9 Things I Learned From My Vipassana 10-Day Silent Meditation Retreat
I was forever changed after my own Vipassana Retreat. In silently turning inward for over 10 days, I was able to learn more about myself, life, and the world than I ever previously imagined. I went ahead and asked others who also sat about their own experiences, and what profound information they received that aided in their own transformation during the retreat, and in life. Here is what we all learned during and from the retreat.
1) Embrace impermanence.
I had trouble not focusing on the pain I was experiencing with sitting (even with my fancy meditation chair). But in learning about impermanence, about everything being temporary, I was able to sit and overcome my discomfort. Although sometimes easier said than done, this practice continues today.
“My main takeaway was that all these feelings bubbling up are not to be examined extensively but rather observed with a childlike curiosity. In other words, I was allowing my mind to give attention and then interpret such feelings and the retreat helped me realize that interpretation simply isn’t helpful. I didn’t realize how antsy I was until I sat in the meditation hall. The first two days were beyond challenging esp on a physical level. Sitting with the feeling of ants crawling all over my face was unbearable but as I continued to sit with it (without judgment) I realized just how powerful observation can be. That has helped tremendously when uncomfortable feelings of past or present traumas arise.” – Patty L., San Francisco
“I also realized just how painful it can be to sit. I am an Ironman and have been on long mountaineering trips with a heavy pack, but sitting there was extremely painful for my back and shoulders. It was to the point where unless we were in the 1 hour meditations or eating in the dining hall, I was lying in bed trying not to move. I even had the sensation that I was a sheet of wavelets. Wavelets balancing on a hot poker that was my shoulder. But eventually it worked itself out, and my right shoulder migrated to its happy new home on the final meditation of Day 10. Everything is temporary, even the worst pain ever.” – Anon.
“The most prominent lesson I learned in my first experience is that everything changes so it is important to enjoy it all; the good, the bad and the other.” – Anon
2) Take one day at a time.
Before leaving on my Vipassana retreat, I was a nervous wreck. I continuously thought to myself, how can I do this? How can I survive this? A good friend of mine, who had completed a few retreats in the past, told me to simply take things one day at a time. This is what got me through the retreat, and something I still sit on daily. We only have today, and shouldn’t stress about the future, as we do not have control over what will happen next. We should take advantage of this moment, and be extremely grateful for it.
“One day, I was walking around the walking path and I had a moment of absolute presence and was flooded with this feeling of gratitude for simply being alive. Nothing in particular happened. It felt spontaneous but the sensation and feeling was so powerful that it brought me to tears. And then it was gone and I was left feeling a bit lighter but also guilty for not always making the best out of life. I gained a deeper knowing that life is so precious and that I shouldn’t waste a moment! I came home with a determination to do the things I always said I would do but never did.” – Alison S, San Diego
3) Our misery is rooted in aversion and craving.
It is so simple, yet we make it so complicated. In creating attachments, craving, aversions or fear towards certain things, people, places, ideas, we, in turn, create our own misery. It was in completing the retreat that I realized that I wasn’t addicted to my Juul (e-cigarette), I was addicted to the feeling it created in my body. Once I figured that out, I was able to quit and haven’t looked back on it since.
“One final learning that I found most powerful stemmed from Goenka’s advice around the danger of craving the free flow state rather than just sitting and observing with equanimity. I’d been practicing meditation and qigong for over 10 years and experienced this free flow state about 6 years ago. I’d clung to that joyous feeling, wishing it would never go away. And that’s when I started hitting a wall with my practice – I wasn’t making progress and I didn’t understand why. So, learning to remain detached and simply observant while free-flowing was a huge a-ha moment!” – Patty L., San Francisco
“Guiding actions out of fear or desperation does not bring about positive results.” – Allison S, San Diego
4) The only person in control of my happiness or unhappiness is me.
This was big for me. I often attributed my happiness or unhappiness to a specific person or event. Although I can’t control what happens to me, I can sure control how I respond or react towards it. I have this freedom, responsibility and choice.
“I learned that I probably won’t go crazy. I have a tendency to dissociate and get destructive thoughts when I’m left with too much unstructured alone time (i.e., grad school was torture). I was on a mood stabilizer for 2 years but had stopped about a month before the retreat and was beginning to feel consistently anxious. I was quite worried that my thoughts would overtake me with so much reflection time, which is why I talked to our teacher each of the first several days. I never discussed any of this with her, just came in to say hi and have casual conversations to keep me grounded. But when I did once mention feeling anxious about the retreat, she put it into very simple words: [Whatever is making you anxious is not here.] I enjoyed having the time to think about that and let it resonate. The people that have harmed me and hurt me are distant now, and even when they were here, it was only my reaction which was damaging. And plus, Vipassana encourages you to dissociate a little bit, so my proclivity toward this had me achieving bhanga on Day 6.” – Anon.
