I just returned from a 10 day silent meditation retreat in Merrit, BC. Vipassana meditation… And I have to tell you about it.
The facility held 70 students, split about evenly between the two sexes. The female and males students were separated for the 10 days except for in the meditation hall.
We were asked not to look each other in the eye or use our bodies to signal to one another. It is means to mimic a totally solitary experience.
After an evening meal and chit chat the silence started…
I had no idea what I had gotten myself into. I had no idea what to expect.
The daily schedule
400 – First wake up gong
430-630 Meditation starts in the hall
630-800 Breakfast break
800-900 Sit of determination (after day 4, everyone must attend these sits and be as still as possible for the entire hour)
900-1100 Mediation in the hall
1100-100 Lunch Break
100- 230 Meditation in the hall
230-330 Strong determination sit
330-500 Mediation in the hall
500-600 Tea break
600-700 Strong determination sit
815-900 Mediation in the hall
Day 1– I observed the nature of my monkey mind. We were instructed to focus on our upper lip for the entire meditation sit for all of the sits of the first three days. We were to feel the sensation of the breath on the area above the upper lip. It was challenging to maintain focus on such a subtle sensation when there were so many things more interesting to think about! My mind would focus for about ten seconds and then a completely random thought would pop up and take me on a ride without my consent. Once I realized I was on the thought train I would bring my focus back, upper lip, upper lip, breath on the upper lip….thought train again, then back, upper lip, upper lip, upper lip… Very slowly the thought train started picking me up for less rides, less often.
Day 2– While observing my upper lip I had a profound and completely unexpected experience. I felt myself open up with a white/yellow light and break open, a literal breakthrough. And through it birthed the forgiveness for an ex boyfriend who I rode on an emotional roller-coaster with for four years in the past. We’ve been apart for 3 years and I had found a lot of healing and forgiveness in that time; however, there was still some residual bits of distaste for his character. To be honest, prior to this experience, I was looking forward to possibly punching him in the face if I ever came across him again… That’s all gone now. I feel like when I see him next I can run to him, look in his eyes and tell him I forgive him for everything we went through and I can genuinely apologize for the role I played in our dysfunction. Wow! Finally. Freedom.
Day 3 – Creative ideas kept breaking my concentration on my upper lip. Great creative ideas though, ones worth remembering, ones worth pursuing. It was like the mundane thoughts weren’t being welcomed in any longer so my mind was like “fine, I will give her these great ideas and then she won’t be able to resist them!” And I wasn’t, yet. I love the discourses in the evening. G.N. Goenka is so funny and has such great stories. I think I have a crush on him.
Day 4 – This is the day I finally was able to sit for the entire meditation in the afternoon and focus on my upper lip without thought interruption. I felt so proud! I did it! I got it!… And immediately after that meditation, S.N. Goenka says over the speakers “We are doing a new technique now”. Damn, I finally get the technique down and now we are changing it. Now we are doing body scans. We “start at the top of the head” and scan the sensation of the body all the way through to the toes. We are instructed to feel every single sensation on every inch of the skin, “part by part, bit by bit”. And so the new challenge begins.
Day 5– I’m loving this. I am keen, I am focused, I am the perfect little mediation student. I didn’t miss any meditations, I focused all of the time and I could feel people noticing my excellent posture and calm focus. I felt great. I scanned the body, head to toe and now we go from toes to the head also… “Patiently and persistently”…
Day 6 – Didn’t sleep well the night before and slept through the morning meditation. Frick! I’m ruined! I feel so guilty, I’m supposed to be the keen one that makes it to every sitting!… I beat myself up for a bit and then I realized this pattern and this desire in my life to be the keenest, or to be the one that tries the hardest. I also started realizing how much of a meal that is for my ego and how often I compare myself to others and measure myself against them. I had realized this before but something felt different this time. This time something dissolved through me, somehow I had a greater understanding and ability to let it go.
Day 7 – I fucking hate this. I want to go home. I will never do this again. I’m so bored of this. I get it, I will practice when I get home. All I need is a break from all of this. I am going to go crazy, how many days are left? I want to punch G.N. Goenka in the face. I don’t look forward to the breaks any more because all they are is moment to get up, wait in line for the bathroom and then go back in. What kind of break is that and why do I bother looking forward to it? This realization-that the breaks aren’t any better than the meditating and I still have 3 full days to stay in this boredom hell hole with no relief changed something in me. There was a letting go of desires, it was a learning to enjoy the moment. I’ve read all the inspiring quotes and bumper stickers about this and I’ve tried to be mindful and all that stuff but now it felt different. Experiencing this shift makes mindful a byproduct of the peaceful state inside instead of an active and slightly torturous effort to slow down and enjoy each moment for what it is.
Day 8 – Screw this. I am not doing this any more. I am doing full-blown yoga in the hall ways and I’m well aware I’m not supposed to. I want to plan 3 classes for when I teach at home after this. I am going to plan my life. I am going to think about whatever I want. I start thinking of all of the things I want to do. I want to clean up the cookie stand and make great treats when I get back, I want to tell this person this thing, I want to make pins with insightful words, I want to make necklaces from beach rocks… I jumped back onto the thought train in full force. Eventually even my thoughts would get boring and I would start meditation again out of an uncontrollable happening in my brain to meditate. There was a shift now, instead of the thinking being the default mode, now I felt bored of thinking so I would meditate. Cool.
Day 9 – I am still pretty much checked out of being a committed meditator. I start to laugh at my frustrations though because I know it’s all I can do. I don’t want to punch G.N. Goenka in the face because I realize now that’s just my own seed, my own “Sankara” and it would only be causing me pain. I am used to not sleeping at night now. Even though I feel partly checked out, I no longer count down the time during meditation waiting for meals and breaks.
Day 10 – Today after meditation we are allowed to talk. What will my first word be? Equanimity. It’s a main word of the course and is repeated over and over and not only that, it seems fun to say! Equaminity! It has a nice bounce. Other than that though, I’m not sure that I want to talk. I kind of don’t mind the silence. After the meditation is over, the teacher gets up and walks away and we all sit there confused as to what to do. People begin leaving the hall. I walk into the washroom and say “Equanimity” I then walk out of the washroom and say to the first woman I see “We’re free!” And we were free. We started talking. Talking felt amazing. I felt gitty and jittery with excitement. So much had happened in our boredom and in our equanimous meditations observing “annicha” (the ever changing nature of things). I watched the anonymous, blank faces turn to life. People’s spirits were shining out and everyone looked different now that their personality could shine through. I’ve never felt so free in my life. I don’t want anything. I was trying to think of something I was craving, like something I really wanted to eat and I couldn’t. I felt excited to put on my good smells again but other than that I could not think of a craving. I am free of cravings… other than tea, I still do really enjoy the tea. It was the tea, milk and honey that got me through some of the most challenging times in the course and for that I have an emotional comfort connection with it now… And I’m okay with that.
Day 11 – Home bound! I feel so excited and refreshed and pure. I feel like I know myself on a new level No cravings, just understandings. Wow, I feel free.
To learn more about Vipassana or to sign up to go yourself, click this link: