I recently undertook a Vipassana meditation course in Georgia, USA. A Vipassana course lasts for 10 days, during which you learn a specific type of meditation (Vipassana); the aim of which is to change the habit pattern of the unconcious mind. The course is a ‘silent’ course, meaning you do not talk, nor communicate with anyone, except to ask the teacher a question or to the house manager if you have any housekeeping issues. Other than that; despite sharing a bedroom, dining and meditating space with 40 other people, it is complete silence. Also you must also surrender your phone. No TV, not even reading nor writing material. Sounds like torture right? Well for me, I can honestly say it’s one of the best things I ever did for myself and I absolutely recommend it to anyone healthy enough to participate.
I first heard about a Vipassana in 2014 when I was doing a work away in Malaysia from other travellers who had completed a course. They didn’t give too many details, a kind of Fight Club vibe (first rule is don’t talk about it) but the all highly recommended it. This intrigued me and the idea of ‘having a break’ from the outside world sounded very appealing. I investigated doing one, but long story short it didn’t work out. I totally forgot all about it until last year. A close friend came across it and signed up for a course; this reignited my interest and this time universe conspired to make it happen. I now realise that back in 2014 there was no way I was ready for that experience. You gotta trust in the (Ciara) Devine timing of things. (For anyone who is reading this that isn’t a friend, that’s my name!).
Now it’s time for a disclaimer, if you wish to continue reading, I must advise that I am sharing MY experience of Vipassana, everybody is different, if you did a Vipassana and disagree with what I say, grand, then you’ll know already every persons perspective is different. If you decide to do a Vipassana, please do not create any expectations based off of what you are about to read.
So I hadn’t done much research and by much I mean ANY. Of course I prepared for the practicalities; how I was going to get there (I travelled from Barbados), what I needed to bring and prepped to be off the radar for 10 days. I figured–what’s the worst that can happen? Sure it’ll be great to keep my mouth closed for 10 days. I’m very glad I didn’t research, because if I had of realised how intense and much hard work it was going to be, I’ll be honest I don’t think that’s how I would have chosen to spend my Christmas vacation! But for reals, don’t let me put you off it, it’s totally worth it in the long run.
A Vipassana course is free, it relies solely on the donations of students who have completed the 10-day course (I say completed, because some don’t make it). You are asked to give only what you can afford, and what you feel it is worth so that someone else can benefit from a course.
On the first day you sort out the practicalities. As it’s donation-based, you will probably be sharing a room, so you have a few hours to chat to your roommate. In the evening, the part I was most apprehensive about, you have to hand in your phone. I had no fear about not talking for ten days, (some days I dream of this!), but being without my phone I thought was going to be really hard. Well how wrong I was, I instantly felt a sense of freedom when I relenquished it. My nearest and dearest had the phone number for the centre in case of emergencies, so what else is there really?
We had our first gathering in the meditation hall and watched a video by a man called, S.N Goenka. Finally I was finding out what this was all about.
Vipassana meditation is a Buddhist technique, but you don’t have to be Buddhist to do it, and it in fact welcomes other religions to participate. It is my understanding that there are some styles of meditations or spiritual practices that conflicts with this technique, so you are asked to leave those aside if you wish to try Vipassana. They say it’s like trying to ride two horses at the same time, one foot on one horse one on the other; you gotta just pick a horse. Noble silence begins on the first evening and is ‘broken’ on the last day. It was difficult initially as it’s our habit to communicate, even with body language and eye contact, but pretty quickly everyone seemed to adjust. Meals are prepared by old students, known as ‘servers’, which is another type of charitable act–they devote their time so other students can benefits from the course. Meals (which were delicious I might add!) were served buffet style in a small kitchen dining area. What was really interesting was to see how 40 people can navigate around a small space and form orderly queues…..with no communication! I’ve seen more chaos in ‘the real world’ with fully vocal people trying to board a bus.
Every day of the Vipassana followed the same timetable starting at 4:30 am finishing at 9 pm. Each day consisted of a total of 10 hours meditation, with a few breaks and a discourse video of about 90 minutes where S.N Goenka discusses the technique and chats about morality. Prior to starting the course, I thought I was going to catch up on a lot of rest after a particularly busy few months at work, sure I’ll just be sitting there right? So wrong. Do not pass go, do not collect $200.
To find out what it was really like, I’ll share the more about the Vipassana Retreat and how it impacted my life next week.