The Forest Refuge’s retreat environment balances solitude with community. Although each participant follows an individual program of silent practice, the presence of other retreatants (yogis) and staff throughout the center lends encouragement and support.
Teacher support during a personal retreat includes two individual meetings with a teacher each week, and twice-weekly dharma talks in the meditation hall. Yogis also have access to a small library of selected books and talks. Each week, teachers lead yogis in a renewed commitment to the refuges and precepts.
During most months at the Forest Refuge there is a suggested daily schedule. Retreatants are encouraged to help create a sense of community by attending the 8:30 am meditation session as well as the twice weekly dharma talks. Occasionally, teachers will offer a more structured schedule during their teaching periods.
Within the early Buddhist tradition, there are many techniques available to support us along the path to liberation. Forest Refuge teachers, whether monastic or lay, offer a range of teaching styles and teaching methods to guide personal retreat practice.
The Forest Refuge is structured for meditators with an established and long-term commitment to vipassana practice, including longer-term retreat experience. We recommend that candidates have participated in at least one six-week structured and teacher-led insight meditation retreat, or six similar one-week retreats.
Experienced meditators are welcome to apply for retreat periods ranging from seven nights to stays of a year or more. We require a minimum stay of seven nights. Retreatant feedback suggests, however, that a stay of 10-14 nights or longer is beneficial to deepening practice and supports a more fruitful retreat.
Each application is carefully reviewed. Forest Refuge teachers may exercise their discretion in accepting or declining applications.
An intensive silent personal retreat can be a positive and life-transforming experience. At the same time, the 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 personal retreat may not be appropriate for you at this time in your life. Shorter, more structured retreats or daily life practice may be more beneficial meanwhile. To help you assess this, we urge you to discuss your situation with a therapist. Please contact our office if you have any questions or concerns.
Insight meditation, or vipassana, is the foundation practice for your Forest Refuge retreat. Following discussion with your teachers, this may at times be supplemented with other concentration or awareness practices.
Please commit to the following throughout your stay:
- To undertake traditional Buddhist refuges and precepts (those who wish to undertake eight precepts, which includes refraining from eating after noon, may do so).
- To commit fully to retreat time, not engaging in any off-site activities.
- To sustain a continuous practice, using all moments throughout the day as opportunities for awakening.
- To refrain from verbal and written communications.
- To complete a daily work-as-practice period (a ‘yogi job’), as health permits.
- To participate in two meetings each week with your Forest Refuge teachers.
- To attend each dharma talk in the meditation hall.
- For retreats longer than three months, to participate in regular evaluations together with your teachers.
Silence and simplicity
Over the decades, IMS teachers and staff have given careful consideration to creating 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.
Everyone lives together in close community at IMS and walls are thin. Your commitment to embrace silence and simplicity acts as a support for your own practice, as well as the practice of your fellow retreatants.
Our buildings and grounds are in silence at all times, apart from those areas where staff live and work.
Your cell phone should be off for the duration of your retreat. We also request that you leave behind your laptop and other communication devices so that you can commit to your retreat time here wholeheartedly, and reap the benefits of that commitment. This includes refraining from sending or receiving emails or texts.
Please take care of all personal and business obligations prior to the start of your retreat, so that communication with the outside world can be kept to an absolute minimum. Given the long-term nature of some Forest Refuge stays, however, exceptional circumstances may arise when communication is necessary. If so, please remember that wise restraint is an integral part of practice.
Any personal business that requires time away from your practice or from the Forest Refuge itself should be discussed with a teacher first.
Terms of stay
Please commit fully to the length of your retreat. If you would like to stay longer than three months, a review of your practice will take place after an initial three-month period. With Forest Refuge teachers’ approval, the stay can then be extended for two months at a time.
This process recognizes that there may come a time when intensive practice is no longer beneficial for a particular yogi. For this reason, ongoing participation is dependent on approval by your teachers.
All Forest Refuge participants must be mentally stable and physically able to care for themselves. Everyone needs to have health insurance or be able to cover her/his own expenses in case of illness or medical emergencies. Any special needs must be discussed and agreed to in advance with the manager.
Given the extensive length of some stays, and the possibility of a yogi becoming sick, we recommend that you arrive prepared to treat a variety of non-urgent common illnesses. We do not have the staffing resources to take you to any regularly scheduled medical appointments. When really necessary, however, we will arrange outside transportation, at your expense.
In the event of a medical emergency, we will call 911. If an illness is acute, you will need to leave the Forest Refuge to recuperate.
Please give our office number to a family member or close friend to use in case of emergency. If you have fragile or dependent family members that you need to stay in contact with, please notify us so arrangements can be made.