A lot of people have asked me about my experience on the ten day silent meditation retreat that I completed a few weeks ago (Vipassana), there’s a lot to try and capture so I will write a few posts about it. Here is my first one….
My Vipassana experience (part 1)
I first heard about Vipassana (pronounced va-pash-na) about five years ago when one of my life coaching instructors shared a story about his profound experience as a Vipassana student. His story made me curious but I had never been willing to commit ten of my precious annual leave days to attend the retreat.
Having just handed in my notice at work however, I decided to apply to the Vipassana centre on the Sunshine Coast, a few hours’ drive north of where I live, and was pleased to receive an email confirming my place.
All I knew about the course was that it involved learning a meditation technique during ten days of silence. Having previously enjoyed an (unrelated) three day silent meditation retreat I figured I had a fairly good idea of what to expect. Also a few of my friends had done Vipassana and on quizzing them all I heard were glowing endorsements.
The day of the retreat arrives and I pack some clothes and drive up to the Vipassana Centre, which is on a beautiful block of land surrounded by bush. Checking in late afternoon, I surrender my mobile phone and car keys (we are informed of this requirement beforehand so we can prepare for life without a phone, this alone would be a challenge for some people I know).
I am assigned to my room and find my roomie is unpacking on her side of the cabin. Our rooms are basic with a bed and a railing for hanging clothes. I note with joy the electric blanket on the bed as I have been warned by friends that it can get very cold here in winter. I get chatting to my roomie Simone and find that we have heaps in common, including our interest in raw food.
A light supper of soup and bread is provided for us and after that a group meeting is held for all students to welcome us and introduce us to life on Vipassana. This is the last time that we will be together as a group as there are separate dining halls and living areas for men and women.
A short while later we hear The Gong. The Gong will be the one constant throughout our ten days here. When rung its soft tone reverberates around the entire site, somehow able to penetrate through walls and gently wake us at 4am each morning. The Gong is the master of our schedule, summoning us either to the meditation hall or the dining room.
Arriving in the meditation hall we are assigned to our designated places, marked by a square of carpet on the floor and a cushion for sitting on. This ‘seat’ will become very familiar to me, the focal point of my learning as my inner journey unfolds. Men are on one side of the room and women on the other. The course is full with around 25 men and 25 women attending, some are returning students and others are new students like me. Looking around I see a real mix of people, dreadlocks, older grandma types, middle aged men, and even two pregnant women.
After a brief introduction to the course we take the Vow of Silence. No talking for the next nine days.
I’m fine with the no talking thing. I’ve actually been looking forward to the silence and I know how important it is in helping to create a quiet mind. We sit through our first hour long meditation session and I feel at ease and happy to be here. We shuffle off silently to bed, curious about what lies ahead….