There are many people interested in any type of meditation for different reasons. The sheer number of Buddhists visiting various temples and monasteries in Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand to learn meditation is evidence of that. Furthermore, there are guided meditation apps with millions of users.

However, as mentioned in the article on ‘Wrong Meditation Mindset’, many people do not practice regularly and instead meditate only during retreats and courses. This has thus led meditators to develop a wrong mindset for retreats which not only does not help their practice, it can harm their spiritual development in ways undetected by them.

This article will list out the wrong retreat mindset that meditators have, their consequences and solutions.

Types of wrong mindset


Using retreats to wind down

Due to not establishing regular practice at home, many meditators choose to use meditation retreats to wind down. They think that these retreats can help them eliminate the stress that was built up from work and will be able to return to work refreshed.

Attaining a certain level of mindfulness

Another wrong mindset that meditators have is to attain a certain level of mindfulness during retreats. Hence, these types of meditators will work very hard during retreats in order to attain their goals. These people will ask for permission to meditate longer hours and even overnight thinking that they will be able to use these longer periods of meditation to compensate for their lack of meditation outside of the retreats.

According to your preferences

Retreats conducted can be split into 2 main types: strict and flexible.

Strict retreats usually have schedules which must be followed very stringently. For example, 1 hour of sitting meditation followed by 1 hour of walking meditation as planned by the teacher and everyone has to do their meditation at a fixed place like the meditation hall so that everyone is meditating together.

As for flexible retreats, the timings are in blocks. For example, practice is from 1pm to 5pm but meditators are free to choose the type and length of meditation like 30 mins of walking meditation followed by 30 mins of sitting meditation for the 1st hour. Then, 15 mins of walking meditation followed by 45 mins of sitting meditation for the next hour. Another characteristic of flexible retreats is that the meditation location is also flexible. Meditators can choose to meditate at any place according to their preferences, like under a tree or along the corridor.

Many people prefer the flexible retreats as they are free to choose the location, type and length of meditation. Hence, when they join a strict retreat, they are unable to adapt and make many complains like the meditation hall being too hot for meditation in the afternoon. They think that having the freedom to choose will help improve their practice.

Always looking for the next “best” method

Although it is true that different people can have affinity for different meditation methods, it does not mean that a person has to keep changing methods to find the “best” one. This is an excuse used by some meditators to keep changing meditation methods by joining different retreats conducted by different teachers all the time. They refuse to stick to one method and practice it diligently for a longer period of time. They also use their retreat “experiences” as chat topics to boast about the number of retreats that they had attended or the number of methods they had learnt from the various teachers.

Effects of wrong mindset



Using retreats to wind down or overexertion to attain a certain level of mindfulness will result in fatigue. This is simply the mind and body being unable to adapt to the sudden changes in the daily routine and intensity of the activities in such a short amount of time.

Usually, retreats span around 1 week to 10 days due to many people not having the luxury of time to join long-term retreats. When a meditator joins a retreat, the mind and body will need at least 3 days to adapt to the new environment and activities. This is because by changing the sleep and wake routine, the mind and body will go through a stressful period before adapting to the new routine and activities. This is also the reason why most meditators are dozing off during meditation.

Also, when the retreat is completed and the person goes back to the work routine, the mind and body goes through another period of stress. Not only do retreats not allow the meditator to wind down, it is in fact adding more stress to the person. Hence, the meditator may experience fatigue after a short retreat. Add to the fact that the person has to wake up early in the morning and may not have a restful sleep due to the change in routine, the fatigue may be more serious than anticipated.

If the meditator has an additional agenda to achieve a certain level of mindfulness and thus overexerts in the practice, it will compound the amount of stress added to the mind and body. If the fatigue experienced is too much, the meditator may experience burnout from meditation and stop meditation altogether for a long period of time. The article on ‘Wrong Meditation Mindset’ discussed other effects of meditation burnout.

Fluctuating mindfulness

As shown in many occurrences in the world, fluctuations are not good for growth: Turbulent stock markets are only good for gambling, not investments; Too much fluctuation in a country’s currency does not inspire confidence and thus less investments; Blood glucose that fluctuates too much results in diabetes; Body weight fluctuating will cause health problems like slow metabolism and diabetes1; Fluctuating voltages can damage your electrical devices; And the list goes on.

When a person only relies on retreats to meditate instead of making it a daily routine, the person will experience fluctuating mindfulness. This means that during the retreats, the mindfulness level is raised but after that, due to no meditation, the mindfulness level decreases to the pre-retreat level. So, the person is basically as busy as a hibernating bear. All the time and effort put into the retreats with nothing to show for it even after years of “practice”.

Furthermore, fluctuations in mindfulness can be unpleasant to experience. Initially, meditators are unaware of how busy the mind is but once they start meditation, they will begin to realise how much “thinking” the mind does.

