely chemically sensitive, please let us know.
Over the decades, IMS teachers and staff have given careful consideration to creating the conditions most conducive to deepening the qualities of tranquility, kindness and understanding. Silence and simplicity stand as two core pillars of our retreat culture and provide the framework for stepping back from the busyness and complexity of our lives and moving into a quieter way of being and living.
In this spirit, we request that you please:
-- Turn off your cell phones for the duration of your stay.
-- Leave behind your laptops, iPods, iPads and other communication devices.
-- Accept the simple accommodations and meals that are offered.
-- Keep your silence with friends and family members that are on retreat with you.
This allows you to commit to your retreat wholeheartedly and reap the benefits of that commitment. Since walls are thin at IMS and everyone lives together in close community, your willingness to embrace the silence and simplicity helps us all. It not only acts as a support for your own practice but is also a direct way of supporting your fellow retreatants.
Feel free to give our office number to a family member or close friend to use in case of emergency so that you do not have to check your cell phone. If you have fragile or dependant family members that you need to stay in contact with, please notify our Retreat Center office so arrangements can be made.
Can I smoke?
Smoking is only permitted in a designated outdoor smoking area. At the Retreat Center, there is a small shed for this purpose behind Shanti House and Bodhi House dorms, at the edge of the woods. At the Forest Refuge, it is located behind the pole barn.
Smokers must bring all their own tobacco supplies. To minimize odors we ask you to wash your hands after smoking and not to wear smoke-filled clothing in the meditation hall. Smoking is not permitted indoors or elsewhere on the grounds or in the woods.
Can I light candles or incense?
Due to fire regulations, we do not allow you to light candles or burn incense, or light fires of any kind on IMS property. Exceptions to this rule are:
-- Smokers' use of the smoking area at each center – please see above.
-- Lighting Shabbat and other religious candles – our office staff can let you know the allocated space for this. IMS provides simple white candles that burn down within about 50 minutes. Please note that you cannot leave any burning candles unattended.
-- During certain retreats, teachers have permission to light ceremonial candles and incense in the meditation hall.
Are there ethical guidelines for retreat life?
The Five (or Eight) Precepts
A core aspect of the Buddha’s teaching is the importance of living by certain ethical guidelines. At IMS, these guidelines – known as the Five Precepts – form an integral part of daily life, and are adopted by everyone here, from retreatants and visitors to teachers and staff.
A commitment to undertake training in these precepts helps ensure our retreat environment of safety, refuge and non-harming.
While on retreat, all participants undertake:
-- To refrain from harming any living, sentient beings – not to kill or intentionally hurt any person or creature, even an insect.
-- To refrain from taking what is not freely given – not to steal or 'borrow' without the consent of the giver; to accept what is offered and not try to change it or get more.
-- To abstain from sexual activity.
-- To practice noble silence and to refrain from harming by one's speech – not to lie, gossip or use harsh or hurtful language.
-- To abstain from using alcohol, recreational drugs and other intoxicants that cloud the mind and harm the body. (This does not apply to prescription medicines.)
During most IMS retreats offered by monastic teachers, retreatants are asked to abide by Eight Precepts. The additional three precepts are:
-- To refrain from eating after 12pm.
-- To refrain from dancing, singing, music, shows; from the use of garlands, perfumes, cosmetics and adornments.
-- To refrain from using high and luxurious seats and beds.
Does IMS have an ethics committee?
A core aspect of the Buddha’s teaching is the importance of living by certain ethical guidelines. At IMS, we expect all who live, work and practice here to observe precepts that support our environment of safety, refuge and non-harming.
To help uphold the standard of ethical behavior at our centers, our board of directors has created an Ethics Committee, responsible for receiving and addressing complaints of unethical behavior at IMS by teachers, staff or volunteers.
Current members are:
• Board members — Isabel Adon, Guy Armstrong, Gus Block, Rebecca Bradshaw, Sharon Salzberg and Sara Shapouri
• Staff — Linda Spink (Executive Director) and Kelly Collett (Human Resources Manager)
Any member of the committee can be contacted through Kelly Collett at 978-355-4378 ext. 335 or firstname.lastname@example.org; the committee member of your choice will call you back. Questions or complaints will be handled or investigated as appropriate.
What is IMS's media policy?
As the dharma takes root in our society, various media are expressing interest in the work that we do at IMS. This presents our community with a valuable opportunity to introduce the teachings to a wider audience.
While maintaining our primary commitment to supporting your practice, IMS may agree occasionally to requests from the media to visit us for reporting. Before any such request is granted, journalists will be carefully screened to ascertain, as best we can, their ability to report fairly on our work, and with minimal interference.
Notice will be given of any media visit that occurs during a retreat. We will advise participants as far in advance as is practically possible. We will respect the wishes of anyone who prefers not to be included, and work to minimize any impact on our meditative environment and on our retreatants. We appreciate your understanding of our efforts to share the dharma in this way, and welcome any suggestions or questions you may have.
Who do I contact if I have more questions?
We hope you have a fruitful and inspiring retreat with us here at IMS, and we look forward to greeting you in person!