You know how sometimes a person says ‘I read this amazing book’ or ‘I watched this amazing show’ or ‘traveled to an amazing place’ and you say “I want to do that!” Sometimes you do, sometimes you think about doing it. Well, a friend of mine, in a side note – a “p.s” on an email she sent said by the way I once did a silent 10 day meditation retreat, you should try it. So I did…
I found out about Vipassana about 4 or 5 months ago from my traveling friend Nicole, who is already in Australia on her work-holiday visa. I researched it a little and when I found out, and she confirmed that the entire retreat is completely free – I thought it was something that had to be experienced.
I booked my space immediately after reading through the rules of conduct for the course, which includes a pretty rigorous schedule of waking up at 4 am and doing nothing but meditating, resting and eating until lights out at 9:30pm. A total of 11 hours daily devoted to meditating and learning how to meditate.
The days leading up to the retreat the reality of me, “Ms. Talky-talky” having to spend 10 days in complete and utter silence, with out even the luxury of communicating via body language or eye contact was almost too much to bare. I thought surely I would drive myself crazy over these days and would have to be picked up early by my mom and sent to a special hospital.
The day arrived to begin the retreat and my generous mom, who is also in California visiting family offered to drive me from our coastal hometown 2.5 hours in land to the mountainous side of this beautiful state. Although Vipassana centers are all over the world, I chose the one near Fresno, Ca in a small town called North Fork, which is also about 20 minutes south of Yosemite National Park. So just driving up into the foothills I could tell what beauty would surround me by way of nature in a part of my home state I never really took the time to explore.
The first day doesn’t count as Day 1. It is merely a time to check in, find your accommodation, have a few chats with some people and then by 8pm that night, Noble Silence begins and then it’s a long road to that 10th day.
I was assigned bed 8, cabin 1 and took the short walk through the dirt road paths to a cabin surround by tall, majestic pine trees. The (what seemed like) makeshift cabin had little rooms divided by partial pieces of drywall, so although I lucked out and had 2 beds in my quarters, only 1 was occupied. However, you’re not far from anyone as you can hear everything and anything through the “walls.”
During the hour orientation period where we drink tea and make nervous conversation trying to figure out exactly what we’re in for we were read the rules. Very clear rules : No killing, stealing, lying, sexual conduct or intoxicants. All distractions must be turned in upon arrival which includes everything from cell phones and Ipods to books, journals and pens. That way you have nothing to take you away from your practice.
8pm the first night we get our cushion assignments in the Dhamma Hall, which is the main hall where all group meditations and instructions are held. For the duration of the course all men and women are separated to different sides of the campus. The only time we are in the same area is in the Dhamma Hall. However, we try our best not to scope out the other side.
After the first group meditation we retire to our quarters and lights out by 9:30 to wake up around 4am for the first official day. Day 1 was probably the easiest because you are still doing a lot of internal thinking of things like “am I doing this right?” “this is weird” “I wonder what she’s thinking.”
You go through the schedule of the day, confused and tired, but since it’s day 1 and you’re doing it all for the first time it goes by rather quickly. The 2nd day, as S.N. Goenka will tell you in Day 1’s discourse is a littler bit tougher because the reality of the schedule and the painful realization that you have no where to go, no where to hide and nothing to distract you from yourself makes one squirm like you wouldn’t believe.
For someone like myself, who thinks they’re on the right track and always proactive about delving into matters of self, it comes as a very rude awakening to finally see the truth that it’s not delving as deep as I had believed. Think of it like this – if you felt you needed to get healthier so you start doing push-ups and jumping jacks at home. So you do as many as you feel comfortable with that raises your heartbeat and breaks the first layer of sweat against your forehead. However, if you were to pay a trainer to make you get in shape, they would work you until you almost puked, pushing you to great lengths further than you would either a) do yourself or b) believe you were capable of.
