My Vipassana Meditation Retreat Experience
Last week I was away on a 10 day silent Vipassana meditation retreat. What was it? Did I get something out of being silent for 10 days? Is it something I’d recommend? Read on to find out…
Firstly, here’s a short introduction in case you’re unaware of what Vipassana is.
Vipassana is an ancient meditation technique originating from Buddhism in India. It’s non-sectarian, that is, it’s not aligned with any religion, and is used by those from many diverse backgrounds.
The practice focuses on being aware of your respiration and bodily sensations, and their relationship with your thoughts and emotions. When things happen to us our breath pattern changes and we feel them in our body.
Becoming more aware of the changes in your respiration and body sensations enables you to become more aware of your reactions to both unwelcome and welcome situations that arise in everyday life.
By having this awareness, by becoming an observer of your sensations and thoughts, comes the ability to choose how you react.
Here’s an informative and moving Ted talk: Vipassana Meditation and Body Sensation by Eilona Ariel a documentary filmaker whch shows how beneficial the practice can be.
Mindfulness meditation has its roots in this practice. It’s taken some parts of the more spiritual practice of Vipassana and created something more approachable.
The Mindfulness western approach has removed the Buddha’s belief that suffering and so stress, is caused by either attachment or aversion to everything in life.
Both practices focus on becoming more aware of experiences as they happen and out of this, grows an increasing awareness of your reactions. A space to breathe is created to give you a choice in how you react in times of stress, such as anger, anxiety, chronic pain or depression.
Stress is revealed as something your mind creates and so you become aware that you have control over it and can reduce it.
My Vipassana Meditation Retreat Experience
So what was my experience at the 10 day silent Vipassana retreat? To be honest, I’m not going to go into much detail as it is something that has to be experienced to ‘get it’.
However a few things I’d like to share with you…
Firstly on travelling there on the coach from the train station, I noticed how many people were on their phones, frantically posting and scrolling through Facebook and constantly checking emails.
I realised I had an underlying anxiety at having to let this go. I mentioned it to someone and found myself being defensive when asked if I was online, by responding yes, but I was reading stuff for my course, I wasn’t just on Facebook…as if that was OK.
We had to lock all phones, tablets and electronic devices away for the next 10 days. It took me 6 days before the final twinge of anxiety in the pit of my stomach went as I sat down in the meditation hall and suddenly thought ‘ is my phone off?!’
It felt like Groundhog Day after day 3, just sitting and following the sensations of the breath within and around my nostrils.
By day 6 I was ready to leave.
The dark, cold 4am starts, and the inability to do anything but be in my head and sit for 10 hours a day mostly wrapped up in blankets against the winter draughts, was getting to me. The weather was too bad most days to even get out for a walk and our rooms, though comfortable, became like prison cells.
I felt like Pavlov’s dog salivating whenever the meal gong went.
Meals were vegan and at very different times of the day to my usual schedule, so it took a while for my digestion to adjust. 2 pieces of fruit at 5pm was the last meal of the day…no breakfast until 6.30am. I’d be lying if I didn’t say a couple of rice cakes with yeast extract from breakfast didn’t make it into my room and save me. Nectar…
Was My Vipassana Meditation Retreat Experience Worth It?
Well, yes. I became more aware of letting things go…from the past and in the present…life continuously changes and by accepting that both good and bad things happen and both will always pass, then living in the present becomes more enjoyable, even bearable during difficult times.
I was able to step back a bit from the regular physical pain I have and recognise it as simply changing sensations.
I’ve also become more aware of my habitual physical reactions to things said and happening around me now I’m back in London. I’m definitely less reactive – I’m not sure how long that will last!
Did I miss speaking for 10 days? No. Though at first, t was really hard to begin talking again. The first question on everyone’s lips was ‘How did you find it?’
Did I miss my phone or iPad? No. It was bliss, not to be constantly distracted. I actually got on the coach to leave and only just remembered in time that I’d left my phone charging somewhere.
Was it all serious? Well it’s supposed to be but on the 8th day during a very long meditation, one of the men who all live, eat and sit apart from the women, let out the most almighty fart. There was no reaction for a minute and then a wave of giggles spreading from the male to female side of the hall erupted into hysterical laughter.
People had to leave the hall in tears.
A welcome moment of light relief.
The vegan food had the last laugh. 🙂
Have you been on a Vipassana or other meditation retreat? I’d love to hear from you below!
Photo thanks to Nandhu Kumar