A Vipassana meditation course is a very intense experience. It combines self-knowledge, mastery of the mind, and a deep travel into yourself to meet both your discomforts and your happiness. It is what I lived, as I attended two 10-days silent retreats, from which I try to give you some insights.
Your experience of Vipassana Retreat will be unique…
… as my experience will certainly not be yours. But I still can tell you what might happen.
Although I’m a young meditator and I still consider myself as a beginner, I’m a two-times “old student” in the ancient Vipassana tradition. I did two retreats, and each was very different. I discussed that topic with other old students, that all reported me it is different every time you do it. Seems that for anybody, it is always a new travel into your deeper mind. If you’re the kind of person consumed by wanderlust, forget for a moment your next road-trip; try travelling 10 days on a cushion, deep-diving into your (mysterious and unknown) self.
Ten days in silence have two probable effects: the first, as I have been taught, is that it allows you to go way deeper into your inner silence, so further into your meditation, independently from the technique used. The second effect, as I personally understand it, is that it forces you to make a deep clean-up of your mind, like a spiritual purge, a kind of mind-detox. Lots of things may come up. And you’ll be for sure happy after having overcome it without running away.
Work hard to deserve the fruits of meditation
I have heard about lots of strong and amazing experiences in Vipassana. I heard about a girl that cried during her whole stay. She is said to have ended the course wonderfully happy and serene. My good friend, who attended her first course with me in India, was just done with a toxic relationship with a paranoiac (clinically ill) person, and she felt like destroyed by this long and exhausting relationship. She said that after 5 days in the course, she felt like having done 5 years of psychotherapy. Some friends had lighter experience, but were very happy about it. I personally ended managing to forgive to the only person on earth I hated (for supposedly good reasons). My Christian education taught me that you have to forgive, but, without practicing, you might know what to do, but never be actually able to do it. In the same way that you could study “swim-ology” your whole life… but the day that you will have to swim for your life, you will drown.
So don’t expect anything. Just expect to work, and work hard. Meditation is not about the objective, but about the path. Follow the right path, at your own right pace (don’t be lazy but don’t be stressed either – those are both your enemies), and you will certainly harvest nice fruits. Don’t be reluctant if the path scares you. If it is the case, I will paraphrase Susan Jeffers: “Feel the fear, and do it anyway”.
You will go out happy, and really willing to share this happiness with people. In both courses I attended, we all ended with big smiles on our faces, a kind of feeling of having gone thru the same big journey. After 10 days don’t expect to be the Dalai Lama. It is certainly not your objective either. You will be a little less ignorant than you were before. And you will have done one step on the right track. Just go on then, one step after another, and you will certainly go far.
Just do it (while being informed)
If you ask yourself whether if you could last 10 days, you’re missing the point. Ask yourself if you can do the next 10 minutes, the next hour, the upcoming morning. And you will do the next 10 minutes, the next hour, the next day, and you will find yourself much quicker than expected at the end. Think about what’s coming in the present, and do it.
Don’t ask yourself if it will be easy or difficult. If you think it will be easy, it will be easy – if you think it will be difficult, it will be difficult. The main difficulty will be the one you’re creating in your mind.
Also keep in mind that you will be surrounded by kind and caring people, working voluntarily for your happiness. You can trust them. You will be going there on your own will, and you will still be free.
I finally have to nuance a bit my recommendation, because you also have to be warned that meditation can make you go through some difficult parts of yourself. I have read about depressive people who tried mindfulnesSs meditation and went into big trouble. This effect seems not to be very documented, at least in occident, where researchers and executives have been advertising a lot these early days about meditation’s virtues. Keep this in mind: if you’re not able to face yourself, maybe you should better find somebody to help you (would it be a meditation private guide, or a therapist of any kind, whatever suits you).
If you want to know a bit more what could concretely look like this kind of retreat, I recommend reading « With Compassionate Understanding: A Meditation Retreat » written by Steve &Rosemary Weissman, a couple of meditation teachers. The agenda might differ from one school of Vipassana from another. I followed my two courses within the Dhamma.org worldwide association (from J.N. Goenka), where you practice only sitting meditation (full schedule on their website), but in the Weissman’s retreats, you practice also walking meditation, that is pretty common in the mindful techniques. Anyways, I understand that the effects are very similar from one form to another.