Home > Life, Spirituality > Vipassana Retreat

Vipassana Retreat

Yesterday I arrived back home from a 10 day Vipassana meditation course.

This is not a course for the faint-hearted or the merely curious. It is a serious and highly concentrated retreat during which participants refrain from almost all worldly pursuits (apart from the essentials like eating, sleeping and showering) in the pursuit of an initiation into the age-old art of meditation as a spiritual practice.

During the course you are taught a simple, pure and powerful meditation technique, and the opportunity to practice it repeatedly and extensively, with absolutely minimal distraction.

Assuming you have the will and determination to carry it through in its entirety, and without “cheating” by perhaps sleeping during meditation time in your own room, then over the course of the 10 days, you would be meditating for more than 100 hours. So, assuming that you might otherwise typically meditate for 30 minutes daily, this course effectively compresses more than half a year’s worth of meditation into a single retreat.

But in reality it is actually worth even more than that. The continuity of practice and absence of distractions during the retreat means that it is all high quality meditation time. With a daily practice you could easily spend to first 10 to 15 minutes letting your mind wind down enough to really go deeply into meditation, and in many cases your mind might not even settle at all, if the days events have been especially troubling, exciting or otherwise stimulating. So taking that into account, I would suggest that this single retreat is worth at least a whole year of “ordinary” mediation practice. Now that is concentrated!

One of the aspects of the course that most people seem to pick up on is that it is a silent retreat. All forms of communication with co-participants is barred, and there is also strict segregation of the sexes. So you certainly wouldn’t take this course in the interest of meeting people, even if it is only to have contact with like-minded or spiritually inclined people. This is a deeply introspective environment. And that is what most people seem to find most disturbing about it. “Ten days without talking?! Wow! I’m not sure I could do that!” And yet, having completed the course I must say that the silence was actually one of the most trivial issues involved. I hardly even noticed it. But then maybe that’s just me! 😉

The other big issue for most is the rather extreme hours that are observed. Awaken at 4am, start meditating at 4:30 followed by a series of short breaks interleaving longer meditation periods. By the 11am lunch break, you will already have meditated for 5 hours. The only non-meditation period is about an hour’s discourse during which various aspects of the technique and its background are presented to, by now, very receptive and attentive minds.

But the issues that are perhaps a bit less obvious at first glance are firstly the meals – really only 2 meals a day plus fruit and tea in the evening, resulting in a plethora of hunger pangs, and secondly (for me especially, given a couple of joint injuries) the sitting cross-legged, resulting in quite a bit of hobbling, not to mention some fairly searing pain towards the end of the special “endurance” meditation sessions, during which you are asked to do your best not to move at all for one full hour.

So by now you’ve probably gathered that this course is not just about meditation. Its also about enhancing the depth of your personal will-power and determination, and the desire to better yourself, whatever the obstacles, pain and discomfort that may confront you. Of course I’m not suggesting that this is a sadistic or masochistic exercise by any means. Each person that attends will no doubt have a different set of issues that they find most challenging, and things that one finds difficult another will not, and vice-versa. But the simple fact is that each and every inconvenience your do manage to overcome or surmount through sheer will-power and persistence is a deeply rewarding personal victory that will empower you in all aspects of your life. In fact I think this course could quite properly be called a spiritual boot-camp.

I have always enjoyed a personal challenge. Perhaps that is not the case for everyone, but no doubt because of this I found the entire experience deeply valuable and transformational on various levels.

I will write more about various other aspects of the experience in further articles to follow. I feel I could write quite a few! This may seem odd to some, considering that most of time was spent seemingly just sitting in silence – but in fact the inner, subjective side of life is every bit as rich, complex and fascinating as the outer.

Categories: Life, Spirituality Tags:
  1. tania
    January 18th, 2012 at 01:54 | #1

    Where did you take course? would you do it again?

  2. paula
    November 21st, 2015 at 19:57 | #2

    Thank you for your insightful and beautiful post. I’m going next week. In England.

  1. No trackbacks yet.

This blog is kept spam free by WP-SpamFree.