I know many people couldn’t believe I could NOT talk and check emails for 10 days…! So I am sharing it here how I “survived” my second 10-day silent retreat and why I keep doing it!
What it is:
This retreat is a Vipassana Meditation program (Vipassana means to see things as they are). What it is is basically doing “nothing” except meditating for 10 days in silence. The course is given by a non-profit making and non-religious organization (athough the simple technique it teaches is said to be the one taught by Gutama Buddha, founder of Buddhism) There’s no mantra to recite or images of diety to visualize. It’s all about being present and observing your body’s sensations without attachment.
The day starts at 4am and finishes at 9:30 to 10pm. You eat with the group (silently) and everyday you meditate. You have breakfast, lunch and a small snack at 5pm (all foods are vegetarian), have breaks in between your meditation sessions and all the while you are with yourself, not talking or having eye contact with other participants. There is also daily teaching by video by Goenka the founder, and a tutor to guide you when you have questions. (You can talk to the tutor at designated time)
The course is run purely by donation. You donate on your way out any amount you wish.
They have centres in many parts of the world. There is a small centre in Hong Kong although I have not been to this one myself. I did my first one in Canada and my recent one in Malaysia.
How it was for me and what I got:
Well, I thought the second time was going to be easier….no, it doesn’t get easier, at least for me!
The process for two of the Vipassana retreat experiences have been quite similar for me. The first 3 days or so was the toughest phase. It was when my mind and body was preparing to get into the practice. Any unfinished businesses and suppressed emotions would come up. My mind was playing mental tapes of visuals and self talk all the time. Not that it doesn’t do it when I am conducting my normal life. But when you have nothing you can distract yourself from, you have no choice but to face your own internal soap opera.
The breakthrough came for me, in both times, when I could gradually accept the noise in my head and not resist – which includes judging, denying, trying to change… Like everything in life, it’s the resistance that creates suffering. And I got to exercise non-attachement. The voice in the head would be complaining how uncomfortable it was to sit still and not move, asking “what’s the point of being here”, wondering what new emails had landed in my mail box, the things I was going to do after the retreat, the yummy foods my family must be eating (it was Chinese New Year time) and my mind would be so carried away that sometimes 90% of a session I could be somewhere else… Then of course the judge in me would make me feel bad about it too…!
It’s excellent training to learn to be the unattached observer. In fact sometimes when I could drop the judge, this observer in me would find it all rather comical – observing my mind that is like a wild monkey…and it would put a faint smile on my face… it happened more towards the end…
Ultimately I would say the lesson is one of acceptance and compassion – starting from towards myself.
And after practising self acceptance and compassion for 9 days (when I remembered to!), on the last day I was well set up to extend COMPASSION to all beings (which is the theme of the last day). This is also the day you are to start talking again. Most people would find it a little strange to start talking again…the stillness and clarity you experience by then is so precious few would want to break it right away…!
Other key learnings I have got include:
– the ability to be present and be the unattached observer is something I can apply in ANY situation in my life – in walking, eating, preparing food, taking shower….everything.
– “This too shall pass”
– People can throw their drama and negative reactions at me but I am the one who decides what to take in. I always have everything in me to maintain my equlibrium.
– Nothing about how I feel is about the external world. I have full responsibility and freedom to choose how I feel.
I don’t mean I am able to apply these ALL the time… But peace is a state I aspire to. (Is that for you too?) Having a meditative practice and doing periodic deep mental cleansing like this certainly makes it easier to achieve.
The “bonus” I got from the last retreat was when my mind was in such clear state, new creative ideas were flowing through me effortlessly. I was able to see new possibilities I never saw before, for my personal and business life. Every night after a day of meditation I couldn’t help but visualize the future I wanted to create, with the new expanse of SPACE I experienced. Towards the second half of the retreat, my “spacious” and inspiring future became extremely REAL to me. It’s very empowering. I say all this is “bonus” because this is not the main purpose of the retreat or the design of it, but it hapened naturally.
Would you like to experience some of what I have experienced?
If the idea of sitting still doing nothing for 10 days or even 10 minutes is too daunting for you, why not try incorporating quiet moments in your life while you are “doing” something – like when you are eating, brushing your teeth, or walking. Just noticing the sensations you feel in your body as an observer while running your life is Vipassana in practice. Yoga is certainly a form of moving meditation – when you are doing it mindfully and not as a competitive sport…
I noticed that I had the most enjoyable and “present” yoga class the day after I returned from the retreat…
To read more about the Vipassana Meditation you can go to:http://www.dhamma.org/
I also invite you to check out Echhart Tolle’s works to get inspired – you can watch him on Oprah now, teaching his “A New Earth” – my favourite spiritual book. Specifically his “The Power of Now” and “Stillness Speaks” are on being present… But “A New Earth” takes it further to “Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose” – as its tag line says…