What’s it like being on a 10 day Vipassana meditation retreat? In this guest post, Jennifer Hahne shares her experience.
“This ten-day Vipassana meditation course that you have applied for is a very serious, deep operation of the mind.
“It can be a rigorous undertaking, both physically and mentally, and due to this it is not suitable for everyone.”
This was the serious response to my not-so-serious application on a whim and after a wine-infused conversation with a friend who had attended a meditation course.
I obliged and committed to noble silence and to the code of discipline. This included:
- no cell phone
- no texts to the hubby letting him know I wasn’t indoctrinated into a cult
- no updates on the current political circus
- no reading
- no writing
- and no gestures or communication of any kind.
I said to myself, “I enjoy meditation; sounds like a cleanse of sorts. I can free up the schedule and I have always glamorized the life of a monk in my fantasies…so why not.”
“My 10 day vipassana meditation retreat started with some delicious soup”…
It turned out to be really 10 nights and 11 days.
Noble silence started Day 0, after some delicious lentil soup and a meditation in the mediation hall.
Day 1 was the start of a very structured schedule that was to be followed daily. This included a morning wake-up at 4AM to the sound of a large Tibetan bell or as some would describe to be a meditation gong.
The first mediation session of everyday was from 4:30 to 6:30, followed by breakfast, breaks, lunch and more meditation.
Three group meditations a day were in the meditation hall and dinner was not really a meal but tea and fruit, which sufficed just fine, and in fact I often skipped for a nap.
I lost my appetite somewhere around day 4 and was barely eating the delicious vegetarian meals that were consumed in noble silence with a group of strangers of whom I was completely ignoring. This was including my roommate whose name I had yet to learn and wouldn’t learn until Day 10 [after all, this was a silent meditation retreat]. If someone sneezed there was no polite “Bless You,” the obligatory friendly smile as you walked by wasn’t obligatory. It took some getting used to, but I know now how completely necessary the silence was. The silence let me focus on the internal work we were doing and the inward world we were breathing in.
Evenings consisted of more mediation and the discourse of dhamma talks via video of the late S.N. Goenka.
Each day provided a progression of steps along the path and lessons of Vipassana and escaping from our own misery.
The day ended at 9:00 pm after the discourse and final mediation. My body was typically extremely uncomfortable, exhausted and unable to stay still by the evening, and I would briskly walk up the path—which was lined with ethereal weeping willows and gently lit lanterns— to the dormitory, then straight to bed to rest my aching back, knees and ankles.
Sitting still for long periods of time required more physical and mental stamina, endurance and pain tolerance than any of the running, biking, kayaking or hiking with a 40lb pack that I often do in the real world.
Day 4 of our 10 day silent meditation retreat was Vipassana day—the day we were presented the technique. On Vipasssana Day our 3 one-hour group sittings were done in complete stillness, without movement of hands, legs or opening of the eyes. The bodily sensations—throbbing and stabbing pains—felt like flames blistering my skin. These sensations were to be observed with equanimity and the knowledge of impermanence.
I did also experience pleasant sensations of vibrations, a charged flow, and a moment in which my body dissolved completely revealing the naked truth that we are made up of miniscule atoms energetically buzzing without boundaries.
There were days of euphoria—melodious notes of harp and flute following me down the path as I walked with light airy footsteps, my path illuminated by twinkling fireflies. There were many more days of agitation, painful sittings, frustration at the repetitiveness of meditation and the amount of sharp concentration required to focus and sit with oneself.
Thoughts would intrude, the lyrics of Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic” were on repeat in the background of my mind for 2 days. Fatigue made it hard to stay alert, and I would jerk my body upright to keep myself from falling over and drifting off to a dream state, but I kept at it. Kept coming back to myself, my breath, my body, and a calm mind.
On this 10 day vipassana meditation retreat, silence was the easy part…
The silence was the easy part; it was freeing, peaceful and kind. The silence was a space that I could have remained in forever. The absence of tech was a powerful bonus.
10, almost 11 days of sitting, left me feeling lighter, calmer and very much embodied and aligned. It also left me very anxious to get home, to be with my husband, to see my friends, to laugh and to connect.
When my personal items (which I had handed over Day 0) were returned to me, I was hesitant but yearning to turn on the cell phone and enter back into the loud and busy sensory fueled world.
Once I had gotten into the car and was able to call my husband I had tears in my eyes just hearing his voice. 10 days was a long period of time to be away, but, also not long enough.
The Dhamma Pakasa Vipassana Meditation Center in Illinois taught me priceless lessons while guiding me inward. Even though I missed my life, I found a way home within myself and am forever grateful.
I was truly inspired and overwhelmed with gratitude at the time when the volunteers served and cooked our meals, cleaned our dorms and laundered our sheets. The teachers and student managers all volunteered their precious days to teach us the way of vipassana so we too can benefit.
There is no price attached to this meditation course and you are welcome to donate at the end of your stay in the form of Dana [the practice of giving] so the practice can continue to be shared to all who are willing to show up with an open mind, a desire to seek happiness and calm, and the courage to face a new challenge.
Author: Jennifer Hahne
Jennifer Hahne is a converted wellness junkie post cancer diagnosis and has a passion for yoga, travel, adventuring outdoors and healthy eating. She has worked as a school psychologist in a diverse public school for 10+ years teaching mindfulness, taking students on outdoor educational trips to connect in nature and providing support to ELL and immigrant families. She is currently a board member for Expanding Lives; a non-profit empowering young women in West Africa with access to education. Jennifer received her Master of Education (M.Ed.) and Educational Specialist Degree (Ed.S.) in School Psychology from National Louis University and her Bachelor of Science (B.S.) from Indiana University
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