Do I need to know how to meditate before joining the retreat?
Certainly not. MAVN has mentoring programs and beginner classes that accommodate both the most experienced meditation practitioners as well as those who have had little to no experience with meditation. In fact, if you are a beginner you will have a First Timers group meetup with Shinzen the very evening you arrive to walk you through some basic techniques.
Will my religious beliefs conflict with the retreat?
No. While much meditation in the Eastern world is highly religious, Shinzen’s form of Vipassana is designed to be secular and accessible by everyone. Lectures will focus on the practical, cultural, social, and neurological impacts of meditation rather than the spiritual. Many of our long-time members are religious, and their meditation practice in no way jeopardizes their personal religious beliefs.
In fact, Shinzen’s evening Dharma Talks often makes reference to meditative practice that is historically present in Judaism, Catholicism, Islam, and a multitude of other world religions.
How intense is the retreat?
MAVN allows you the freedom to control how intense you would like your experience to be. All sits are recommended but optional, and nobody is going to tally how many sits you end up going to. You are free to exercise, meditate solitarily indoors or in your room, or even refrain from meditation (as long as you preserve Noble Silence and other retreat standards).
The relaxed nature of MAVN has its pros as well as its cons. Stricter retreats consider a rigorous and disciplined schedule to be more effective, particularly for beginners. However, if a beginning student at MAVN makes adequate effort to attend as many sits as possible, it is guaranteed they will come into close contact with the intensity of the retreat and their meditative practice will thank them for it.
What is Noble Silence?
Retreats are held in complete silence, i.e., no conversation, other than in the morning teaching meetings with Shinzen (called “group process”), the on-line conferences with Shinzen, and in selected meetings held privately out of earshot. This helps conserve energy for the work of meditation – energy which is ordinarily dissipated through talking. There is an intimate link between the forces that drive conversation (“external dialogue”) and the forces that agitate the mind (“internal dialogue”). Maintaining silence at retreats aids in clarifying and working through these forces, thus helping to develop an abiding state of inner calm. Please observe noble silence meticulously and if approached by a retreatant about this, accept their reminder with loving-kindness. If you need to remind another retreatant about noble silence, please do so with loving-kindness.
Some people interpret noble silence to include avoiding eye contact. If you find this too impersonal, certainly feel free to make eye contact which radiates loving-kindness. Please be aware however, that if some retreatants avert their gaze, they are not being unfriendly!
As part of the noble silence, retreatants may choose to refrain from writing and reading except for materials directly related to the practice of meditation, such as the handouts from the literature table.
I am experienced with meditation, but not with Vipassana. Will this retreat still serve my meditative needs?
Absolutely. While Shinzen’s Mindfulness system (which is based on traditional Vipassana) will be taught in the “Group Process” and “Dharma Talk” lectures, one is free to meditate using whatever method he or she wishes to use (as long as said method is non-disruptive to other retreatants). Many of our volunteer instructors have had much experience with other forms of meditation (such as Zen) and would be happy to help you with whatever form of meditation you choose to practice (as far as their expertise allows). Shinzen stresses often that one method of meditation is in no way superior to another, and the path to classical enlightenment has many routes.
However, retreatants are encouraged to at least try Shinzen’s method for themselves. His method is a modern reworking of Vipassana that is highly accessible and incorporates elements from almost every meditative tradition from both the East and the West.
Will MAVN accommodate my dietary habits?
MAVN does its best to meet the needs of everybody’s dietary habits. Vegan and gluten-free alternatives are provided at every meal, to those who have requested them in the registration under "Dietary Restrictions". If there are further dietary restrictions you would like us to be aware of, you can feel free to e-mail us before the retreat. We are limited in the dietary restrictions we can accommodate, but you are always free to bring and store your own food.
Will MAVN accommodate my sleeping habits?
Roommates are assigned based on a short questionnaire in the retreat application that helps to determine the sleeping habits of retreatants. Single rooms are also readily available for those who wish to pay an additional fee.
What should I bring?
You might find these items useful during the retreat.
I’m overwhelmingly excited for the retreat, and I want to do extra preparation beforehand. How can I get myself acquainted with Shinzen’s meditation techniques?
If you’ve signed up for the retreat, a full guide to Shinzen’s method of meditation will be e-mailed to you. It is recommended that, if time permits, you read the entire guide before the retreat begins.
This guide, as well as other meditative guides and documents, are available under the reading material section.
I am having trouble finding a way to afford this retreat. Are there any programs that can help?
MAVN sets aside sizable funds each year specifically for subsidizing the meditative practice of retreatants — even first time retreatants. If you in any way feel that you could benefit from financial aid, please don’t hesitate to e-mail us. You will find that we can be very accommodating.
What is the best way to get to the Roslyn Center?
Directions to Roslyn.
Can I leave at any time I wish?
You are free to leave at any time, for any reason. However, if you encounter unpleasant emotional or physical sensations in your meditation, you are encouraged to stay and discuss these sensations with Shinzen in one of the retreat’s “Online Support” sessions (private lessons). Unpleasant emotional or physical sensations are almost always a sign of deep meditative growth, and can be an indicator that your practice is reaching new heights.
It is also recommended that retreatants, particularly first timers, don’t leave the retreat early for another reason: on the last day of the retreat Shinzen gives a small talk on how one should re-adjust to regular life beyond the retreat.