Retreats can allow a person to improve mindfulness at a faster rate due to the intensiveness of the schedule. However, if the person does not continue to meditate at home and improve the mindfulness further, the person may experience a heightened awareness of the busy mind yet unable to do anything about it. This is due to the low levels of mindfulness and it essentially means weak control of the mind. People are used to letting the mind “think” by itself without any control so it is impossible to be able to control the mind to stop “thinking” just after a few retreats.

This heightened awareness will continue until the mindfulness drops to the pre-retreat level. During this period, the business of the mind can cause the person to constantly feel irritable and helpless which can cause many negative experiences to happen in everyday life.

Inability to train mindfulness

Although going to a flexible retreat seems to have more freedom and not so stressful, it is actually detrimental to meditation practice.

As mentioned before, people are used to letting the mind freely “think” of things without any control. The mind being used to having the freedom to change the thoughts instantaneously will rebel against being controlled. This also happens during retreats. It rebels by making the meditator do changes frequently. The meditators may think that they prefer meditating under a tree, meditating in a hall is hot and stuffy or walking meditation is more suitable. Therefore, in a flexible retreat, meditators can be seen switching from sitting to walking meditation or from sitting under a tree to sitting elsewhere in short amounts of time. However, they fail to realise that the thoughts are not from themselves but from the fidgety mind. The mind is trying to escape from the fate of being controlled by instigating the meditators to make changes frequently. And by doing so, the meditators themselves will not be able to train their mindfulness effectively.

An analogy that can be used is trying to train a horse. If you allow a horse to run freely in a huge field, the task of training it becomes close to impossible. However, if you limit the horse’s activities to a small enclosure, the task becomes much more manageable. Therefore, flexibility can be said to be the antithesis of mindfulness as a level of rigidness that is uncomfortable to many people is necessary to be successful in attempting to control the mind.


In trying to look for the “best” method, meditators will perform retreat-hopping. This means that they will try out many various retreats and whenever there is a new retreat available, it will not be surprising to see them attending.

The outcome of retreat-hopping is the same as joining a flexible retreat whereby the mindfulness does not get better and will remain stagnant. The reason is because the meditator is not really interested in developing mindfulness but instead more keen in having new experiences. This is the sign of a fleeting mind which is always on the lookout for new sensual desires.

Correct mindset for retreats

Long term

Learning a new meditation method

Joining a retreat to learn a new meditation method is a good reason. However, do be aware not to use this reason to retreat-hop.

It is very important for meditators learning a new method to avoid practicing the wrong way by clarifying their doubts and reporting their progress to the meditation teacher. If the method is practiced wrongly from the start and becomes ingrained after long periods of practice, it will be very difficult to correct the mistakes later on.

Therefore, through lots of practice and proper guidance from the meditation teacher, the meditator can have a smooth and informative start which is essential for good, long-term, progressive meditation practice.

Kickstart a routine

A person who finds difficulty in starting a daily meditation routine at home can use a meditation retreat to help kickstart the routine.

A retreat will force the person to practice meditation throughout the day. Hence, whether the person decides to incorporate meditation in the morning or evening for the daily routine, the timing should be covered during the retreat. Once the person has gained the momentum to meditate at the desired timing, continuing the practice at home will be much less daunting. The only important point to note is not to break the momentum by taking a rest of a few days after the retreat. Instead, the person should continue meditating at home at the desired timing every day, including the weekends and holidays.


Wrong meditation practices, whether in terms of mindset or method, can be detrimental to progress. The meditators may not realise the wrong practice due to self-learning or late realisation.

For these meditators, it is best to join a retreat that teaches the same meditation method that the meditator is using and seek help from the teacher. In order to correct a wrong meditation practice, the meditator may step into another wrong path so it is very important to follow the guidance of the teacher strictly. In a retreat, there are interviews every day which can let the teacher do minor corrections in the meditator’s meditation mindset or method until being fully corrected.


Some meditators may be consistently meditating at home but have reached a plateau. They are unable to progress further due to not knowing how or insufficient practice durations. In such cases, the best way to breakthrough is to join a meditation retreat.

As with meditators seeking correction of mistakes, meditators seeking breakthroughs should also join retreats that teach the same method that they are currently using for practice. After seeking help from the meditation teacher, the meditators should follow the retreat schedule strictly so as not to overexert themselves and get burnouts. This is very important because it may take more than 1 retreat to achieve the breakthrough and if the meditators experience burnout and have to take a break from meditation for a period of time, the momentum will be broken and start the process all over again. Their mindfulness level may even deteriorate as a result of overexertion. Therefore, patience is key when attempting to breakthrough a plateau.


Happy working

A meditation retreat can be a very powerful tool when used correctly but it can also become mediocre when used incorrectly. Therefore, it is important to first pinpoint your reason for joining a meditation retreat. If you are having the wrong retreat mindset, change it to the proper one so that your meditation practice can progress and not suffer from the consequences of having the wrong mindset.

For all the correct retreat mindsets, there is a common outcome which is a smooth transition from retreat to daily meditation practice at home. This is because meditation retreats are not the end-all and be-all for meditation practice. The factors that determine meditation success are regularity and persistence.

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