Tips for Your First 10 Day Vipassana Silent Meditation Retreat
After recently returning from my second 10-day silent meditation retreat, I’ve been inspired to share my experiences and some advice for anyone considering a retreat. To learn more about Vipassana in general (+ read about my two experiences), you can click here.
Tips for Your First 10 Day Silent Meditation Retreat
1. Wake up at 4am every morning for the first meditation
There are only about 3-6 hours per day where you are required to meditate in the hall; all the other times are optional meditation in the hall or in your room. The morning gong rings at 4am and you have until 6:30am breakfast to meditate in one of the two. Always head to the meditation hall for this first meditation. Whether you have a great meditation or not, it sets you up for a diligent practice the rest of the day. There’s basically no way you’re in your room at 4:30am and not sleeping. Seeing people in the hall vehemently putting in the work will inspire you to work as well.
2. Don’t try and meditate in your room (always opt for the hall)
Same reasoning as above, basically don’t trust yourself to actually meditate in your room when given the option. Not only is the energy of the meditation hall inspiring, but rooms are generally noisier (some people are always cheating and doing other stuff) and you will be much more likely to bail on your practice. You’re better off having a shitty mediation in the hall than totally giving up and just hanging out in your room. One of my best meditations happened after 75% of the 3 hours was spend totally monkey-brained in the meditation hall, but the strength of the group pushed me to keep trying and it blew my mind.
3. Respect noble silence
Noble silence is one of the rules of Vipassana, and it’s more than just not speaking. Noble silence is really about keeping to yourself completely: no eye contact, no sign language, no written notes, no suggestive anything. The extent to which you should be interacting with your fellow meditators is perhaps holding the door if someone is directly behind you, and not actually interacting with them (no thank you, no looking back). The course is set up so you have genuinely no reason to communicate verbally or nonverbally at all. Showers will have sign up sheets if they are limited, everything is explained.
4. STAY FOR ALL 10 DAYS
I know it sounds like common sense but inevitably, people always leave. My heart breaks for them because I too have lows, but you cannot properly understand the potential of this technique without experiencing the whole 10 days. If you’re thinking of leaving, always wait until the next morning before even considering telling the manager. The nightly Dhamma talks breathed life into me, even on my weakest days. I would actually say it is dangerous to leave early. Vipassana is like performing surgery on your mind, and without completing the surgery (and learning Metta on the last day) you are essentially opening yourself up and walking out of the operation table with an open wound. Don’t do it!
5. Don’t go to Vipassana for anyone but yourself
I’ve heard many of stories where people attend the course because their partner is a dedicated Vipassana meditator. One girl I met at this past course came because her boyfriend had done multiple retreats, and she didn’t make it through the course. The 10 days are intense and if you feel like you owe it to someone to achieve something— you will have an even harder time. I can imagine it would really add another layer of confusion and distraction to the experience, in the same way that paying for the retreat would. You begin to have expectations… all in all: go to Vipassana when you are ready. Go to immerse yourself in the wisdom of Dhamma. Go for yourself, and no-one else.
6. Embrace the madness / surrender to the experience
It’s going to be a wild 10 days. You’re no doubt going to feel the highest of highs and lowest of lows, because if you follow the instructions and work diligently, you will be taken on a serious journey. Don’t expect a walk in the park: the experience is difficult. But if you listen to the instructions, and work patiently and diligently, you will come out the other side with life changing insight and wisdom.
The technique only works if you put in the effort. There are times that feel like total madness, I remember walking in the meditation hall some mornings later in the game at 4:15am and just bursting into laughter. It felt like an insane asylum.
And of course there are the low times where you go from having a great meditation to feeling like you have no idea what you’re doing. Take it one meditation at a time, don’t be hard on yourself. Keep your heart light, and know that you’re only there for 10 days! Give it your all and see how much you can get out of it + establish yourself in the technique before you leave.
7. No Scents
Avoid any perfumes (natural or otherwise), body creams with heavy scents, or anything that has odour in general. The meditations are hard enough without having someone’s scent wafting in your nose. You may like the smell but A) someone else might not and B) if everyone wore scents it would be a brutal.
8. Bring slippers
You’ll be taking your shoes on/off about every hour starting at 4am. This last retreat I had my sneakers and let me tell you— it’s not the best. Bring a pair of slippers, slides, or croc-type shoes you can easily slip on and off. Flip flops would be OK too but you’ll probably be wearing big socks so if you invest in some slides, you’ll be golden.
9. If you can’t sleep: don’t fret
To be honest I didn’t have much problems sleeping, but some people do. Your body is processing a lot during these 10 days, and so if you’re hit with some insomnia, just practice anapana meditation (focus on the breath). Like you are taught in the course: if you take a physical problem and dwell on it mentally, the problem becomes much larger.
10. Don’t eat too much
If you overeat, your meditation will suffer. Breakfast is served at 6:30am, lunch at 11am, and for new students, fruit is served at 5pm. If you don’t have experience with intermittent fasting, perhaps you want to practice a bit before going (start having dinner 4 hours before bed time). But don’t worry— you’ll be fine. Don’t over stuff yourself worrying you may be hungry later, it will just ruin your day.
11. Success isn’t in which sensations you achieve: it’s simply remaining equanimous no matter what you feel
You will learn more once you attend the course, but you will likely experience very pleasant sensations during some of your meditation. There is this undeniable underlying feeling that when you achieve these states, you’re learning more about the technique. But the goal is not achieving these pleasant sensations, its simply remaining equanimous (non-reactive) to all the sensations (whether they are pleasant or unpleasant). Even if your mind is running at 100 miles per hour and you have the worst meditation of your life: keep calm and move right along. Don’t judge yourself, don’t dwell, don’t hate on yourself. Just take it moment by moment!
It’s probably part of the modern rat race mentality to think that you need to amass mountains of wealth to be happy/ successful. The idea of a ‘free’ meditation retreat is often what lights people up. But this program is made possible by donations by students who have completed the course, so that others may enjoy the benefits in the future.
There is no set amount you should or shouldn’t donate, but you’re invited to donate based on your means. Trust me, I know it’s easy to think you’re in a place of lack and don’t have enough to donate much— but be honest with yourself. Have you gone out to dinner and dropped $40+ on a meal? Have you gone out to the bar and spent $100+ in a night? Vipassana centers house and feed you for over 10 whole days, and is run completely by volunteers. When you give from a pure heart, with no expectations of receiving anything in return— you win more than you give away. There is more to wealth than material possessions and monetary accumulation. Donate generously, the cause is so pure and so powerful.