Bill Brauer: Set the Intention for your Retreat

Created Mon, Sep 25, 2023 by

Bill Brauer Setting Intention

Excerpt from the cabin retreat video with Bill Brauer.

Bill Brauer, a senior teacher at Karmê Chöling, sat down with Retreat Assistant Joseph Pascutazz to record a video about solitary retreats, which will be used in an upcoming program.

Below, we’ve borrowed some mildly edited insights from Bill, who has done many solitary retreats of his own.

Bill Brauer:


Once you’ve booked a solitary retreat at Karmê Chöling, intention and expectation is going to arise. There’s no way for it not to. If I’m sitting in Kansas City and I know that three weeks from now I’m going to be in the practice hills of Karmê Chöling, I’m going to be thinking about what I’m going to be doing.

An appropriate intention would be to allow the retreat environment, the potency of the cabin, the surrounding woods, and the opportunity to withdraw from daily life to support the practice and deepen your connection to your own body and your own mind.

So the intention should be very strong.

“I guess the one caution is that we don’t bring into our retreat the expectation that I am going to accomplish some state of mind, or that I will achieve a clarity that I can’t at home because I’m too busy,” Bill said. “If we bring those kinds of intentions or expectations we are actually undermining the retreat and what it offers, which is a chance to let go of preconditions and just relax and let the retreat come to us.”

Selecting Books

Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche

When he established the retreat culture at Karmê Chöling, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche recommended that his students not to use this time for extensive study. The emphasis, he said, should be on the practice of meditation itself.

“So the recommendation is that you take two, maybe three books,” said Bill. “A further recommendation is that they be inspirational or aspirational in nature, something you turn to in your regular life to inspire you, to remind you why you practice dharma, to raise your life force and make you happy to be a practitioner.”

In retreat, it’s recommended that the books be something familiar to you, and that they remind us of why we are practicing, and rouse our aspiration to continue practicing.

In this way, the retreat can be about deepening practice, rather than absorbing new material.

The Retreat Schedule

In a solitary retreat, we want to dispense with the kind of busy-ness that goes into how to settle the mind.

A schedule can relieve you from the fussiness of deciding, “Should I practice now? Or shouldn’t I?” Or, “My morning practice wasn’t the way I wanted, should I take a break now?’

The value of a schedule is that it allows you to simply relax into the practice. So if the schedule says for the next three hours you’re going to practice meditation, then you don’t have to ask yourself, “do I feel like meditating right now? Is this a good time to meditate?”

It seems to genuinely, positively affect the practice because you’re not just trying to guess what’s best for you at the time, Bill said.

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