05/17/2014 08:26 am ET Updated Jul 17, 2014

20 Tips to Help You Survive Your First Silent Meditation Retreat

Deciding to attend your first silent meditation retreat is a big deal. Even if you're a seasoned meditator capable of sitting for 30 or 40 minutes at a time, meditating all day -- away from the comforts of home, in complete silence, with total strangers, for several days on end -- can prove more than challenging. It certainly did for me (you can read all about it here).

But the good news is, it's totally doable! Even if the thought of unplugging from modern life seems downright daunting -- chances are, it'll prove more than worth it.

Here are some tips to consider before diving in:

  1. Start off small. If you've never meditated for extended periods of time, consider dipping your toes in first by attending a daylong or weekend retreat.
  2. Know what you're getting into. Make sure to do your research about the organization that's offering the retreat. There's no one way that a retreat is run, and some retreat centers have more lenient rules than others.
  3. Plan for giving yourself a day or two after you return home to let yourself settle. Jumping into work right away can feel jarring without some downtime to adjust back to the pace of modern life.
  4. Take care of life's details before you go away (make sure your pets will be fed, your bills will be paid, etc.).
  5. Be sure to check the retreat center's suggestions for what to bring. Most centers provide a suggested list and will tell you what they do and don't provide.
  6. Be mindful of any expectations you might have about what you wish to "get" out of the experience and do your best to let them go.
  7. If you're attending a retreat in the desert and haven't visited a desert before, know that it gets cold at night and is very cold in the early mornings. Bring plenty of warm layers.
  8. Bring your own meditation gear if you have it. Most retreat centers offer zafu cushions, mats, and chairs -- but they tend to run out of supplies quickly.
  9. Bring tissues. Chances are you're going to find yourself either tearing up or feeling a bit sniffly at some point. Tissues are generally available, but bring some just in case.
  10. Bring a thermos or water bottle. Staying hydrated is key, and having hot tea or cold water within reach at all times will help keep you more comfortable.
  11. Bring a watch. If you use your cell phone to tell time on the retreat, you might be tempted to use it. And a watch will help eliminate the need to worry about always hearing the bell ring between sessions -- I learned that lesson the hard way.
  12. Bring shoes that are easy to slip on and off (and are weather/season appropriate). You'll be going in and out of the meditation hall all day.
  13. Bring pain reliever and cold meds in case you need them. Some retreat centers have access to these items. Some don't.
  14. Bring sunscreen. You'll be outside during walking meditation, and chances are you'll need it.
  15. Bring earplugs! You'll most likely be bunking in a room with a stranger or two -- and the whole "no talking" thing doesn't apply to snoring...
  16. If you have loved ones at home who might be missing you while you're away, consider writing a short note or creating a short video for them that they can open each day you're gone (this was a BIG hit in my home).
  17. When you're at the retreat, make a point to build stretching into your daily schedule. Back pain is common on meditation retreats, and a few minutes of stretching/yoga before and after each sit will help you keep more supple.
  18. Be your own best friend. If/when your sh*t gets kicked up during the retreat, being kind and compassionate with yourself is a must.
  19. Ask for help if you need it. At most retreats, you can write notes to the meditation teachers to ask for help or advice if you're struggling. You'll also most likely get the opportunity to have a brief meeting with a teacher if you have more in-depth questions or issues to discuss.
  20. Enjoy the silence. Even if you're itching to get back to it all, you're not going to die from not talking for a while. You can do it!