Residential Retreats: Guidelines to Living Mindfully

Etiquette & Noble Silence

A retreat is primarily silent, and is based on the classical format of sitting and walking meditations and dharma talks. Residential retreats also provide the opportunity for either individual or small group practice meetings with teachers.

Meditation Hall Etiquette

Retreat schedules will be posted everywhere, and bells will be rung prior to a formal sit or dharma talk.

Being on time to sits and attending the morning instructions & dharma (teaching) talks is very important. Both the morning instructions and evening dharma talk will help guide your practice as the retreat deepens. In the morning, the Q&A after the sit can be very useful. This is also the time for housekeeping announcements.

Remove shoes, coats, and Velcro fasteners prior to entering the hall.

When arriving late cannot be avoided, practice mindfulness while settling into your space, especially about the noise you might be making.

Although we are very relaxed with tradition here in the West, please do not lie down during the evening dharma talks. You may lie down during other sits if your health requires.

Mindful stretching is encouraged between sits. However, unless a session is being given in mindful movement, please do your full stretching routines, yoga asanas, Tai Chi sets outside the meditation hall. Managers will suggest areas for this.

If you need a chair, please arrange them along the perimeter and behind those sitting on zafus to leave paths for others to move freely through the hall.

Please remember that as the retreat deepens, others may choose to remain sitting during walking periods, meals, late at night and/or early in the morning. A mindful transition from sitting to walking begins as we stand and begin to move about the hall. This honors the silence and supports the continuity of mindfulness from one moment to the next. 

Please remember that scented body products (even “natural” scents) may trigger allergic reactions for some retreatants. Please use only fragrance-free products while on retreat. (For more information, please see the Fragrance-Free Requirements page.)

When you sense a sneeze or cough arising, plan ahead and muffle it into the crook of your elbow or shawl.

On Maintaining Noble Silence

During meditation retreats, we generally practice the tradition of “no eye contact,” which is not meant as a hard and fast “rule” but as more of a guideline to help both you and others enter more deeply into practice. We do this because eye contact is a way of communication, and often what is being expressed can cause distraction, or even hurt.

As much as possible, we try to allow others their space, and let go of the need to smile or communicate. If you’re having trouble with this, it’s often helpful to look at people’s feet, especially if you, yourself, don’t feel like communicating. Remember that this is a rare time for you to let yourself take off your social mask, which takes so much energy to maintain. 

We’ll all be doing this for one another, so, please don’t feel offended if you don’t get a smile when you think you should. We do this because while we’re very much doing this together as a group, we’re also honoring our own individual process, and these will be varied -- sometimes you might be feeling blissful while others are in pain, and vise versa. And sometimes, you can feel the whole range of emotions in one day! So, it’s best to let each of us have our own process so we’re not influencing one another. 

And please, even if you feel it’s essential, make every effort to not break silence by whispering to someone, commenting, or asking them a question.

Please also refrain from touching one another, or trying to comfort if someone is crying, etc. It might be helpful to know that because yogis can ask for support of the teachers and managers through notes during the retreat, there’s no need for yogis to take care of one another.

We’ll be slowly returning to talking with one another at the very end of the retreat.

Further Guidelines for Noble Silence

In an effort to hold the silence, if you have a question of the teachers or managers, or need something, please write a note and use the message board. 

Please sign all notes with your first and last names, and address your questions to the managers and/or teachers you want to receive your message.

Unless absolutely necessary, avoid writing notes to one another. Our commitment to noble silence extends to writing notes to each other as well.

Remember that the staff has been asked to respect our silence. Please avoid putting them in an awkward situation by speaking to them. Let the retreat managers help you with your needs and concerns. 

Please be sensitive to others. We are living in close quarters during the weekend; please be aware of the noise you might be making in your room or in the building, to the times you shower, in opening and closing of doors, to moving chairs in the dining hall, etc. 

Avoid distracting sounds by disengaging beepers and alarms on your watches and other activities such as journaling, unwrapping cough drops, and drinking water. 

Be mindful of the clothes that you pack, and the noises they might make: Are these shoes squeaky? When I walk in these pants, are they loud? Are the bracelets I’m wearing jingling?

Please leave cell-phones and other electronic devices in the car.

We can honor internal noble silence by minimizing our reading, writing, listening to music, and other potentially distracting and thought-generating activities.

Finally ….

There is no concentration without wisdom.
No wisdom without concentration.
One who has both concentration and wisdom
is close to peace and emancipation.

Thank you for supporting the silence.



It is the mission of IMCW/The Insight Meditation Community of Washington is to support the awakening of hearts and minds through the direct experience of the Buddhist path, and the integration and manifestation of wisdom and compassion in all aspects of life, for the benefit of all beings.

P.O. Box 3
Cabin John, MD 20818

Phone: 202.986.2922