Vipassana is a meditation technique that is taught over 10 days in residential retreat settings across the world.
The technique was developed by the Buddha himself (and in fact, led him to enlightenment) and is taught to students, via audio and video, by a very knowledgeable and likeable fellow by the name of S.N Goenka.
Vipassana retreats involve 10 days of silence and around 9.5 hours of daily meditation. Your days begin with a 4AM wake up bell and wind up at 9PM in the evening. You sleep – meditate – eat – shower – repeat. There’s no phones, no journals, no TV (aka, no distractions). Retreats are donation based with your attendance being sponsored by the generous donations of past students. After 10 days, you give back what you want and can – sans pressure and expectation.
I’d wanted to do a Vipassana retreat for years, but stories I’d heard from others had frightened me …
“They tap you on the back with a stick if you’re not sitting up straight”.
“They are so strict. If you look at anyone, you’ll get kicked out”.
“It was the most challenging ten days of my life!”.
Turns out, Vipassana retreats aren’t THAT bad (and no, they don’t tap you with anything! There is a lot of flexibility and understanding in the program).
Yes, Vipassana retreats are challenging though not for the reason everyone assumes – which is, the silence. In fact, for introverted-little-me at least, the silence was the easiest part of the process. The challenging part of Vipassana retreats are one: meditating for extended periods of time every day (anyone who’s ever tried to meditate, even just for an hour, will understand what I’m sayin’), and two: having to sit with yourself and your mind – no distractions – for 10 whole days. Modern day society encourages us to go-go-go, think-think-think and, inadvertently, distract-distract-distract, ALL the time, and Vipassana forces us to stop. To be still. To be silent. To sit with our mental and emotional ‘stuff’. And that’s hard!
I’m not going to go into the ins-and-outs of the Vipassana meditation technique or the retreat process here (as I think that’s something one should surrender to and experience for themselves), but I will say this: if there’s any part of you that is interested in Vipassana (even if this interest is grossly outweighed by fear) and/or if you’re wanting to be proactive in the healing and bettering of your life, then I highly recommend giving a Vipassana retreat a go.
Here’s what I got out of my experience:
- An opportunity to reconnect with my meditation practice. I’d fallen off the meditation band wagon in the months that preceded my Vipassana retreat but, once again, I’m now looking forward to the parts of my day I dedicate to seeking stillness and sitting with myself
- An appreciation of the ways in which I cause suffering within my own life (which we all do my friend!) and how I can put an end to this cycle. This in itself is a HUGE and life changing learning!
- Beautiful space from the constant stimulation of my phone, social media, the internet, Netflix (etc. etc.) Aah, the serenity!
- Some new friends! Though you’re in silence for most of the ten days, you are gifted time to connect with your fellow meditators. Hello, like-minded Sisters and Brothers. Hello, connection!
Should you attend, here’s some tidbits of advice for you, my love:
- Yes, meditation experience helps, but it’s really not essential. Trust me, you’ll learn
- During your retreat, always remember: no-one ever died from meditating and no-one ever died from having a sore back/neck/foot/etc. It may feel excruciating in the moment but it will pass (much like the challenging times in our daily lives too pass)
- Go with an open mind and heart and leave your expectations at home. In 2015/2016 I did three very similar retreats at Hridaya Yoga in Mexico, which I LOVED (and also highly recommend). For many days during my Vipassana retreat, I wasted time comparing my Vipassana experience, to that of my past Hridaya experiences which served absolutely no purpose but to take me away from the teachings and depth of my Vipassana practice. Go into your Vipassana retreat without any preconceived ideas and put your whole Self in to the process. Your future will thank you for it
- Abide by the rules. As someone who is highly reflective and loves to write, a part of me resisted my desire to leave my journal at home. I’m SO glad I did though because it allowed me to be fully present
- Don’t go to a Vipassana retreat because someone wants you to. You need to want to go yourself. Even those with the most resolute determination to attend (aka myself) will experience moments of doubt and ‘God-what-am-I-doing-here’s’. You need to want to do it.
Lastly, I will say that Vipassana retreats really do change lives. I met many returning retreaters who attributed their happiness/move away from serious addictions/healing of their mental health/etc. to Vipassana. Without a doubt, I will definitely be returning some time in the future.
Those interested in the Vipassana technique may also enjoy this documentaries, ‘Doing Time Doing Vipassana’ and ‘Dhamma Brothers’ which share the tales of how the implementation of Vipassana in the Indian and American prison systems helped to change the behaviours and lives of inmates. I thoroughly enjoyed them!
Looking for some book recommendations related to the mind and the life changing magic of meditation? Here’s what I suggest (note that my recommendations are not ‘meditation how-to’s but rather, are pieces of work that focus on the beauty we gift ourselves and those around us, when we choose to learn about the mind and gain control of it):
- The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael Singer
- The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle
- The Dragon’s Blessing by Ian Gawler.
With love and peace,