Last month I attended my first 10 day Vipassana Meditation retreat. Taught by S.N. Goenka, Vipassana meditation trains the individual to see insight into the true nature of reality. Through interconnection between body and mind, Vipassana is a way of self transformation through self observation.
During this 10 day course, we meditated 10 hours a day with a group of 60 other women.
Guess what, it was tough, but a rewarding experience. Vipassana meditation stretched my mind and allowed me to see life from a new perspective. If you are curious about my experience with this 10 day meditation retreat, here are 10 things I learned from 10 days of Vipassana meditation.
1. Emotions Are Ever Changing
With Vipassana meditation the goal is to find insight by observing the bodies sensations. As we observe these sensations, we must remain equanimous. We try not to reacting to cravings of pleasurable sensations or abberation of unpleasurable sensations. When you observer without reaction, you find that the sensations are every changing. They come and go.
The same happened with my emotions during the course. After a few days I started to become frustrated with the practice to the point where I wanted to quit. The teacher told me this was a normal feeling and that many students go through ebb and flow of emotions. And she was right. I felt better the following day and then the dread returned.
Back and forth the emotions rocked between wanting to surrendering to the technique to feeling the need to break free. Regardless of these rocky feelings, it was important to stay determined with the practice and accept that part of our mental evolution is allowing the emotions to flow through us and not dictate a reaction.
The concept of these emotions applies to everyday life. We will have highs and lows, but as we acknowledge the emotions we feel, we must remain equanimous.
2. You’re Not The Only One Experiencing Mental Madness
As I said before, your feelings will ebb and flow. For the first few days you may feel excited by the new experience, but then you will considering quitting. You will count down the days and rationalize to yourself staying or leaving, depending on how much time you already put in vs. how much you can’t take the solidarity any more.
Since you can not speak and gesture to anyone, you will not be able to ask your fellow students how their experience is going. As you pass them in the halls or watch them in the cafeteria, you will assume they are doing well due to their calmness. This is what I assumed. I thought I was the only one finding the practice challenging and wanting to quit on a day to day basis. Emotionally this was tough on my self esteem because I thought I was the only one suffering through the technique.
Don’t worry, you are not alone. As I learned on day when we were allowed to speak with each other, many of the students expressed they had the same exact feelings around the same time frame. For many of them, it was their first meditation retreat so they did not know what to expect. As the days went on and their expectations were not met, many of them found the practice challenging and also questioned themselves. Should they quit?
Those who had been to the practice before also expressed that each retreat was just as challenging as the first. – So expect to be challenged and understand that everybody will go through their own mental challenges even if you can’t tell that from their expression.
3. Your Thoughts Do Not Define You
One of the greatest things I learned from Vipassana meditation was the concept of learning to control and separate yourself from your thoughts. You will struggle with positive, negative, and distracted thoughts as you try this practice. During your meditation your mind will wander. What you will do at that time is not reprimand yourself, but bring your attention back to your body.
The repetition over time will help you train your focus and your thoughts. You will soon learn to observe your thoughts from a distance, acknowledge them, and move on. When you observe your thoughts from an outside perspective, you will then see that your thoughts do not define you because they are fleeting.
4. You Are Stronger Than You Believe
Vipassana meditation is mental training. For 10 days, you will be meditation for 10 hours a day without communication from another human being. Solely focusing on your own practice you will experience a wavering mind. You will feel pain in your body, your thoughts will wander, and there will be days you will want to quit. But then you will get through it and 10 days later you will realized you were able to sit through the pain, rein in your own thoughts, and you were stronger than you believed.
Take each hour by the hour and each day, day to day. To test your mental strength, you will have to allow yourself small wins. Each hour you will sit on the floor cross legged and you will experience pain. This hour you may sit through the pain without moving 5 minutes longer than the last hour.
You may also reposition yourself 2 times less than you had the day before. Take these moments as small wins. Through these small improvements, you remain committed to yourself and soon find that you are stronger than you were day before.
5. You Can Actually Train Your Focus
Yes, it is true. With 100 hours of meditation you can greatly train your mind to focus on ONE thing. In today’s world we are bombarded by stimuli. Technology has retrained our brains ability to focus on one task at time due to constant notifications and expectations to reply to emails and texts within minutes.
