The most difficult challenge of my life was to take on this ten day meditation course.
Having never done meditation before, it seemed a bit mad to jump straight in the deep end and do a ten day meditation course. To not speak for the entirety of the course and to only eat vegetarian food seemed, especially for me, terrifying. Here is an in depth review of my experience of a ten day meditation course.
It sounded crazy that it’s completely free! Ten days meditation instruction free, accommodation free, food and drink free, this isn’t real is it! The course is run entirely from the generosity of people’s donations.
Wanting to be alone? Certainly doing this would achieve that, as any sort of technology is not allowed.
What Else is Forbidden?
- No Phones – Any form of communication is not allowed.
- No Sex – Any physical contact is off limits.
- No Eating Meat – Meat is generally considered to contain impurities in Buddhism.
- No Looking Into Other People’s eyes – This counts towards a form of communication.
- No Alcohol or Drugs – No intoxicants are permitted during the course.
- No Physical Exercise – Only walking is allowed, where a specified area is provided.
- No Writing or Listening to Music – There are enough distractions in your mind, this just further adds to it.
- No Pictures or Videos – You’ll have to hand in camera’s etc.. at the start of the course.
Here Is The Daily Schedule
Knowing we would have to meditate for 10½ hours every day for ten days, it freaked me the hell out. I know the experience of a ten day meditation course was going to be insanely hard. Having always been criticized for having absolutely no concentration, I really wanted to see what I could do to help that. Having skills to be able to quiet the mind, was something I was thinking about, also it would be something I could use for the rest of the life.
History of the Vipasanna Movement
Whilst Vipassana (insight) itself began in India over 2500 years ago, the Vipassana movement is a relatively modern branch of Theravāda Buddhism. It came into prominence in the 1950’s and as the west popularised it, the mindfulness movement was started. Vipassana is the art of becoming more aware of yourself and the world around you through meditation.
Today there are meditation retreats all over the world, anyone can join no matter what faith you are. The retreats are run by volunteers that work tirelessly to give people the most rewarding time possible.
A couple of hours east of Caracas is a town called La Victoria. After arriving in La Victoria and stepping off the bus, with my map in my hand I made my way up a long winding road until finally, I arrived at the Vipassana meditation course.
Deep in the Venezuelan Countryside
I gingerly entered a large wooden house. I was told to go through to the garden at the back. Everyone was wearing long hippie-style trousers and talking deeply about spirituality. I felt so far out of my depth, and I wanted to turn around and leave immediately.
Men and Women Separated
After overcoming my initial nervousness, I moved my essentials to the sleeping quarters. Men and women slept and ate in different areas, but both could hear the large bell ringing out across the complex at 4.30am to signify the start of meditation.
The rooms were basic and there were six other guys in the room with me. I really felt, I was back in my college days.
Upon arrival we had to hand in our phones and sign some paperwork:
The Meditation Hall
Waking up the earliest I had in a long time, we all made our way to the meditation chamber. Grabbing a cushion, we started.
The ‘‘first practice hour’‘ was all about the breath and the sensation around the lips, homing into every feeling. This was really tough as I had never done anything like this before. My mind was wandering everywhere and I found it hard to center it back to the breath.
The Guru (the only person you are allowed to speak to) told me to be patient as only with time can you develop the focus required, so you shouldn’t belittle yourself for not being able to do it effectively.
Entering Noble Silence
As you’ve probably gathered by now, speaking is not allowed. And this goes for any sort of communication, whether it is spoken, written or sign language. The idea is for self learning in isolation.
The moment we entered noble silence was when we started that first morning of meditation. I must say knowing for the next straight 10 days in silence was freaking me the hell out!
The First Breakfast
The first breakfast was extremely strange as you must not only refrain from speaking, but also from making eye contact with anyone. Eating in silence with strangers was surreal, but also effortless as there was no need for annoying small talk at all!!!!
Sleeping that evening was incredible. After meditating for the first time in my life, and on top of that, doing it for eight hours, made my mind like jelly. Waking up the next morning feeling rejuvenated, we were back at it and another ten hours was in front of us.
Days Two and Three
After focusing on the breath and the sensation around the lips on day one, day two and three were focused on your breath and head. This involved focusing your attention on each part of your head as you become aware of all the sensations that you are feeling.
The whole point of Vipassana is to accept your reality and to not fabricate anything. So if you are feeling hot, cold, numb or even in pain, you concentrate on that feeling over and over. The resident guru told us over and over the mind is a muscle, and over time this process becomes easier.
The Guru said
“As our lives are so chaotic, we leave ourselves little time to focus on ourselves and how we are feeling. If we can develop this, we will better understand ourselves and the world around us.”
Even though we weren’t allowed to talk, we could certainly listen fine. At the beginning and ending of every session, an old Indian man chants on the loud speakers around the chamber. We then repeat the chant.
Days Five and Six
At lunchtime on day five, someone dropped a fork and out of nowhere people were giggling and laughing. It seemed that after a build up of five days of not talking, there had been a pressure valve that was released. Like a party popper exploding, everyone let loose and it was bedlam. A sudden outpouring of emotion that was so raw, it made me feel as if we should all radically think about how we live our lives and what actually truly brings us joy.
The Walking Area Was So Important
For me the middle days were so difficult, knowing that there was still so long left, and on top of that you were hurting so much. Having an area not to be around other people, and fully switch off and contemplate how you could use the lessons learnt from the experience in your own daily life.
Day Seven, Eight, Nine
I really wanted to quit, but I kept going through the aches, pains and a longing to speak to someone, anyone other than a Guru. A chat about the mundane, football, the murder rate in Caracas, anything.
For me the distraction for huge during these days, anything to take me off the pain I was feeling, but again as were told so many times before, back to the breathe blah blah blah ……
As we approached the end, and the ruminating about life continued, we were told by the guru about craving. The desire to want something, no matter if you get it or not has a negative influence on your life.
When you want something and you aren’t able to get it, you become despondent. We are constantly judging ourselves and other people’s lives. As much as possible it’s so important to try and swerve this toxic feedback loop where ever possible.
By focusing on the present, as being thankful for what we have, goes along way to achieving this.
What a relief! After leaving noble silence and entering noble speech, it was awesome being able to speak to other people. There was a great outpouring of emotion of people discussing their experience of the ten day meditation course. Some highlights were being better able to tame the mind to being more effective at dealing with loss and grief.
Two highlights from my experience of a ten day meditation course
It’s alright to feel crap basically. Life is constantly shifting and changing. If you are feeling down, it won’t go on forever. The important thing is to be connected to these emotions.
Rather than obsessively thinking about the past and future, being in present offers feelings of being contented on many levels. The only place free of anxiety and worry is in to stay in the present.
Looking for a course need you
There are courses all over the world, Find one for you! https://www.dhamma.org/