This is What I learned from a 10-day silent Vipassana meditation retreat
I never thought I'd end up going for a 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat.
I vividly recall discussing Vipassana with a friend a few years ago, telling him that I found Vipassana too structured and rigid for my liking.
But a couple of years ago when I was travelling around India, I met many people who had done the Vipassana course, and all of them spoke highly about it.
I even met someone who was on his way for his second course in six months, and that made me decide then and there that I should do it myself and see what it was all about.
By that time, I had been meditating on and off for 3-4 years, and hearing about other people’s experiences made me think that maybe I should be open-minded about it and give it a try.
What is a Vipassana meditation Retreat
Vipassana is a ten-day meditation retreat where one has to observe complete silence for ten days and practice ten hours of meditation each day.
You are not allowed to read, write, use any electronics, or even make eye contact with others. No communication is allowed except with the guide or the servers until the final day of the course.
The late S.N Goenka, the man responsible for instituting these retreats, is the main teacher of the meditation technique through audio and video recordings taken from one of his previous retreats. Here is a video of one of his evening discourses. (It’s funny and insightful)
10-day silent Vipassana meditation courses are quite popular around the world and there are more than 200 Vipassana meditation centers spread over six continents.
The time table given below is followed in Vipassana meditation courses conducted around the world.
My 3 Learnings from my 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat
1. All sensations (feelings/cravings/urges) are temporary
Vipassana is a technique of meditation originally taught by Buddha over 2,500 years ago. It involves mentally scanning your body from head to toe and observing the sensations in your body as it is, with an equanimous mind.
As you scan your body, you will usually notice pleasant as well as unpleasant sensations. We are told to observe these sensations as it is, instead of mentally reacting to the pleasant or unpleasant sensations, with the understanding that all sensations are impermanent – they always arise and pass away.
During my mediations in Vipassana, I particularly noticed that the intensity of the unpleasant feelings or sensations is usually at its peak in the moments after it arises. When I kept on observing it instead of trying to resist these feelings with my thoughts, it would decrease in intensity and even disappear altogether.
Now virtually all of us know all feelings and sensations we experience are temporary, but this is often the last thing on our minds while experiencing unpleasant emotions.
Hearing about the transitory nature of all sensations repeated throughout the course and experientially realising this through my own meditations, helped this truth to sink in deep into my mind.
Having applied this wisdom into my own life after my Vipassana course, I have found it helpful to be less reactive and it has made me better at dealing with unpleasant emotions and urges.
2. Be easy on yourself
Many years ago, when I first started out meditating, I was amazed at how sitting by myself and being present could feel so good. It felt like I was on some kind of drug, and it was free as well. I was sure everyone could be happier if they took some time to meditate.
But almost a year later, whenever I used to sit for meditation, I would either be too lost in my thoughts or sleep off and I was able to stay present only occasionally.
I used to get frustrated and desperately hope my meditations became as good as it used to be instead of following the basic principle of meditation which is to accept everything without judgement.
By the second day of my Vipassana course, I understood that if I was going to approach my meditations with this same attitude, I could drive myself mad out here.
So when the meditation sessions would end, I started giving myself credit for the ‘good’ sessions and decided to be okay and accept things when the meditation sessions were painful, tough and frustrating.
I believe this made a huge difference during my time there, and it helped me stay sane and made my mediations a lot more effective.
ALSO READ: 4 Easy Ways By Which Anyone Can Meditate
3. Don't mistake your assumptions for the truth
When you starve your mind from consuming any information and spend 10 hours a day meditating or (at least trying to) as is required while doing a Vipassana retreat, it’s only natural that you get a deeper insight into your own mind.
Thoughts that may usually chatter in the background starts to become loud and clear since there are no forms of entertainment and nothing to distract yourself with.
I noticed my mind instantly making endless judgements about the people who were doing the course with me as to what they would be like.
But on the final day, once the vow of silence was over, I was surprised to find that almost none of my judgements regarding people were accurate.
I was convinced that a co-meditator of mine who was right beside me the entire course (we are allotted places on the first day) was rude and had an attitude problem.
But once the vow of silence was over and I finally spoke to him, it turned out this guy (a lungi wearing Finnish guy with long blond hair to his hips) was actually nice and not like how I imagined he would be.
With some of my co-meditators after the completion of the course
Other random observations and experiences
· I did the course with around 80 other people (men and women of varying age groups), but around ten or more people ended up leaving before the completion of the course.
· During my Vipassana retreat, I was conscious even while I was dreaming on most nights, which is rarely the case with me. My guess is that when you spend so much time being conscious during the day that state of mind transfers even into your sleep.
· Spending ten days without talking to anyone was not hard as I thought it would and I actually liked it. Ironically when I finally did open my mouth on the 10th day when the vow of silence was over I had lost my voice.
· After a particularly pleasant meditation session during the retreat, I had a strong inner feeling that I should really take care of my body more and be more selective about what I put in it. (A few months after doing this course I stopped drinking alcohol and eating meat)
Now I feel I would have eventually decided to cut out alcohol and meat regardless of whether I did this retreat or not. But I think doing Vipassana may have prompted me to make this choice sooner.
If you are wondering how much it costs to do a Vipassana meditation retreat the answer is it doesn’t cost anything. Yes, you read that right.
All expenses for conducting the course are met by donations from previous participants. However, you can choose to make a voluntary donation of any amount once the course is over.
If you are keen on going for a Vipassana meditation, my advice would be to take it easy on yourself. Some who are interested in doing the course may feel they can never go for 10 days without talking, but I’d say that you will never really know unless you try.
For a long time I was convinced that Vipassana with its rigid structure and gruelling schedule was not for someone like me, but I am glad I changed my mind and decided to go for it.
If you have any questions regarding doing a Vipassana meditation retreat, feel free to leave a comment below or send me a message using the contact form here.
If you found some value in this post, kindly consider supporting my work with a small tip. I'd really appreciate it.
For simple and practical wisdom on how to live better and be happier, enter your email below to join the mailing list.
How I Found What I Love And How You Can Do The Same