Far from some fluffy-pillowed-tropical-fruit-filled-yoga-on-the-beach type of retreat, the 10-day vipassana silent meditation retreat pushes you to your limits. It's not a getaway or a vacation; instead, it's an opportunity to work hard and reap the rewards of a clearer mind and higher levels of consciousness.
And I mean work hard.
This retreat was the ultimate test: Just how committed are you to transformation and personal growth?
Days at the retreat are spent sitting inside a giant meditation hall, totally barren except for the ground, which is scattered with pillows, blankets, and meditation stools — desperate attempts by students to find at least minimal comfort during the long days of meditation spent sitting on the floor.
From 4:00 in the morning to 10:00 in the evening, students sit in the hall in quiet contemplation, observing the breath, and eventually moving their awareness through their body and observing all the subtle (and not-so-subtle) sensations they feel.
Breaks are permitted throughout the day, but they are few and far between. Lunch is served at noon, and that's the last meal of the day, with only a little bit of fruit and tea served for dinner.
No one is to talk, make eye contact, touch, or gesture toward other students; there's complete segregation between males and females; there is no phone or internet; there is no outside food, book, writing materials or cameras; there is no yoga, jogging or exercise (except walking); and, of course, there is no smoking, alcohol, or other drugs.
Essentially, we were living for 10 days in a meditation bootcamp.
I cried a lot for the first few days I was there, and I contemplated leaving. I felt lonely and the days went by at a snail's pace.
Would I do it again?
Am I grateful to have had the experience?
Often the most challenging experiences bring the greatest rewards.
This was no different with my 10-day vipassana meditation experience.
It's like when you're on vacation and you're stuck on that crowded bus with crying babies. Then that mother holding her child smiles at you from across the bus and all of a sudden the world begins to make sense. It's an unpleasant experience on the one hand, yet you had a unique connection that caused something in you to shift; you came to a deeper understanding of the interconnectedness of all humans, and suddenly the whole experience becomes beautiful.
Would you opt to go back onto the loud, smelly bus if you had the chance? Likely not.
Would you trade that experience? Nuh-uh. In fact, you cherish it.
I left the 10-day retreat with a de-cluttered mind, greater presence, more peace and a deeper appreciation for the natural beauty of the world and all of its inhabitants.
Meditation bootcamp whipped me into spiritual shape, and I will always cherish that experience.
Ever since the retreat, I've been able to go deeper into my meditations more often; and while I did not obtain "enlightenment," I'd like to think it opened me up to experiencing moments of enlightenment more frequently.
Since completing this course, I've now had just a taste of what it feels like to be free from the shackles of my mind. There's much more to learn and experience and I look forward to it all, and feel ever so grateful to have had this opportunity.
Does it always have to be so hardcore? Nah. I think I'm ready for one of those fluffy-pillowed-tropical-fruit-filled-yoga-on-the-beach type of retreats now please!
Here's to spiritual growth, in whatever form it may come. Oh, and I didn't mention: anyone can attend the 10-day vipassana meditation course, and it's completely free, including food and accommodation.
Students can give a donation at the end of the course if they wish, to support the center and to pay for a future student. Meditation centers are located all over the world.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com