Fear of going on retreat

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    I was asked by a friend to go on a Buddhist retreat. I have come to realise I have a really hard time making decisions for myself; waiting to know which is the ‘right’ decision, should I, shouldn’t I (like someone is going to tell me!) Anyway, I became aware of this and made the decision quickly to say yes. This was based on how it felt the opportunity had come uncannily at the ‘right’ time for me to have this experience, as I am exploring being with myself, learning about myself, learning to create my own safety. However, since saying yes (over 2 months ago) my predictable self has become paralysed in fear. Literally. Since saying yes, I haven’t mentioned it to my friend (denial is my best friend) and neither has she (she’s going anyway and probably annoyed i haven’t said anything). I have become utterly terrified of what my intrusive thoughts and anticipatory anxiety are telling me – I won’t survive without my usual distractions – phone, alcohol, tv. I feel trapped and claustrophobic by the thought of being somewhere I cannot run from, yet this is pretty much why I want to go – to stop running, to sit and deal with the fear and anxiety as it is ruining my life, yet here I am. I worry I won’t cope, I will panic, I will despair. How do I make the decision to go or not? What if its too much for me?! What if the 5am meditations, the resulting lack of sleep, the times of silence, the lack of distraction, will all be too much? I am also aware it is not up to my friend to ‘rescue’ me and help me through it, yet if i am honest, I want her to hold my hand and reassure me through it. Yet again, this is why going through the experience might help me to learn to help myself through it. How do you know when the time is to push through something or not, accepting it may be too much??!


    Hi Wisp!

    Well done on being decisive when it is something that is hard for you.

    That’s exciting to be able to go on a Buddhist retreat with your friend. I’m sure it will be an excellent opportunity to learn about yourself.

    It does sound like quite a shock to the system in terms of lifestyle changes though. Like you, I enjoy using my phone and watching tv. I even have some anxiety when I’m without a phone. I lost my wallet and my phone broke on the same day once. It wasn’t a fun day!

    How long do you have to prepare before the trip? I don’t know how much you meditate? It could be a good idea to practice before the trip. I would suggest a mini phone detox too. I like to leave my phone at home when I go on walks. If you like reading you might be allowed to bring some books on the retreat? If you are well prepared the temporary lifestyle changes might not be such a shock to your system.

    The retreat might surprise you. It sounds like a vacation. It can be relaxing to step away from all of the every day stressors we experience. I hope that you end up having a really good time, even though you’re feeling anxious about the trip now.

    Wishing you all the best! 🙏


    Getting used to an earlier bedtime before the trip might help you to be well rested for the 5am meditations.


    Hi Wisp

    What an amazing chance, yes it can be scary stepping or rather sitting into the unknown (that is finding our true beautiful self).  How long is the retreat, does it have a theme, and how much silence? Also which lineage/ style of buddhism is it? Do you have or were brought up with a particular religion?

    Helcat has given you some good starter tips and along with that unless you do yoga, practice the physicality of sitting. You can use a timer say 15 mins max to start with or light a small piece of incense and sit and just watch it burn down. There are instructions on how to sit on youtube I prefer the burmese style as it puts less strain on my ankles & hips.

    Going on this retreat will give you the opportunity to deepen your friendship with your friend and give you a chance to meet a group of people who are looking for a kinder gentler way of living.  I have been going on/leading retreats since 2009 and they have varied in length the shortest is a day & the longest is 3 months. Try not to have any expectations and go with an open mind.

    best wishes



    Hi Wisp

    As a fellow overthinker, I can relate to the ‘what if’, ‘should I’ traps. Speaking for myself these traps usually involve control issues and ego. I want to control my enviourment, my experience but mostly to feel safe. You can miss out on quite a bit of life trying to keep safe and avoid anxiety. Of course its anxiety either way. Funny the one place we do have some control, the stories we tell ourselves, we tend not to take. Nothing like the ‘what if’s’ story to take you for a ride.  Do we tell our stories or do our stories tell us?

    As a practice I was taught that if you hear yourself using words ‘what if’ to pause, step back and observe.  Notice that we don’t tend to finish the thought, leaving it hanging at the worst thing we can imagine.  At one level we play the ‘what if’ game to reduce anxiety, what if it rains…I will pack my rain gear.  But that only works if we finish the thought and don’t leave the what if hanging.

    Of course most of our ‘What if’s don’t appear to have a answer, which is why they hang… what if people don’t like me, what if I make a fool of myself, what if I don’t like what I learn about myself… ahhhh!!!!

    Pause, step back, observe.

    Notice how these possibilities have always been present in every moment of your life and your still hear. Sometimes they even happened, most times they didn’t, either way you dealt with the situations, sometime well, sometimes not so well, your still here.  Notice that when we look back at the all the things we feared, how many have turned out to be False Evidence Appearing Real (F.E.A.R.).

    What if? … I’ll deal with it, as I always have, some times well, sometimes not so well, I’ll learn…

    Great thing about the retreat is that I’m pretty sure you meet many others that have the same ‘what if’ and fears as you have, maybe you will even talk about them, maybe not.  Still what if… what if during the retreat you experience a few moments without anxiety or any what if’s? What would that feel like?

    Reading your post it seemed to me that a part of you wants that.


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