10 Days Of Silence: Vipassana Meditation Retreat

I applied for my first 10-day Vipassana Meditation retreat back in December, after hearing about it from someone I met at a leadership course. At the time, I had been working hard to improve the two parts of my life that I viewed as my weakest. These being relationships and spirituality. I decided that a 10-day silent meditation retreat would be a great addition to my South America journey of self discovery.

Brandsten Retreat Centre

Buenos Aires (Brandsten) Retreat Centre

Vipassana Meditation:

When I signed up for the retreat, I knew very little about Vipassana Meditation and I never really looked into it before arriving at the centre. I just knew that I wanted to learn how to meditate and thought it sounded like a really interesting experience. I basically signed up and then put it to the back of my mind as I traveled through Patagonia and Antarctica.

In reality, Vipassana Meditation is so much more interesting than I initially thought it to be. Vipassana means, to see things as they are. The end goal is to achieve self purification by self observation. It is one of India’s oldest meditation techniques and is the form of meditation that Buddha used to become enlightened around 2500 years ago.

It was lost to India and the rest of the world for 2000 years. The only place that it remained in it’s pure form was within Burma. It was only introduced back into the rest of the world in 1969, when Goenka was given permission to leave Burma to teach it to his sick mother in India. Now there are retreat centres all around the world.

Vipassana is a universal teaching. It is not for any particular religion, race or social class. The purpose of the meditation is to cleanse us of all impurities of the mind, to bring us out of our miseries and to eradicate suffering. You can find more detailed information about Vipassana Meditation here.

The Retreat:

The retreat consists of 10 days of 10 hours of meditation per day. During this time there is to be no communication permitted of any kind. This includes verbal speech, eye contact, gestures and physical touch.

The retreat is completely free. This includes accommodations, amazing vegetarian meals and world class meditation training. For 10 days we lived as monks do, on the charity of others. After completing a 10 day course, people are free to donate their money or time, as they see fit.

During the retreat, all participants are required to follow the following 5 precepts of Sila:

  1. To abstain from killing (This includes all living things)
  2. To abstain from stealing
  3. To abstain from all sexual activity
  4. To abstain from telling lies
  5. To abstain from all intoxicants
Meditation Hall

Meditation Hall

My Experience:

This 10-day retreat was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life and also one of the most fulfilling. It was the most intense emotional roller coaster I have ever experienced.

One principle that I learned from my time with College Pro is the transition curve. This describes the emotional curve that we experience each time we engage in a new task. I felt this curve during the Vipassana retreat even more than I ever felt it running my business.I will describe my experience using this model.

Transition Curve

Uninformed Optimism – When I first arrived I was really excited and looking forward to what was to come. I was a little nervous, but my thoughts were predominantly positive. I expected everything to go nice and smooth. The first night we did a 15-minute meditation, to learn the technique that we would be practicing the following day. It was very simple and only for a short period of time, so everything went well. When I fell asleep I couldn’t wait for the next day to come.

Crisis Of Engagement – The next day was filled with pain and agony. The hardest part for me was the physical pain. I am not very flexible. The first day I could barely sit cross legged for a minute before feeling shooting pain in my knees, groin and feet. This lower body pain would soon be followed by intense pains in my back. I also struggled to keep my mind focused on my meditations. It would keep wandering and I would have to bring it back to the present.

Informed Pessimism – Over the next few days, the pain remained at the centre of my attention. On day 4 they told us that four times a day, we were to sit for one hour without moving our legs our arms. I could still barely do this for 15 minutes. I was struggling to stay awake during the meditation periods. I was so tired that I couldn’t focus on my meditation. My mind kept wandering. I didn’t see how things were going to get better any time soon.

Crisis Of Meaning – On the evening of the 4th night, I was at my worse. I remember lying in bed, at the end of the day and feeling broken, both physically and mentally. My body was in pain from top to bottom. My back felt broken and the pain would not recede. I could barely move my legs.

I was frustrated. I didn’t fully understand the meditation technique and I thought that I was doing it wrong. I was doubtful that I would be able to figure it out before the end of the retreat and I seriously questioned whether I made the right decision by attending.

Hopeful Realism – Things started to get better. I spoke with the Assistant trainer the following day and realized that I had been meditating correctly the entire time. The doubt was just a creation of my own mind. My flexibility started to improve and so the pain started to diminish.

On day 6, I was able to sit for an entire hour without moving. I started to enjoy the meditation sittings and I started to really believe that I would be able to learn the technique and experience the benefits that come with it.

Informed Optimism – By the end of the retreat, after almost 100 hours of practice and close to 15 hours of inspirational and educational video debriefs, the hard work had paid off. My mind and my body had been trained to practice Vipassana meditation. I was very proud of how I overcome so many obstacles over the past 10 days to arrive at my end goal.