During this 10 day Vipassana meditation retreat, you will not have any technology, books, journals, music, etc. to distract you. With this 10 day detox, you will have no outside influence, so you will have all the time in the world to train you focus; which you can ACTUALLY train. Through repetition, you will bring your wandering mind back to your body, hammering your focus into a sword.
6. I Really Value My Freedom
For a few years, I considered becoming a Buddhist nun. I wanted to run away from my problems and learn to end my own suffering. By going through this Vipassana meditation retreat, we were essentially living the Buddhist monk lifestyle. We would wake at 4am to meditation, eat two vegetarian meals by noon, and meditation until 9pm.
Although I understand the principle of not allowing us to do anything other meditate, this experience made my greatly value my everyday life which allows me to have the freedom on expression. As an artist and creative, it is mandatory for my to be able to express myself on a daily basis, whether that be the way I govern my time or the music I listen to.
Living life with limitations allows you to see what you value from a new perspective. I did learn that I did not miss having my phone, but I did miss communicating with family and friends, and being able to have my hobbies.
7. More Is Not Better
During this retreat, we had to follow a 10 hour a day meditation schedule. Part of the schedule were breaks, which allowed you to do what you wanted with the time. Funny enough, our teacher told us that it was not necessary to meditate during our breaks. “More is not better” is what she told us.
Doing more is not always better. What was important though was how dedicated we were to the practice during meditation hours. Intensity mattered.
8. It’s Okay to Unplug From Time to Time
Part of what we gave up during the Vipassana meditation retreat was contact from the outside world. For 10 days, we were not allowed to have any technology. We could not make phone calls, and we were not allowed to send mail.
In this day and age we are always in constant contact with people. Giving this up for 10 days is a huge ask for many people and it stirs fear in a lot of us. As many other student’s expressed at the end of the retreat, they were worried something bad would happen to their family or friends. They envisioned family members getting in car accidents or having a medical emergency.
In the end nothing happened and we let our imaginations go wild. By having our phones we feel we have a sense of control. We a trained by constant notifications to be reactive. When we take this away, we have nothing to react to and the anxiety builds in our minds or all the horrible possibilities.
Allow yourself to be able to enjoy this time of disconnection and allow yourself to surrender your sense of control. As Ajahn Brahm says “The secret to life is… everything is out of our control.” Learn to accept this lack of control.
9. Blue Light Makes a Huge Difference in Sleep Quality
Are you reading this before bed right now? Most of us go to bed with our phones in our hands, using our laptops, or watching tv. These screens all omit blue light. Blue light is a wave length of light that is omitted by day light and when we see blue light from screens, it suppresses our brains production of melatonin. This can greatly affect our ability to sleep and our circadian rhythms.
Of course, I have known the affects of blue light for a while now, but turning off technology 1-2 hours before bed is tough for any body. With 10 days without any blue light devices, I really saw the difference. During those 10 days, I had some of the most restful sleep that I had ever had. Not only was I omitting blue light, I was not stimulating my mind with random things from the internet.
Keeping up with this practice, I was able to leave the phone in across the room an hour before bed. My sleep quality still remains improved.
10. Repetition is Key
The 10 day Vipassana meditation retreat is an intense course. Total, you will meditate 100 hours, 10 hours each day. After you finish the retreat, you will go back to you daily life and are recommended to meditation 1 hour in the morning and 1 hour at night.
The goal of this course is to teach people the path to enlightenment. What you will find is that you will not even make a dent it your path over just one 10 day course. Although intense, repetition is key. Over a life time, you must meditate daily to walk along the path.
The idea of discipline remains true for any practice in life. In order to get good at something, achieve a goal, learn something new, it requires repetition. You will not gain all the knowledge through one intense sitting, but through lots of practice. Be patient with yourself.
If you are interested in attending your own 10 day Vipassana Meditation retreat, go to their website here. This teaching is held by donation basis and they have centers all over the world.
Did you find any of these 10 Things I Learned From 10 Days of Vipassana Meditation helpful? Share you experience below.
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