Vipassana 10-Day Silent Meditation Retreat: My Experience
Perhaps you have seen our blog post on the benefits of meditation and want to hear about the 10-day silent meditiation course known as Vipassana. Keep reading to see how I am going with meditation 2+ years after completing.
What is it?
Vipassana is a 10-day silent meditation retreat. Now I mean 10 full days, arrival day is day 0 and departure day is day 11, they don’t mess around. Vipassana is run in over 70 countries, whether you go to the Blue Mountains in Sydney, to its origin in India, or in Kulim, Malaysia where I attended — it all is the same course. This course is funded by donation only! They ask at the end that if you have found the course beneficial to gift a future student a spot as your place was paid for by the generosity of previous attendees.
How did I hear about it?
I first heard of this after someone at my (dental) workplace told me in passing he does this once a year. I immediately brushed it off and felt myself daydreaming of the vacation that I would rather go on over subjecting myself to 10 days of silence. After reading Dan Harris’ book 10% Happier, as recommended by a dear friend, I was fascinated with the thought of one day myself attending a silent meditation retreat. I ended up working at a resort in northern Western Australia and when this came up for a third time by a colleague who explained it as a life-changing experience I knew it was time to commit.
I signed myself and my husband (with his permission of course!) up for this 10 days of no eye contact, no speaking, no reading, no music, no writing, no yoga/exercise. A week prior admittedly had a bit of panic set in. We tried to think of excuses not to attend – afraid of what we may endure. However, we looked at those fears dead in the eyes and then just jumped right in, listening to that voice inside that said this would be an experience that wouldn’t be forgotten.
The men and women were separated and we each embarked on our own personal journey. Being admittedly quite a chatty person I remember several people saying how hard they thought it would be not to speak. However, I can honestly say that was one of the easiest parts of the whole ten days. The point is to act as if you are in solitude. I will note that you are allowed to speak if you sign up to ask the instructor any questions. I did so, more so because of my life-long nerd student status just wanted to clarify and ask curious questions.
Now, while I don’t want to tell you the schedule of the course and what exactly happens. I do want to note that this isn’t a relaxing getaway. This is a hard gruelling battle with the mind. It’s sitting with yourself and the constant chatter of thoughts swirling. Hopefully by the end, like me, a greater understanding of the potential of the human brain. Of the benefits, stillness can instil (no pun intended).
The days I found the easiest was the days I gave myself compassion and understanding. Where I extended kindness and acknowledged where I was at. Where I gave myself the grace and space to realise when my thoughts are running rampant with no resolution I can return it back to the breath, to stillness. To note we always have this capability inside of us. So that if we step back from the busy world of today, then we can step into our hearts and know what is right for us instead of following the path of others. Giving us the courage to follow what’s most true to us.
Takeaways 2 Years Later
We are constantly being bombarded with so much information that overloads our brains and makes it even harder, at times, to switch off from the hectic life we live and to bring us back to stillness. This leads me to my second favourite takeaway: the detox from the distractions of our modern world. I almost felt terrified to turn my phone back on once the 10 days were over. This is something that has been a long-lasting change since the course completed over two years ago – the amount of time I spend consuming digital media.
The biggest however positive benefit from this retreat is the continued daily meditation two years later. I had gone through phases before with regular meditation then getting out of the habit for a few months before jumping back in. However, after investing 10 full days of my life to this practice it is a non-negotiable aspect part of my routine that has not changed, and hopefully never will. On the very odd day that I don’t meditate, I have felt the effects in my body and I realise oh yeah that’s pretty useful stuff.
I will say that it was both the most challenging but also the most rewarding experience of my life to date. And I found myself forever changed. I challenged the instructor with a deep enquiry. Pondered a plethora of thoughts all while trying and trying and trying again (and again) to bring myself back to the stillness of the mind. Noticing the mind swirling with future worry or replaying the past was looked at with a new lens. The many more moments of self-awareness of the present moment and ‘what is’ without judgement has stayed with me.
Remember, you get out what you put in. This is a donation only not-for-profit course, and all by volunteers, I may add. The notion is that someone before you paid for your spot, so you can pay it forward if you choose and, hopefully, take what you have learned and bring more harmony into your world and the world of those around you.
As a final note, look within and see how you can bring more stillness into your life to see deeper into who you are. So, if this speaks to you, search for a Vipassana course nearby or ponder something small that might move you into a more peaceful and calm way of living.
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