Posts Tagged ‘Vipassana’

Vipassana 10-Day Meditation Retreat Review – Part 1 of 3

Thursday, April 10th, 2008


2 months ago I did a 10-day meditation retreat, put on the by Dhamma.org organization (they have centers all over the world, including one a few hours from me). I’m going to split this review up into a few posts, since there is a lot to say.

They teach a specific type of meditation called “Vipassana Meditation”. First I’ll explain what the whole thing was like, and then let you know my opinions on it.

THE RULES:

There a few strict rules that you have to follow during the retreat:

  • “Noble Silence” for the entire 10 days – no communication of any kind, including verbal communication, non-verbal communication (gestures), physical contact, or eye contact. There are 2 times each day when you can ask an assistant teacher questions if necessary, but otherwise the entire retreat is completely void of communication. Since I was a bit late on the first day, I didn’t get to meet the other students ahead of time, and had no idea what anyone else looked like until the last day when we were allowed to talk again.
  • Complete celibacy (no sexual activity of any kind)
  • Can’t kill any animal (including insects like mosquitos)
  • Can’t lie (not too hard since you can’t talk)
  • Can’t have any intoxicants (alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, etc)
  • Can’t have any reading or writing material
  • No physical exercise
  • No music
  • …and a few others

All the rules are to facilitate meditation, minimize distractions, and allow people to get as deep as possible with their introspection.

THE CONTENT OF THE RETREAT (What Happens):

You can read more about what you actually do on their website (dhamma.org). Basically each day there are 10 hours of meditation, and along with eating meals, showering, the evening “discourse” (a video of the teacher (S.N. Goenka) teaching about the meditation and his philosophies on life), and a couple breaks, the day is full. A side note on food: You only get breakfast and lunch, and then fruit and tea for dinner – but surprisingly it is enough, I suppose because the physical activity is so minimal).

The first 2 days you do nothing during meditation but concentrate on your breath. This is to relax and focus your mind and get yourself in tune with your body – you also discover how out of control you mind actually is, but you get better at focusing and controlling it. For the next 1.5 days you focus on the sensations in a certain part of your face – surprisingly, you start to feel a lot of sensations going on, since you’re so focused and in tune with yourself. The sensations are actually always there, but usually you just can’t feel them. Then for the rest of the retreat you take your now somewhat tamed and focused mind and focus it part by part throughout the rest of your body, with tweaks each day on how you do that.

THE THEORY:

The main purpose of Vipassana Meditation is to undo your “conditioning”, and free yourself of all the things in your subconscious mind that are controlling the way you are, so that you can become your real unconditioned self. This is somewhat related to the Buddhist idea of enlightenment (you don’t get all the way there, or even close, during the 10 days, but apparently you make progress in that direction). They say that at your core, underneath all the conditioning, you’ll find only goodness, love, compassion, etc.

They say that your body and mind are very closely related, and the effects of everything that happens to you are stored in your body as some sort of tension, or some sensation, or something. For example, say you experience a painful rejection by an audience while doing an oral presentation when you are young. The effect of the rejection would be stored in your body somehow. From then on that affects you, and you feel nervous doing presentations. These stored conditionings than constantly affect you are called “Sankharas” (you learn a lot of new words, such as that one).

When you are meditating, and relaxed and in tune with your body, and equanimous (indifferent, just observing yourself objectively, feeling neither craving nor aversion to anything), the Sankharas start coming up to the surface. The idea is that when you just observe the physical manifestations of the Sankharas with equanimity, and they arise and pass away, the Sankharas get eradicated, along with their effects on you. (Before going on the retreat, I though that this meant I would start feeling various emotions, or having memories come into my mind, etc, but actually you only feel physical sensations).

You continue doing this until you are free of all your conditioning (takes a lot more than 10 days – it could take many lifetimes – but 10 days is supposed to be a good first step).

On the retreat you do cultivate some other good skills and attributes, such as equanimity, etc, but really the goal is to undo your conditioning.

Next… A bit about MY experience.

CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE TO PART 2 OF 3

(You will be able to leave comments at the end of Part 3 :) )