So that’s what this meditation retreat is like. You have no where to go and nothing to do to help you escape from the task at hand. The fact alone that for the first time it is honestly and seriously you against yourself is scary and difficult. There are ways to get out of it, like sleeping through some of the meditation hours, or just letting your mind drift and not actively working on the toning your mind. Then, at some point, like it did me, it hits you that you are the only one that can do this kind of work.
During the evening discourse when the Goenka talks are shown in the Dhamma hall he will say things to the effect of – no one can bop you on the head and give you enlightenment. This is a path all people must walk themselves. I can outwardly try to “fix” me but no changes will be made until I go inside.
Vipassana mediation, is from the Gautama Buddha, and was his way to enlightenment. The idea behind the meditation is there is no religious denomination backing the technique. Just an instruction on how to hone and develop skills to be completely equanimous. They say human misery comes from 1 of 2 things – either craving or aversion. So you have a good thing in your life and since all things are impermanent, it will not last forever and once it is gone you will crave it, therefore causing yourself the misery of craving that feeling, or material thing and leave you being unable to live in the present moment as you are too caught up in the craving. Same goes for aversion, however it’s the opposite, it’s a negative feeling or things that you avoid.
The meditation, over 10 days, teaches you step by step to narrow down your field of focus so that the first 2 days all you are doing is observing your respiration. The goal is to be completely objective to the sensations that arrive and to be equanimous when a positive or negative one arises knowing that everything is impersonal and impermanent and will change. Obviously it may not be instant, but one must learn that everything changes eventually therefore there is no point in getting attached to a feeling or a thing because it will cause misery when that situation changes.
The 3rd day you expand from respiration to your nose and bridge above your upper lip, and then finally on Day 4 you begin to scan the entire body. So for me, Day 4 was a huge day – I somehow managed to open a LOT of anger. I mean to the point that I was scared of what I felt compelled to do after having such intense rage pulsing through my body. I thought I was going crazy so I scheduled an interview with the teacher to talk about it. (The only time you are allowed to talk is to a teacher, about the course.)
I sat cross legged in front of this peaceful woman and all I could say is “I have so much anger” and the tears just started rolling out in levy breaking style. Completely calm she said “oh that’s good, it means you’re working hard.” She was right that it was good. I had opened something that I had kept locked down and away for a very long time.
The middle of the 10 days, in the midst of this anger, I wanted to leave. I was tired of being “so alone” yet constantly surrounded by people that I couldn’t talk to, connect with or distract myself through. It was not easy to get to day 10! Let me stress that, in case the high of the final product may delude those interested in trying Vipassana that it is easy. It is difficult and trying through the entire time.
By day 8 though, you can feel the end is near and you can breathe some of that relief. However day 8 and 9 are the last 2 days where you have all the information you need to do the technique properly and therefore are just left to your own devices to get whatever you want out of it based on how deep you probe and how hard you work.
There were definitely times where I was just so purely exhausted thinking, or trying not to think that I just wanted to sleep because it was a change. However, now that it’s over and I’m about 5 days removed I can see the benefits of the very first layer of meditating that I really gave a brutal try.
This blog is already longer than my normal 1000 words, so I won’t continue too much more. If you are interested in learning more or hearing more about Vipassana and my experience please reach out via email, comment or through facebook. I may write a part 2, as there is just so so so so so much more.
I will leave you with the link to the website:
If you have an inkling of interest in learning more or trying a 10 day course please take a look at the website. Like I said, it is completely free and ran purely on donations by former students who have already completed a 10 day course. There are centers all over the world and available in all languages. It is a beautiful and wonderful experience that is available on good heart that people will get something out of it to help make their life just a little bit better.
May all beings be happy… ❤
2 thoughts on “Eat. Sleep. Meditate.”
Duffy–I was thinking about you the other day and wondering why you had gone silent. Now I know. I so admire your continuing self development. While I don’t think I could go 10 days without connecting to anyone but myself, I see wisdom and learning in what you posted. Thank you.