Vipassana 10-day silent meditation retreat – continuous practice is the key to your success - Part I: What have I gotten myself into?!
18th November 2018
And I was away...to tick off a bucket list item. For some people, it might seem like a weird bucket list item to have but then most of my bucket list items are a bit funny and weird – this is what makes your very own personalized bucket list isn't it ? :)
I have been wanting to do a 10-day silent meditation retreat for now over 4 years. It was meant to happen in Nepal, but for some reason (and maybe a good reason then, which I could or did not want to understand at that time) attending the retreat there did not work out for me. I was shattered.
Anyway, I did make it come true now and attended a 10-day course just over 2 weeks ago just 40 minutes north of Auckland / NZ.
But before I start and give you an inside of my experience of these 10 days, I will explain first what Vipassana meditation actually is and what a 10-day retreat is actually all about – facts :)
Vipassana meditation is one of India's most ancient meditation techniques. In time way way back it somehow got lost, people forgot about it until it was rediscovered by Gotama, who was the Buddha at that time – more than 2500 years ago.
The word Vipassana basically means: 'Seeing things as they really are'. As you start observing your breath as it flows in and flows out of your nose (this meditation technique is called Ānāpānasati or Anapana, meaning "mindfulness of breathing") and as you start progressing through the course you move from observing your breath to observing your entire body with its sensations from the top of your head to the little tiny toes. You start realizing that the sensations you have within your body are connected to your thoughts. By observing yourself in this way you come to feel and start to realize where the roots of your aversions, cravings and ignorance are buried. Eventually, through the course of time and more and more continuous practice, you will start a process that will develop a balanced and equanimous mind. You will start to realize that as thoughts and sensations in your body are connected to each other, they are also ever changing. It is a coming and a going, a rising and a fading away. Change is the only constant – it is one of nature's universal's law. Through this self-observation your mind will get trained to be sharpened in its awareness, being present in what is NOW.
If you do practice and learn Vipassana there are following rules you will have to obey for the time learning this technique:
Nobel Silence – All students must be silent from the beginning of the course to the end. Nobel Silence means no body language and no speech in any form. Neither are you are allowed to write down notes and thoughts, practice any other form of meditation while you being taught Vipassana.
Separation of men and women - Complete separation of men and women has to be maintained.
Isolation – you are working with yourself and only with yourself. By maintaining Nobel Silence throughout the course this will help you not to interact with anybody.
You will have to follow and maintain The 5 precepts:
Abstain from killing any living creature
Abstain from stealing
Abstain from telling lies (wrong speech)
Abstain from sexual misconduct
Abstain from all intoxicants
Right. Well, I arrived at the centre excited, curious and eager to know what those next 10 / 11 days will bring for me. Unloading my car, I was greeted by an older gentleman. He advised new students where they had to go and where everything was. In the conversation with him, he somehow said something to me like: “ Go on, sort out your life then.” I was puzzled when heard it. Was I at the wrong place? I do not need to sort out my life, my life is pretty much awesome and beautiful as it is, thank you very much. I didn't say anything back to reply to this comment, I was too taken aback by these words and confused and decided to find out for myself. Maybe I did have to sort out my life, maybe there are still hidden treasures and secrets that I don't know about. Well, this was a good start already and somehow I also thought that this older gentleman kind of assumed that everyone that comes to learn Vipassana has to sort out their lives. Well, we shall see...
As I registered myself in the female dining hall I also had to give away my belongings of technology and writing materials and books and everything else that might distract my mind from wandering off and having contact with the outer world. That meant: phones, valuables, notebook and pen, music stuff etc. I was actually looking forward to this: I don't have to talk for an entire 9-10 days, don't have to make conversation, don't have to check emails or facebook or read and answer text messages. I thought I came to the perfect holiday spot for me – in addition, the centre is located within an area of bush, out in the middle of nowhere. There was also a little bushwalk. Once registered, I was assigned a room, which I went to and got myself comfortable in. It was a small room with a single bed and one table. I was also eager to explore the surrounding area. One mentioned, who was there before, that in the next coming 10 days I will have PLENTY of time to explore the area, don't worry about it now. Rightyho. While we still had the chance to use our voices I connected with other students. Keely, a former student (she has done this course 7 years ago), arrived with me. She told me that on day 6 during the course, she was having a breakdown, wanting to leave this place so badly, it was pretty full on for her. Jen, a lovely German lady, has done the course once every year since the last 3 years and she is this beaming happy person, who seemed to me, could not wait for the course to start. I mentioned to her that this feels like a little holiday for me. She only smiled (wisely) and said: “ I 'll ask you again after the course finishes...” Oh, I thought, oh well, must be quite something then. She said as well, that whatever I would like to do during those 10 days: DO NOT LEAVE and stay until the end. WOW....Where have I come to stay for the next 10 days...
After we were given our 'last dinner' (as we shall not get a proper meal for dinner from tomorrow onwards but only tea and fresh fruit for the next 10 days) we had a meeting and induction session. A group meditation sitting was up next, from which time the Nobel Silence shall be obeyed for the next 9 ½ days...
It was a 1-hour group meditation. It was not easy to sit in one posture for a whole hour. There was a lot of shuffling going around in the hall, noises like clearing throats, swallowing, coughing, farting and burping. The joy of bodily noises....A lot of times I could hear so many belly's talking in the room - the stomachs are quite a talk-active organ I figured in this course.
After the meditation, it was bedtime – lights out at 9:30pm. Suddenly, with everyone not talking, it was beautifully quiet. You could start hearing nature's noises, birds, wind in the trees, anything really if you would listen intently. That night I slept like a rock! I slept so well, and I would sleep well EVERY single night except for the last night. For every single night except the last I was out within seconds, tucked into my nice cosy sleeping bag. Our morning wake up call would be at 4am every morning with a gong, I did set my alarm on my alarm clock but for the remainder of the course I would not have to use this feature of the clock anymore as from the first morning on my body clock would wake me up on the dot every single time 10 – 5 minutes before 4am. Amazing how the body and mind works.