Vipassana silent meditation - why should you try it?
A few weeks ago I was lucky to take part in an "unofficial" Vipassana meditation. Unofficial, because it lasted "only" three days, instead of ten, as it is advised and recommended by the Buddhist monks in India and Myanmar.
I have heard of Vipassana a few times in the past and was always curious to try it, but never thought I would ever find the time and opportunity to completely detach myself from my work and life, especially as running a startup requires you to be available 24/7.
As soon as I heard of the 3-day retreat I signed up within half an hour! Because three days seemed more possible.
I was mentally preparing for the retreat and the long hours of meditation (over 25 hours altogether), as well as delegating all the work to my fantastic team at Fighter Shots, setting up out of office notifications (which I haven't done in two years since I started the business) and making sure that the whole world knows I will be offline for the three long days.
Upon arrival in a beautiful Finca in the mountains in Tenerife on a Friday morning, we got our phones, books and even pens taken away and then listened to a short debrief.
Side view from our finca
We were told to not communicate with other participants, verbally or non-verbally, and not seek eye contact either. And so it began….
We got into our first session of 90 min, we closed our eyes and were told to concentrate on the breath and feel how the air is entering our nostrils. We were also told to push away any thoughts, just blank our minds and think about the breath. I felt so happy and grateful I can finally experience this meditation after I waited so long to try it, and that I can make the best of the lockdown the UK and most of the world was in.
I did feel a little discomfort after a few minutes of sitting in a lotus position, one of my legs was getting stiff and I started to worry that I would not last much longer. But I convinced myself that pain comes and goes, and somehow the pain was soon over and I could feel grateful again. While I was in this happy state the bell ran, 90 min was over! It went so quickly that I could bet it was maybe only 20 min that passed.
A 15 min break followed, we got out of our pagoda-like tent and could enjoy beautiful ocean views from the mountain, as well as sip a ginger and lemon infusion that was so lovingly prepared by the organisers. The food and drinks were meant to help detox the body therefore there is no doubt ginger had to be on the menu!
Every following meditation session was a little longer, 1h45 and 2h respectively, and yet I still had no difficulties in blanking out my mind and just concentrating on the breath.
After those 5h15 of meditation, we got 90min of yoga, which actually isn't allowed by the official Vipassana technique, but the organisers decided to add it in, to make it easier for our bodies adjust to the intense schedule. After yoga, we had our dinner in silence and went to bed to wake up at 5 am the following day.
Because I am not a morning person, the morning was a hell. It was extremely cold too, as the temperature can drop significantly this high in the mountains and I did not have enough warm clothes on me (note to self next time). I was trying to meditate nonetheless, sleepy and in the cold and dark, waiting for the sun to rise and warm me up a little. But the bell rang at 7 am and it was still pitch dark and as cold! I was desperate. At least I survived the first session out of 8 more comings that day.
After the first session, we had breakfast, which despite being very healthy and tasty, wasn't too pleasurable because it was still so cold and dark and everything was moist from the night. However as soon as the sun rose, it was one of the most beautiful sunrises I have ever seen! And although we could not communicate with the other participants, I could feel they were as amazed as I was, as they all dropped everything and ran to the edge of the terrace to just gaze at the blue and red sky scattered by black clouds, it truly looked like tiger spots.
The rest of the day passed surprisingly easily and after almost thirteen hours of meditating, I felt really relaxed and balanced.
Sunday, the last day was a little different. Although I was a little better prepared for the 5 am session (I wrapped myself in 2 blankets!!), I started to become very impatient around midday. I started to think about what has happened in the world over the last three days? Would it be safe to go out? How are the covid cases looking? Has Boris announced anything again? Will I need to quarantine in a hotel when I return? How is the business? Is everyone ok? And this made the last mile a little tough. I even needed to "cheat" a little and leaned against a wall as I could not sit still anymore. This was a great example of how a wandering mind can actually take over and influence your body and peace.
But I endured until 5pm and I was so elated that I could experience all this, test myself and see whether I am capable of meditating for these long periods of time, but also be grateful that I could be offline for three whole days, which nowadays seems to be a luxury.
I also liked the silence, a lot more than I anticipated. Normally we are expected to do small talk with people, which for introverts can be quite exhausting. Now, we could just enjoy our meals and then just leave and go to bed. Yet, by sharing the same experiences, we would still connect with other participants in so many ways.
The experience is definitely worth recommending and hopefully within a year I will be able to join the 10 day course, this time in one of the Vipassana centers.