I recently did the 10 day vipassana silent meditation retreat and since I have had a lot of questions about it I thought I would write a short post about my experience.
Most people have heard something about Vipassana, that 10 day silent meditation retreat. I had also heard about it and thought wow that would be cool and… hard, and something I’m sure I’ll do one day.
And then that one day came along, I got the ‘call’. I just got this pull to do it now. I felt like I’m ready and this is what I want to do.
I was yearning to have the time to just be able to sit and meditate and have no other distraction and I really wanted to deepen my meditation practice.
So I booked myself in to the earliest one I could do, and didn’t really know exactly what I was in for. I had a glance at the schedule and adhered to the rules which are strict but thought if I was going to do it I would do it properly.
Now one question that I get asked the most about my experience, and it might be on your minds is..
“how was it not talking for 10 days, wasn’t that hard!?”
… to be honest that wasn’t really hard for me. I actually found it quite beneficial and helpful to go inward and stay focused and not give my mind even more things to play with. So I enjoyed the 10 days of silence. ( And plus I’ve always been good at having conversations with myself :))
What I did find hard was not having freedom, 10 hours of meditation every day and not being able to write, read or do anything – let me explain. One of the simple realisations I had for me personally was how much I value freedom, and how hard it is when constraints get put on that freedom. I saw how much my mind always wants and desires stimulation and is so wired to be ‘doing’ something or for me personally creating something. Because everything was removed, I had no phone, no books, no writing equipment, no jobs to do. In the free time there was nothing to do. Which sounds great when your overworked and dying to have some time out but after a while you realise how programmed you have become to need and want something to do and how hard it is, to just be.
Now I could talk more about the details of how a day looked and the different challenges that come up but what I want to share and remember are the valuable insights and realisations I had that might also be helpful for you.
So onto the nuggets, my gems from the experience:
Experience vs Intellect
It’s one thing to know about spiritual transformation or the concepts of going beyond, the Self, but this can still just be an understanding based on an intellectual level and so many people get stuck there. The real thing is experiencing it, and letting the experience guide you. That way you don’t have just have blind faith but you have the experience to trust and guide you along you way. I moved from my intellectual understanding into an experience of it.
The technique taught at Vipassana was quite challenging for me. For the first 3 days all that you were to do in the 10 hours of meditation is focus on feeling the sensations just below your nose and above your lip. At the start I felt nothing, for a day and a half I hardly felt anything, but I decided to keep practicing and what I found was, with consistent practice you will feel and go deeper. At the start you might not see it or feel it, but that does not mean it’s not there. With consistency your mind gets sharper and sharper and you begin to see and feel things that you initially didn’t see. This is because your mind was so full with gross sensations and to move into more subtle sensations it requires consistent practice. When you can feel subtle sensations your mind is sharper and less able to get distracted.
Everything is Impermanent – Anicca
The main technique that Vipassana teaches is an awareness/scanning of sensations in your body. It’s about developing equanimity to all sensations and watching the impermanence (Anicca in Sanskrit) of all sensations. I initially found this technique to be extremely difficult as I felt it went against what I have been taught in yoga which is to prepare the body before you sit and meditate so you can sit comfortably in your body. But Vipassana approaches it differently, and says the sensations are your teacher (my take on it). The bad sensations create aversions, the good sensations create craving, both led to suffering. So by working with your sensations you practice not being led, governed by your aversions and cravings and so remove yourself from the cycle of suffering. While this proved to be true in my experience, observing the sensations also made me really aware of how impermanent they are and then in turn how impermanent everything is. It showed how futile it is to have an aversion to something that will go away, or to have a craving and desire for something that will go away. By being okay with the pain or pleasure (aversion and craving) and knowing it does not stay you are okay, more accepting when the change inevitably happens and in return the change does not cause you suffering. Again I had known this on an intellectual level but at Vipassana I experienced it, and on a very deep level.
This Is It
During my stay there I had a lot of time to observe my thoughts. From that, I realised my main mental tendency is living in the future. With the clarity that came from this experience I was able to see how absolutely wasteful this is to life. How much of a dream, non-real living that it is. How much get’s lost and missed in the present and how much unnecessary suffering this causes. This is something I continue to work on, and need to remind myself as with anything. The experience transformed me for a while to be more present but I need to continually remind myself that “This Is It” to be present, to really be here, to not spend so much time in the future, that’s all in my head – it’s not real and while your there your missing the here and now, your life.
There Are Many Paths to ‘Enlightenment’
Vipassana is definitely a path, a way to enlightenment. Away from the misery and suffering – liberation from the mind, It’s the real deal. But I believe there are many paths, many ways to get there, it’s not the only way.
The Power of your Body and Mind
During my time, I saw how much your body and mind is what gives you misery and pain. No wonder we are always treating medically the mind and body, because if these two are healthy and you can work with them, and not be subject to them you can live a life away from misery. They have such tremendous power. One particular sit I had where I sat through a very painful sit, I felt my mind was screaming ‘why are you doing this’ and then all the sudden I felt disconnected from my body and mind and I could see them both as two entities. I had for a brief moment become just the awareness – I experienced the truth that you are not your body or your mind and saw how much havoc they can cause.
Lastly for me personally I created 5 truths and values I wanted to remind myself after the experience, they were the following.
Vipassana was one of the hardest things I have done but one of the most valuable things I’ve experienced. It’s something I would recommend doing if you feel called and are ready. It will show you truths and what it really takes to go beyond.