The Transition Curve:

One reason that it is important to understand the transition curve, is that if we don’t realize that this is normal, it is easy to give up and quit when we are at the bottom of the curve. This is why we teach it to new entrepreneurs.

However, we face this same transition curve with every new thing we try and with every transition we go through in life. Sometimes the curve is small, but it will always be there in some form.

The next time you are struggling with a new task or transition, take a minute and take inventory of where you are on the transition curve. When we fully embrace the idea that ups and downs are just part of the process and that things will get better, it is much easier to keep moving forward.

Typically, when we have to put in the initial hard work, it’s during a period of time before any positive results have shown up in our life. This is why so many people quit going to the gym after one month and why so many businesses fail in the first year.

Then by the time the results finally come, most of the hard work has already been done and the pain and sacrifice is just a distant memory. It’s a shame to give up before we get to this point.

How I Benefited:

These 10 days had such a positive impact on me. Here is a list of some of the main benefits that I took away from the course.

– I learned how to meditate. Mission accomplished!

– I learned about the theory and benefits of meditation. Each evening there was a video debrief where the founder, Goenka, would recap on what we learned that day and teach us a bit more about Vipassana Meditation. Goenka’s videos were so inspiring, that several nights, I lay in bed unable to sleep for hours.

– With a quiet and peaceful mind, I was constantly channeling inspirational thoughts. Many ideas that are included in previous blog posts came from my thoughts during this retreat. I woke up one night at 4am and started writing The Speech I Never Made, which is one of the pieces I am most proud of to date.

– My life mission and vision that I have been working on became even clearer.

– I was able to improve my body language. Due to past hockey injuries, I have had very stiff upper back muscles for most of my life. I had tried to fix my poor posture in the past, but I was unable to relax my shoulders back because of my stiff muscles. After 100 hours of sitting with proper posture and days of back pain, my back had loosened up and for the first time in my life, I can relax my shoulders back into a proper posture.

– It increase my desire to learn how to serve. On the 9th evening I broke down crying under the stars. I was shaken to the core. The idea that people had donated their time and money, so I could have this experience, which had positively impacted them in the past. They did this without even knowing me. I realized that with the life changing courses I have taken, I just take and don’t give back. I watch so many people go back and volunteer, but I never have before. I’ll give money, but never my time. Giving money is my easy way out. It lets me feel like I am giving back, without really making me fix my selfish attitude.

– I let myself feel a wide array of different emotions. Each and every day I felt frustration, anger, confusion and doubt. Each day, I also felt proud, excited, peaceful, grateful and inspired. This was a big deal for me because, for most of my life, I would bury my emotions and never let them come to the surface.

– I practiced slowing down and remaining present.

– I cleansed my body of meat and alcohol. I ended up keeping this momentum up after leaving the retreat and I went one month without both alcohol and meat.

– I crossed several future opportunities that I had been considering, off of my potential list of options because they don’t fully align with my life mission and vision.

– I decided to put a serious focus on writing this blog.

Conclusion:

When I first signed up for this retreat, people told me that these 10-day silent retreats are really difficult for people that don’t have a lot of meditation experience and that I should possibly start with something less intensive.

I agree that they are extremely difficult, but I disagree with the idea that someone new to meditation should avoid them. These retreats are designed for all experience levels. From people with absolutely no experience to people that have been meditating their entire life.

I would just recommend that if you are not very flexible that it would be a good idea to start a stretching routine, prior to attending. This way, hopefully, you won’t have to suffer as much physical pain as I did.

For the past couple years, I had wanted to start meditating, but I struggled to build the habit. I had used guided meditations occasionally, but that’s about it. I think that there are two main reasons that it was so hard to build the habit of meditation in the past.

1) I didn’t fully understand the benefits. I knew it was beneficial, but I didn’t fully comprehend exactly how it helps, which made it hard for me to stay motivated.

2) Meditation is very difficult as a beginner, both physically and mentally. It’s very hard to get past this initial pain, especially when I didn’t fully understand the benefits.

Learning with a 10-day retreat was ideal, because it ensured that I didn’t quit before overcoming both of these obstacles. I actually don’t think it would have been possible to learn this technique properly in less time. If the retreat had ended after 5 days, I would have left frustrated, demoralized and confused and probably would have never meditated again.

This experience was everything I  was looking for and more. I am planning on attending another retreat in Columbia, in July. I then plan on serving (volunteering) for a retreat in Merritt, once I return home this fall.

I highly recommend looking into this opportunity for yourself. If you are from Vancouver, there is a retreat centre in Merritt, BC. If not, there are retreat centres nearby most of the major cities around the world. Better yet, attend a course in an exotic country that you have always wanted to visit.

You can find more information or apply for a retreat at www.dhamma.org.

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