Vipassana is a meditation technique that teaches art of living. Its aim is to remedy every misery of our life, so we can lead the life full of happiness. The method is to observe and understand our own self. To connect our body and mind.
The teaching is more than 2500 years old, but became popular among the western population only few decades back thanks to S. N. Goenka – who started to teach the technique to thousands of people regardless their believes or religion.
10 day Vipassana meditation retreat is just the beginning which brings you on the right path, but even these 10 days can be life changing experience.
You can read more and also sign up for the course at one of the meditation centers all around the world at the official website of Goenka’s vipassana teaching. We advise to sign up even few months in advance to secure yourself a place at the course. The courses are often full especially at popular destinations like Thailand.
What to expect from Vipassana meditation retreat
Before you decide for the 10 day retreat, be 100% sure you want to go through with it, because there will be times when you will have difficulties and your mind will be playing tricks on you that is it not worth it or makes any sense. These will be the times when your determination and power of will will be tested.
It is not necessary to have an experience with meditation, but if you practiced some meditation before the retreat it will be easier for you to concentrate and also you might get deeper into vipassana technique.
Many people imagine meditation retreat as peace and relaxing under the tree while birds are singing around. Vipassana meditation retreat is nothing like this – definitely not for the first time. It is hard work, sweat, pain and determination.
Once on the course, work dilligently and give it your best. It will not happen for you, you must show serious effort otherwise you will spend there 10 days without any impact.
Working on yourself is not an easy task, but the results are so worth it.
Dhamma vipassana courses run purely on donation basis. Donations are accepted only from students who have completed the course and the amount of money whether it is large or small is given with the wish to help future students so that others may also benefit by this technique.
Tip: Bring small alarm clock with yourself to the course. You will need to handover all your electronics and not knowing what is the time and how much time is left till the next session or if you overslept the gong can be disturbing.
Tip n.2: If sitting on the flat ground becomes unbearable, you can put a small pillow under your back, it really helps.
Rules of the retreat
Every student must be following five precepts for the duration of the course:
1. to abstain from killing any being;
2. to abstain from stealing;
3. to abstain from all sexual activity;
4. to abstain from telling lies;
5. to abstain from all intoxicants.
Also all students must observe Noble Silence from the beginning of the course until the last full day. Any form of communication with fellow student, whether by speech, gestures or written notes is forbidden.
4:00 am Morning wake-up bell
4:30-6:30 am Meditate in the hall or in your room
6:30-8:00 am Breakfast
8:00-9:00 am Group meditation in the hall
9:00-11:00 am Meditate in the hall or in your room
11:00-12:00 noon Lunch
12noon-1:00 pm Rest and interviews with the teacher
1:00-2:30 pm Meditate in the hall or in your room
2:30-3:30 pm Group meditation in the hall
3:30-5:00 pm Meditate in the hall or in your own room
5:00-6:00 pm Tea break
6:00-7:00 pm Group meditation in the hall
7:00-8:15 pm Teacher’s Discourse in the hall
8:15-9:00 pm Group meditation in the hall
9:00-9:30 pm Question time in the hall
9:30 pm Retire to your own room–Lights out
Before going for 10-days Vipassana meditation retreat I did not have any big expectations. I knew it would be hard and that my knees would hurt if I sit for long time. I had never meditated before. I just knew that if it would be unbearable I would quit. I decided to go for Vipassana but if I wouldn’t be able to go through it I would quit and wait for Michal in Yangon.
On the first day during Teacher’s discourse he told us that if we had decided for it and signed a paper to stay there for 10 days we should stay and continue the course and we cannot leave. The Teacher also said that second and sixth days are the most difficult and these are the break points when people actually want to quit. Instead, on the second day I already knew that I would finish all 10 days.
The first 2 days passed actually quickly. I did not have any watches with me so I was a bit afraid to oversleep and even did not allow myself to take a small nap neither after the breakfast nor after the lunch. During the breaks I was occupying myself with cleaning, washing… But soon I got used to the schedule and was trying to sleep whenever I had time.
In total we had 10 hours of meditating every day. It was demanding to sit for a long time, the longest time we had to meditate was 2 hours in the morning from 4.30 till 6.30. Surprisingly I did not want to sleep at this time during the meditation. The most difficult time for me was 1 hour after the breakfast from 8.00 till 9.00. Many times I was about to fall down and it was really difficult to meditate.
On the third day I came to breakfast and I felt that I couldn’t eat the food. Generally, I am not the person who likes eating in the morning, and I prefer coffee and something light with it. Nevertheless, as long as we had only 2 proper meals per day I was forcing myself to eat in the morning as well. But on the third day during the breakfast I thought “Is it that day when I start to think about leaving Vipassana?”. But it wasn’t. There was no such day at all. I just stopped forcing myself to eat if I didn’t feel like to. Starting from the third day I was a bit struggling with the food as it was always same. I was eating only what I could even if just little bit.
First three days it was really difficult to meditate as once I started in 2-3 seconds my mind was starting to wonder. So if I was able to really meditate for 5-10 minutes out of 1 hour it was already a success. For me the most difficult part was not physical or mental part but the meditation itself. But once we started the Vipassana technique from the evening on the 4th day it started to be easier. In all these 10 days I never had thoughts of leaving or not wanting to go on meditation sessions, it was not a torture for me.
