Why we love: A 10-day Vipassana retreat is nothing like your average yoga get-away. For me, it was one of the hardest, but also most rewarding things I’ve ever done. The experience is deeply insightful and even life-altering for some.
During these 10 days, the sole focus is to journey inward. The environment is designed to remove all external distractions for you to direct your attention internally. The meditation technique is a form of self-observation – you train your mind to observe your inner workings – so the insights you gain are based on your own inner experiences.
Program & teachings: The wake-up gong rings at 4:00 am (!) and from then on you meditate for the most part of the day (about 10 hours daily divided into 1-hour sittings), either together in the meditation hall or in your room. Each day you get new guidance and instructions on how to progress with your meditation.
It’s a highly disciplined environment, with the main rules being:
– don’t speak to any other participant / remain in complete silence;
– put your mobile phone in a locker that you can’t access until the retreat is over;
– don’t bring books/journal/iPad…basically, don’t bring anything other than clothes and toiletries into the retreat centre.
It’s very common to want to quit and run away. I certainly did. The rules are quite extreme, but it creates a unique environment that enables the concentration required to reach deep into your subconscious mind.
The technique itself is pretty straightforward (observing the breath and sensations in the body), yet at first, until you’ve somewhat tamed your mind, the struggle is real.
The intensity of the course and isolation from all that’s familiar to you shouldn’t be taken lightly. What unfolds within can be tumultuous, intense, and scary to face. Yet there is comfort in knowing that on the other side of the difficult thoughts, old stories and suppressed emotions lie some of the greatest truths and a sense of liberation from many things that have been weighing you down in life.
The technique equips you with the tools to simply let these difficulties arise and pass until they’re fully gone. This is part of the ‘purification process’, clearing the mind and body from old knots of tension and behaviour or thinking patterns that no longer serve you.
For who: Vipassana addresses universal human struggles, like pain, suffering, and finding true happiness, therefore making it beneficial for all humans alike.
With that said, it would be naive to assume that one singular framework is beneficial for everyone. These intense programs should be approached with some caution, especially if you’ve experienced trauma or physiological problems in the past. If you are unsure of the suitability, you should reach out to ask or try another meditation approach that incorporates trauma sensitivity.
From what I’ve gathered, most people come to a Vipassana course out of curiosity about how it might improve their life in one way or another – which was also the reason I found myself there. You don’t need to have any meditation experience before going, in fact most participants on my retreat didn’t. You just need to be willing to put in the effort and do the work.
The teachings originate from the Buddha, but you won’t be asked to convert – the teachings are secularised and people of all religious beliefs are welcome (you will be asked to put these aside during the retreat time though).
Based on experience from the Dhamma Dipa center in Hertfordshire, UK although a similar experience can be expected from Vipassana centers around the world.
Vipassana Meditation as taught by SN Goenka in the tradition of Sayagyua U Ba Khin.
A personal note…
Everyone takes away something different from the experience. It’s highly dependent on your life history and what arises for you to work with each moment.
I found the course really tough and it took time for me to integrate the insights after returning home. A lot of familiar feelings of pain, anxiety, and panic bubbled up just a few hours into meditating on day 1 which made many following meditation hours hell to sit through. But through my meditation, I also experienced the transient nature of these mind-body states and their strong link to specific repetitive mental patterns of mine. I already knew this to be true from things I’ve read, but having the experiential, embodied knowing changed everything. These insights together with training my mind to observe and not react to what I experienced, started to reprogram the part of me that was triggering the same fearful reaction over and over again. In just 10 days my health anxiety was almost completely eradicated and the sensations that before could elicit a panic attack suddenly felt OK. This has been a powerful shift in my life, which is just one of the things that I take away from my first Vipassana retreat.
All in all, I’ve found this work of getting to know myself from the inside out and seeing myself truly and fully has been transformative in my life. Not like a big overnight Cinderella transformation, but if I look back I can see how it has allowed me to shape deeper connections to those around me; develop authentic confidence that is less based on external validation; access to warm and heartfelt qualities in moments of need…and so so much more.
Build up your personal wellbeing toolbox with practices, practitioners & retreats to support your journey.