5) I am mentally and emotionally stronger than I thought I was.
Before starting, I was set on not being able to ‘handle it’ and quitting. To be honest, I nearly did quit on day four. But I persevered and found out that I am strong and capable of conquering anything I put my mind to. I couldn’t be prouder of myself for completing the retreat.
“By accomplishing the 10 days, it proved to myself that I am powerful and that I can do anything I put my mind to. I was able to start a new journey, start opening up to the world, with singing my voice, venturing out (trying out for the Voice). Taking care of my debt, instead of claiming bankruptcy. Because of the retreat, it just reminded me that I am infinite. The amount of discipline I got from it, took over my life and every area. It even went to the food I ate. I started thinking about and owning everything I do. I am vegan now, I don’t drink coffee, I wake up earlier. I learned how to sit with my pain and through the meditation, learned that what will arise will pass. To let go, to really let go, then all possibilities are endless. whatever will arise shall pass.” – Janine P., Los Angeles
6) I can survive without being attached to technology, or in constant communication with people.
I found out the world, nor my heart will stop if I am temporarily detached from technology, work or the people in my life. I may have returned back to a mountain of e-mails, but everything was fine. Most of the people in my life, and even my work were supportive of my retreat and I was able to successfully settle back in, in due time.
7) Live in the moment.
As mentioned previously, we only have right now, today, and should be incredibly grateful for it. But it’s important to also not live in the past. When I brought up how I felt about the past to our teacher, she explained that we can acknowledge and learn from our past, but we do not need to dwell on it. And in all honesty, what does dwelling do for us in the long-run?
“I have learned to literally fade out pain with my thoughts which was absolutely incredible for me. And I have learned to live more in the actual moment instead of worrying about situations of the past or future. The experience itself also teaches life lessons which helps to be a better person and to not harm others.” – Verena Z., Germany
“I learned something I can’t quite describe…. it’s like I saw my own depth (?) all the layers on myself and what made up my life…and also that all of it was fleeting and weren’t who I am….It separated my experiences from my existence. I felt myself at times genuinely time travel in a sense. I went back to old memories for healing…. This was not part of the curriculum but I wasn’t there to be enlightened, I was just showing up for whatever would help me grow. I felt these experiences were important for me so I occasionally diverged from the [Vipassana] experience.” – Juliana K, Los Angeles
8) Everything and everyone is connected
I don’t think I had ever spent this much 1:1 time with nature, with little to no distractions. It was incredibly healing and brought me to the realization that we are all connected to one another, and should treat each other as an extension of ourselves.
“It was amazing to have the opportunity to connect with plants and small critters energetically. To really quiet the mind and take in all the activity happening in the natural world. For me, this really helped drive home Goenkas teachings on the law of nature/impermanence. Towards the end of the retreat, while walking, I’d look up at the sky and would immediately enter a trance-like state, almost as if I was on some sort of psychedelic. My third eye chakra felt like a wide-open portal and in those moments, I felt extremely connected to everything around me — people, plants, critters, the sky, universe, mother Earth. I remember one of the last days we were treated to the most breathtaking sunset alongside a decadent moonrise. I sat on a bench to watch this and had the most cathartic release of tears filled with love, joy, and gratitude. I’d never been so grateful to be alive and cared for before that moment in time.” – Patty L., San Francisco
9) Patience and Persistence
I have never had to have more patience with myself than during this retreat. Usually when things begin to go over my head, or are extremely challenging, I feel suffocated, and in turn, want to run away or quit. But it was in my extreme patience and persistence with myself that I was able to stop and breathe and tell myself that this too is temporary and that everything is okay. This has helped immensely in my daily life.
“How quickly I can break through barriers and grow if I [work patiently and persistently]. For example, it was fun to see the progression over the first few days while learning Anapanna. What are the things that are really important to me/that I’m unhappy if I don’t have (dark chocolate, freedom of time, privacy, enough sleep, opportunity to move my body, nature, good healthy food (we did have these last two things and I was SO grateful). That there is always more work to do (and though this can feel exhausting, it’s also, and more so, really exciting because it’s fun to continue to become more and more)!. And, how important daily practice is.” – Kim H., California
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