On the 5th day something strange happened to me during the meditation and I was really scared. It was 10 minutes till the end of the last session and at that moment I was totally in the meditation suddenly I felt some power in me which was moving me from left to the right. I opened my eyes and saw that it was all fine and everybody was meditating and sitting as they were sitting. I thought it was something wrong with me and tried to concentrate and control my body. But it didn’t work. I was still moving, so I opened my eyes again and everything was fine. So I was even more scared as my mind and body seemed to play some tricks with me. My first thought was that it was an earthquake but as nothing was happening and nobody paid attention I was sure it was something wrong with me.
Next day I spoke with the Teacher about that and indeed there was an earthquake of magnitude 5.1, though as we found out later not even everyone felt it. That was the first earthquake I have ever experienced and I could not discuss it with anyone else. This was one of the 2 urges when I wanted to talk to someone. Besides that, I was totally fine with no communication at all. But I have to say that I was looking sometimes on Michal. We were separated but when I was entering the Dhamma meditation hall I could see if he was on his place and also I could see him with my side eye sight when he was coming and accommodating himself. For me it was enough just to know that he is there.
The second time when I felt that I wanted to speak with someone is when I saw a snake. I was right in front of my house checking if my jacket was dry when suddenly it just fell down from the tree and sneaked away towards the bushes. I just froze for a moment and couldn’t even say to my neighbour who was just coming to her house to be careful. It was the 7th day and starting from it I was using umbrella. Not because of the sun but because of the snakes.
For me 10 days really passed very quickly without big crisis. I was kinda waiting for the 10th day to see how everybody would start to talk and if already on that day I would be able to see and speak with Michal. Definitely those 10 days of meditation didn’t go in vain. Even though I was not meditating as long as I supposed to I think that anyway I learnt how to concentrate. Important is to continue using the knowledge we got in the daily life and then we will see the results.
First 3 days were hardest physically. I have never sit during my meditation attempts before, so sitting 10 hours per day on the floor with my (computer slouched) back straight was hardcore. Same time as the pain was burning in my back minute after minute, I should have been fully concentrating on the breathing, not paying attention to anything else. Not very succesfull.
As it turned out later, physical pain is nothing in comparison with the mental one. Great conclusion of meditation retreat, right?
But somehow since day 4 I got used to the sitting (or pain) and my concetration started to improve, so I felt first real effects of meditation. After several continuous minutes of concetration without any invading thought, suddenly my heartbeat raises, breath becomes quicker and white stream of energy rushes through the body. Pain goes away for few moments. It feels great and it gives me the support that I do it correctly and I can do it.
Day 5 -7 were probably most productive for me. Good morale, several energy rushes per day – longer and stronger than those before. Concetration was at it’s top. Lots of retrospective and old forgotten memories coming back to me.
Since day 8 I started to lose the willpower. Sleep deprivation, morning bell at 4am and long term pain started to get to me. Every morning and every long 2 hour meditation session I was refusing in my head to do it. Again to fully concetrate on the same thing almost whole day long became a huge struggle. I started to hate the voice of Goenka saying to work hard and observe the body with equonimity. And I knew it’s wrong to do it with this approach, I just couldn’t help it, but to hope for an end of the retreat. Quiting was never even considered though.
The day 9 was the day when I first time allowed myself to look around meditation hall and to check if Katya was there. And she was. It felt good to see her there and also pleasant to know that she is in it with me.
The last 10th day cannot be considered as serious meditation day anymore. As we were allowed to talk, suddenly the mind had plenty of food to process and concetration became so much harder.
Despite the difficulties and struggles, the retreat and Goenka’s lectures gave me plenty of restrospective and different point of view on my life. I am more content and aware of what I do and how I react now. And my favourite motto which summarizes the experience:
“This will also change.”
Description of technique
If you plan to do the Vipassana meditation retreat, we do not recommend reading this chapter. Here the technique will be explained day by day, how you will be thaught this meditation. We believe it is better to come to the course with open mind, not knowing what you will be concetrating on following days, because it might just confuse you and bring more distraction.
Day 1 – Day 3
You are concentrating only on your breath and nothing else. It is just introduction where you learn how to concetrate your mind – and it is not easy to get rid of all your thoughts.
In the end of every day, there is lecture where Goenka (from video tape) gives you insight into the technique and background of the teaching.
The first day when you start to observe sensation of your body. This day you concentrate only to small triangule area around the nose – observe and watch the sensations which might appear there – heat, tickling, sweat,… In the evening the Vipassana technique is introduced.
Vipassana meditation technique means observing sensation of your body without any reactions – either to pleasant or unpleasant sensations. So you start to go from head to feet and slowly observe sensations all over your body. Some places are easier to feel sensations, some almost impossible.
Day 6 – Day 9
You progress with observing sensations, your mind starts to be sharper and you are able to feel sensation on more places. Later on the sensations comes in a form of light vibrations. If you work hard and are more sensitive to it, you will feel flow of vibrations all over the body. But that doesn’t usually happen to the first-timers. We felt vibrations on different parts of body though.
The last day the noble silence is lifted and once you start to talk to other meditators, you have plenty of thoughts and impressions, so it is very difficult to concetrate during the sessions. Also you are partly done with the course, knowing you are about to leave. The last day you are tought special mediation technique to share the love and happiness among all people.