10 Day Silent Meditation Retreat

Bringing in the New Year with Vipassana – a 10 Day Silent Meditation Retreat

It has taken me 16 years to come face to face with the 10 day silent retreat called Vipassana Meditation.

The first time I heard about Vipassana was many years ago when I was travelling through India. Within my first week of being in the country I had travelled on a train that stopped for 6 ½ hrs, met a Sadhu in Rishakesh and watched him smoke a joint while listening to Bob Marley, shook hands with the Dalia Lama and signed up for a 8 day silent Buddhist meditation retreat.  This was the baby sister to Vipassana which was held close by. From what I heard I was not going anywhere near the big sister.

I always felt the Buddhist Meditation Retreat was a gift in helping me slow down the wired Western mind. It helped me develop patience and cope better with my travels around India.

In 2016 I had 2 students mention Vipassana Meditation. Pushpini, a lovely Sri Lankan woman had attended several Vipassana courses and Chris, well travelled and studying alternative therapies.

Pushpini’s story really intrigued me. 8 years ago she was working as a pilot, spoke 6 languages and counted success in monetary terms. The world was her oyster. Then Pushpini suffered a stroke to her left brain.

The left brain is the part of the brain that works with motion, speech, memory, self-awareness and other details. This had shut down…..how can we comprehend learning our English language again without reference to any other language?

At the same time her right brain was heightened. She viewed the world in a very different way, more heart centred and compassionate for others around her.

The story is very similar to Brain Scientist-  Jill Bolte Taylor who’s TED Talk, ‘A Stroke of Insight’ gave me a better understanding of the left and right brain (left hemisphere and right hemisphere).

‘In her case, although the stroke damaged the left side of her brain, her recovery unleashed a torrent of creative energy from her right’.

Pushpini would remind me of her recovery on a daily basis based on our chats after class. One day she came in all excited and said ‘Diana, I know what a pidgeon is’. It was a new word she learnt and understood the association. She attributes part of her recovery to finding ‘happiness’ and Vipassana Meditation.

Other friends also mentioned Vipassana in 2016. They had either recently finished the retreat or attended many years ago and wanted us to attend the 1 day refresher course together.

There was no avoiding it……the time had come, a 10 day Vipassana course was being held in Brookton (2 hrs outside Perth) starting Boxing Day. I would see the New Year in silence with 45 other people.

 

What is Vipassana Meditation?

This is an intense mediation course. It’s one of the most structured and regimented forms of meditation. The rules are strict and the entire process is tightly controled. This course challenged me every minute in the 10 hours of meditation each day.

The big lesson from the teachings 16 years ago was the mind being likened to an ‘untrained puppy or a wild monkey’.

In Vipassana we are reminded that the mind is like a wild animal. ‘A wild animal is dangerous where as a trained animal can serve humanity. A mind is no different, if you do not train the mind, it becomes dangerous to you and others’.

I am grateful for having a tiny insight into this wild animal that has not been trained or tamed, instead it is addicted to the cravings of wanting to feel good or aversion to pain.

A few of the strict rules:

  • You cannot speak or communicate (non-verbal communication like eye-contact is a no-no)
  • No reading or writing
  • Food is restricted after the mid-day meal
  • You must adhere to the meditation schedule of 10+ hours of meditation and an hour of discourse in the evening

The course kicked my arse. The mind was kicking, screaming, flipping stories, creating chaos and loud. It was so LOUD.  To help us focus on the internal, all distractions were removed so we didn’t get attached to any outcomes.

For eg, we had a dormitory with 18 beds. There was not one bed better than the other. In the meditation hall they had name tags next to each of the pillows to sit on. You didn’t have to choose which was the better space. There was no fee, but instead a donation system at the end of the 10 days so you couldn’t complain about the food. No wifi. Phones, wallets and car keys were taken away from you on registration.

Silence was around us to help with the focus on ourselves. Yet the travel internally felt uncomfortable, foreign and displaced. The attachment to emotions and thoughts created a huge internal rollercoaster ride off the Himalayas. It was chaotic.

Intially the meditation was to focus on breathing technique. However the untamed mind was more excited about the thoughts, feelings and stories that were created with the spare time. And like an untrained puppy I  bring the mind back to breathing, but it wants to jump to the story, back to breathing, the story is more fun, back to breathing.

The first 3 days was so intense, I could only concentrate on attending 1 meditation session at a time. I would stare at the meditation timetable several times a day (it didn’t change). Just looking at what lay ahead of me for the next 1, 2, 3 hours until the break. It was my only way of coping.

Thoughts played tricks with my mind. Two other friends had previously attended the 10 day retreat and STAYED.

‘Voice of Pride’- You cannot leave. If Michele and Kecci were able to last the distance you have to as well.

‘Voice of Mind’ – why the hell do you want to be here? This is bullshit and it’s time to run. You’re never going to make it through the 10 days.

Pride won!

Sitting 10 hours a day in meditation is never going to feel comfortable. Instead the teachings tell us to watch the different sensations in our body, ‘they are not good or bad’, just observe and let them pass through.

It took time before the sensations such as numbness of legs, ache in back, soreness of legs, itchiness of scalp, tingling, pins n needles were able to pass through. However it did happen. I went to walk out of the meditation hall on the 9th  day. As I stood up and took a step, my feet fell from under me and my body landed on the floor. I crashed into a lovely Indian woman who seemed until then to be meditating with ease and grace. We both screamed (shock). She went back to meditation and I was sitting an inch from her waiting for the feeling to come back into my legs. I did not notice that both my legs were numb.

This was not a meditation retreat where you come out all refreshed.

Vipassana is not a cure or solution to life’s problems. It doesn’t solve anything when you come out on the other side of the ten days. Instead, Vipassana is a tool. It’s a training technique that gives you another way to shape your mind — and yourself — into a person better able to face the world. The ten days are only the introduction to the technique. From there, it’s up to you how much you get out of it. The program provides ideas and a framework for viewing suffering and pain. It’s another way to see the world.

Q: Do I practice the technique, which requires two hours a day of silent meditation?

A: No I don’t-  I’m working on building my practise up to 1 hour a day. It’s my big goal for 2017.

Q: Will I attend another 10 day Vipassana Meditation retreat?

A: Yes, because the untamed mind scares me more than the 10 day Vipassana retreat.

The Vipassana Meditation Retreat has been likened to signing up for a marathon when you don’t even run or a boot camp for the mind.

Sometimes it’s better not to think too much about it, take a chance and be open to learning the lessons.