Yoga Culture

A DIY meditation retreat: Previously hidden treasures can emerge

By Charlotte Bell

Like so many traditions, the 18-day meditation retreat I attend each year at Spirit Rock Meditation Center was not to be in 2020. The retreat has become a touchstone for my partner and me. It’s a time to take a holiday from our daily routines and remember what’s truly important.

I was not surprised by the cancellation, but I was disappointed. Then my partner had an idea. Why don’t we do our own retreat at home? Why not? We decided to do an 11-day silent meditation retreat, using my living room as the meditation space.

We moved some furniture, set up our meditation cushions and picked our “greatest hits” of meditation instructions and dharma talks from past retreats to listen to morning and evening.

Here are some of the things I learned:

  • I had no trouble keeping the schedule—eight sitting meditations alternating with seven walking meditations each day. I felt no compulsion to “cheat.”
  • Just one day of meditation makes a difference. On the second day of our retreat, I took my usual brisk walk through my neighborhood. Even after one day of solid practice, the familiar landscape of my daily route seemed more vivid—even magical. My daily walk showed me just how much had shifted for me in a single day.
  • I really enjoy cooking, but I also really appreciate when others carry that load. The meal prep was fine. What was challenging was the planning—figuring out what to do when, which meditations I’d have to miss or cut short, etc. This made me appreciate the joy of walking into a dining hall and enjoying a delicious, healthy meal that I didn’t have to plan. Still, incorporating meal prep into a meditation retreat was an invitation to practice mindful living.
  • Running errands was fun. I knew at the outset that I’d have to make a trip to the grocery store. My fridge just isn’t big enough to hold 11 days worth of food. Then I ended up having to make two other trips because of garden “emergencies.” The uncharacteristic patience I felt on these excursions pointed out to me how much equanimity had accrued over the days of practice.
  • One experience could only have happened at home. My mother was a nationally recognized watercolorist. Her paintings line the walls of my home. One day, while I was practicing walking meditation indoors, I stopped to look mindfully at one of her paintings. My mother passed in 2009. Nonetheless, a feeling of profound connection arose that inspired me to look deeply at her other paintings. I took in every patient and skilled brushstroke, and became awash in her depth, wisdom, gentle humor and integrity. These paintings are my mother’s essence. As long as I’m in their presence, I am also in hers.

We don’t need to go away to experience the peace of a meditation retreat. In theory I knew this, of course. But I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to find out for myself.


Charlotte Bell has been practicing yoga since 1982. She is the author of several yoga-related books including, most recently, Hip Healthy Asana, and founder of Mindful Yoga Collective.

This article was originally published on September 2, 2020.