A 10-day Vipassana Meditation retreat is a painful but enriching experience which can potentially change the way you perceive sensations, and ultimately your mood and how you feel.
Let’s examine some basic aspects of Vipassana meditation and talk about how can it help you live a more meaningful life.
What is Vipassana Meditation?
Vipassana is an ancient Indian meditation technique dating from about 2500 years ago. In pure theory, the technique itself is very simple, yet it is -like always- the practice what makes Vipassana meditation quite difficult as a beginner.
The main premise of this system is that our existence is full of misery – as per buddhism precepts.
Vipassana originates as a technique, a tool, which allows practitioners to achieve an effective way to cope with the existential pain and misery of existence and remain satisfied whenever possible.
Vipassana meditation is like a new pair of shiny but stiff leather shoes. In the beginning it’s very painful. It takes some time until the shoe fits perfectly, but eventually they become very comfortable and essential.
How does Vipassana meditation work?
The technique aims at observing the breathing process and thus achieve a highly peaceful and quiet mind.
Once the mind is ready, there is a system -the body swiping- where one focuses on observing and thus disolving corporeal sensations of all nature, whether painful or pleasurable.
The main element here is that ANY sensation is ultimately ephemeral and thus will fade away and disappear at some point.
Hence it’s pointless to crave or fear any sensations. They will be gone soon anyway.
What is a 10-day Vipassana Meditation Retreat?
The 10-day Meditation retreat is a crash course into the theory and practice of Vipassana meditation. The course is quite intense mentally and physically, and takes place in an isolated center where all possible distractions are discarded.
The main rules include Noble Silence, which require absolute zero communication – whether oral, written, gesticulation- with other course members.
Why are the Vipassana meditation courses divided by gender?
Additionally, the course participants are separated by gender: male and woman, and are not allowed to interact in any way and form during the length of the course.
The main objective of the segregation by gender is to minimise any possible distractions and improve concentration to achieve better meditation results.
How does a Vipassana retreat day look like?
The course is intense. An early start (4am) is followed by meditation until breakfast (6:30am) and more meditation until lunch (11am).
After the lunch break there are additional meditation sessions until the tea break at 5pm and until the 7:15pm video-lecture.
The last meditation session of the day is a shorter one until 9pm. Lights out at 10pm.
What to bring on a 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat?
Confused about what to bring on a Vipassana meditation retreat? Check out this list!
- Comfy sandals / home shoes (Crocs are perfect) to walk to the meditation hall and back. You’ll be putting your shoes on and off like 20 times a day, make sure you bring something useful, and bring thick socks if cold. Sandals are an essential item you need to bring!
- Enough body soap, tooth paste, and deodorant. You won’t be able to buy these during your stay.
- Your own meditation pillow. Might be a great idea to make sure you maintain a great practise during your stay.
- A meditation shawl. This is basically a thin blanket or scarf that will help you keep your temperature and posture. If you don’t have one, you can buy a cheap big scarf at Primark or take with you a cheap IKEA blanket.
- A small alarm clock. You’ll be waking up at 4am for 10 days, a small alarm clock will make sure you don’ t miss the first daily sessions.
- Your own bowl & spork. Depending on the location you need your own utensils, a big bowl and a spork are your best bet.
- Bedding. You need your own bedding, some places don’t allow sleeping bags. Alternatively, some locations rent out bedding at a fair price.
What type of food is served at a Vipassana Meditation retreat?
The food catering is always vegetarian and plentiful. While there are only two meals a day, most attendants did not feel remotely hungry during the stay.
Food quality varies per location. Volunteering servers cook and serve the food at 6:30am and 11am.
In my first Vipassana, the breakfast consisted of a cooked oats and hot juice and fruits with milk and yoghurt, some fresh fruit, as well as bread and butter, with some jams and condiments such as sesame and sunflower seeds.
Lunch usually consisted of a cooked grain or legume with a vegetarian dressing. Bread and butter, and some salad as well. We were served tofu once during the stay.
In my second Vipassana, the breakfast was basically some local porridge, boiled dried plums and apricots, local flat bread, some olives and butter, yoghurt, some fruit for old students and that’s about it. Breakfast was in this case the only time to “charge” fats.
For lunch, there was usually a potato-based dish, some salad, flat bread, and some grain or legume-based dish. It was the time to charge “carbs”, as there were no fats served during this meal.
I’d say make sure you get enough fats during your stay. Eating lots of veggies satiates, but you might risk not getting enough energy during your stay. I’ve lost a fair amount of weight during both of my Vipassana retreats.
How difficult was to survive the 10 days without communication?
To be honest, while it was initially very easy, it became increasingly more difficult to maintain mental stability beyond day 6 or 7.
We humans are naturally social, we thing in words and and we embrace social interactions, smiling, chatting, etc. For this reason it became an exercise of mental fortitude to stay away from communication for the 10 days.
What is the most difficult thing in the 10-day Vipassana Meditation retreat?
In my experience it all boils down to maintaining mental fortitude. How capable are you of staying focused?
In this sense, the 10-day meditation retreat is a lot easier for those that can seat comfortably with their legs crossed.
Seating comfortably and steadily is a major difficulty. Practise your seating in advance.
Thus, those that are naturally flexible, or practise yoga or similar activities will devote less energy at maintaining the required sitting posture.
Therefore, those that can sit comfortable can devote more mental energy to the process of meditation itself.
For example, if you can’t seat in a lotus position then you’ll be constantly battling with the painful posture and thus your mind will remain distracted by the mere pain of the seating.
What is the best advice to those that are planning to do a Vipassana meditation retreat?
Practice makes the master. On this note, the seating position should be a priority; practise the seating position so that pain from seating does not drain your mental energy.
Practise the seating position before the course so that pain from seating does not drain your mental energy. And practise the observation of breathing.
Then, practise the observation of your breathing. The first couple of days are devoted precisely to learn how to observe the natural breathing process.
What are the best take-aways from the 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat?
The main learning point is that if we learn how to avoid reacting to our sensations -pleasurable and painful- we will be able to maintain a more balanced mind and avoid the existential misery of existence.
Also, the course shows how the practice of meditation improves your mental stamina, concentration, and well-being.
Vipassana meditation has thus:
- Reduced my level of stress
- Improved my concentration
- Strengthened my upper body
The lengthy seatings have increased my flexibility and corrected my seating posture.
Where can I apply for a 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat?
Dhamma is a global non-profit organisation that organizes different meditation courses around the world. They are all donation-based.
The application process takes place quickly and safely through their website dhamma.org. Give it a try!
Do you want to take part in a 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat? Do it, you won’t regret it!