Insight Dialogue retreats–which are generally offered on a dana, or generosity basis–involve a combination of dialogue practice (i.e., speaking and listening), silent sitting meditation, talks on Buddhist teachings, and walking meditation or other mindful movements.
The largest amount of time is spent in dialogue practice. On some retreats, individual meetings with the teacher(s) for practice guidance are offered. Typically, there is a period of silent sitting meditation before breakfast. The morning, afternoon and evening practice periods often also begin with a period of sitting meditation.
To allow the practice to deepen, silence is observed during Insight Dialogue retreats except when participants are meditating in dialogue together or during periods designated for questions and reflections. Retreatants are also asked to refrain from using mobile phones, computers, tablets, and other communication devices. Retreatants can communicate with the teacher(s) and retreat manager (e.g., by posting notes on a bulletin board) as necessary. In general, retreat participants are expected to arrive at the start of the retreat, stay for the entire retreat and come to practice sessions on time; if alternative arrangements are needed (e.g., due to illness or a need for self-care), retreatants are asked to communicate with the teacher(s) about this. Basic ethical guidelines regarding intoxicants, sexuality, and non-harming are observed.
At the start of an Insight Dialogue practice session, the teacher will invite retreatants to find a meditation partner. Insight Dialogue is most frequently practiced in dyads, although practice in larger groupings will likely be invited as the retreat progresses. During dialogue practice, meditators sit facing each other on a chair or cushion in close enough proximity that they can hear each other in a room where others are speaking. When speaking and listening in dialogue, meditators are encouraged to keep their eyes open, although there is no expectation for continuous eye contact. Retreatants are asked to keep what their meditation partners share with them in confidence. Periodically, the teacher may ring a bell to return the co-meditators to silence. This supports a deepening of mindfulness, tranquility, and concentration. During these interludes, the contemplation topics may be further developed or refreshed, helping meditators to focus and drop more deeply into the lived experience of the teaching that is being explored.
Insight Dialogue retreats typically end with group reflection time and Metta (lovingkindness) practice, after which silence is broken and participants gather for lunch before leaving the retreat.
In considering whether to attend an Insight Dialogue retreat, it may be helpful to keep in mind that Insight Dialogue is not a form of psychotherapy nor is it a technique intended to improve communication or relationship skills; these benefits arise naturally on the path towards human maturity and awakening. Fundamentally, Insight Dialogue is a meditation practice of cultivating awareness and wisdom. It is aimed at freeing the heart-mind. Although Insight Dialogue retreats draw on the Buddha’s teachings, people of all faiths and backgrounds are welcome.