It has been more than a month since I came back from a 10 days Vipassana silence retreat in the beautiful mountains of Styria, Austria. Vipassana is an old Indian meditation technique and was brought back to a broader public by S. N. Goenka a few decades ago. You can find meditation centres worldwide, in nearly every country.
During the retreat, I spent 10 days meditating roughly 9 to 10 hours a day. The most challenging for me was not the complete isolation from the outside world but sitting for so many hours every day. My legs hurt tremendously during the first couple of days. I tried to compensate this by walking as much as possible in the small outside area every day. I never thought my body needs that much exercise but I was proven wrong.
Vipassana meditation is based on Buddhistic principles but distances itself from other religious or sectarian movements. Nevertheless, it includes a few principles which I think are contradictory, e.g. that there’s only one true path (claimed by other religions as well) to enlightenment through this way of meditating. All the principles are taught in input sessions every evening during the retreat so you don’t need any upfront experience in meditation or Buddhism. I didn’t either, except with Headspace a bit.
Although the 10 days didn’t seem that long overall, every day was stretching out quite long as we got up at 4 am with two hours meditation before breakfast. Bed time was at 9:30 pm. It’s doable but my personal rhythm as a night owl was clearly challenged as well as my mental strength. You really need determination and perseverance to push through every single day. It’s hard but very rewarding as well.
Before the retreat, a good friend told me that I will experience an extraordinary calm and state of mind. I was very sceptical but realised that I had found it when I hiked in the fantastic mountains in Mariazell, Styria, right after the final day of the retreat. I couldn’t believe that I had really done it, that I had really pushed through the 10 days! Whoop, whoop! I felt proud and wonderfully light-hearted.
It still feels surreal to know that I spent 10 days in complete silence (ok, ok, we could already speak during the tenth day to get used to the real world again). The following two weeks after the retreat were a real challenge, especially because I went to massive Bucharest a few days afterwards. Everything was so loud and exhausting!
Back in reality and in a busy environment, the biggest challenge for me is to maintain that calm state of mind and the meditation routine. Building up the important concentration to advance in Vipassana is hard and it takes more than 10 days to stabilize your meditation routine. The benefits of Vipassana are only maintained if you go on a retreat at least once a year and if you meditate regularly twice a day. I struggle to maintain this routine and to keep out the craziness and information overload of daily life.
The retreat hasn’t given me all the answers I was looking for but it taught me some valuable principles and patterns. A lot of those principles should be the basis for our life, e.g. true respect for others and banning negativity from your life (in Vipassana this is called developing ‚equanimity’ aka stoicism). It means that your ultimate goal in life should be to purify your actions and thoughts from all envy and negativity. This also includes the reduction of your ego and your desires. You should accept things you can’t influence (very hard for me!) and live in the present, not in the past or focusing only on the future. I can’t remind myself too often about the importance of those principles!
All in all, I can highly recommend a silent retreat, the more days the better! There are others beside Vipassana but the big advantage of the latter is that you don’t need to pay upfront. You can contribute as much money as you wish or can after finishing the retreat. Vipassana retreats are run completely on a volunteer basis and depends on the donations of the ‚old students’ for financing the food and rent of the locations etc.
Have you been to a silence or meditation retreat? If yes, what was your experience? Looking forward to your comments 🙂
© All photo rights belong to Kathleen Fritzsche.