The first time I heard about Vipassana meditation was back in 2014 when my friend and business partner decided to take a break in a hectic startup world and realign his values and vision for life.
I've never been that much into meditation and taking a 10-day course seemed like a very strange thing.
It felt like it's highly connected with religion and as I am not very particularly religious I thought it may not be for me, however, after reading numerous of articles about successful people and their routines I've noticed that they practice mindfulness and meditate daily.
I had to give it a try.
Just before starting my digital nomad adventures I started meditating using Calm app. I didn't find it particularly impressive so it didn't stick with me.
Later I've discovered Headspace. I liked that Andy Puddicombe explained everything in a simple, yet meaningful way.
After a while I learned these things about meditation:
- You don't have to force yourself to stop thinking.
- Thoughts will never disappear, you need to let them come and go.
- It's about focusing on the present and not worrying about the past and future.
- You don't need to change anything (thoughts, emotions, and feelings) – just accept them.
- Our mind is like a clear sky, but there are clouds from time to time, meditation helps get back the clarity we want.
After some sessions, I've started to notice the benefits of taking the time to observe the environment, breathe and relax.
I've been meditating for years now, quite inconsistently, though.
I'm always agitating my friends to try it out, just for three days and then quit if they don't see the benefits.
Why Would I Consider Going Silent for 10 Days?
It's always a great idea to stop, look back where you have been, think about where you are going and reflect on your life, relationships and surrounding world.
I'm extremely grateful for the people in my life and my current position that allows me to travel the world, improve myself in every possible way and build a business that not only supports my ventures but also helps people.
I haven't really had holidays for years and disconnecting from all the electronic devices, internet and people sounded like a good idea to evaluate everything I've done, experienced and learned.
I think it's a good idea to restart myself, calm down and get down to the essentials to understand what is truly important for me and find out what I want in life.
What Is Vipassana Meditation Technique?
Vipassana meditation is an ancient practice taught by Buddhas, in which mindfulness of breathing and of thoughts, feelings and actions are being used to gain insight in the true nature of reality.
It is often translated as “insight” or “clear-seeing,” it also may mean “seeing deeply.” – Wikipedia
After coming to Northern Thailand, a beautiful city in the mountains called Chiang Mai, I knew it was the time to finally do it.
One Saturday afternoon, after watching “Seven Years In Tibet” I've made my mind and booked a room to attend the Vipassana silence meditation course for 10 days.
What Is a Silent Retreat?
The course is very strict and comes with clear guidelines for meditators:
- You're not allowed to mix the practice with other meditation techniques or yoga, tai chi, aerobics.
- No smoking and drinking alcohol.
- No solid food after midday.
- No speaking with people.
- No reading, writing, listening to music, using internet, telephone.
- 5 am: Wake up time
- 5:30 am: Dhamma talk
- 7 am: Breakfast
- 8 am: Morning meditation
- 11 am: Lunch
- 12:30 pm: Afternoon meditation
- 1:30 pm: Meditation report
- 2:30 pm: Afternoon meditation
- 6 pm: Evening chanting
- 7 pm: Evening meditation
- 9 pm: Day ends
How I Felt Before and Throughout the Course?
I was quite nervous and scared of the experience.
I tried to calm myself down by telling that it's good for me. It's a break from the world and all the noise. After all it's just spending time on my own and developing myself.
I was confident I could do it and I made a promise to myself. No matter how hard it would be, I wouldn't quit.
The first couple of days were extremely hard.
I was bombarded with my old habits and cravings for instant gratification, like social media, coffee, the internet, music, reading, and eating whatever available at any time.
First seven days were going very slowly and my mind was going crazy. All the memories, thoughts, feelings and emotions were mixing up and making a big noise in my head.
I was thinking about all sorts of things. Moments that I hated when I was a kid, I would find enjoyable. Like washing dishes after Christmas lunch with my family, because I could recall that warmth and connection with my family, I could recall how much love I have in this world even when some adversity comes along the way.
After numerous of Dhamma talks, which are the teachings of Buddha taught by a monk I learned to forgive myself, let go, accept things as they are and move on.
If you are sad to the world, the world is sad for you, but if you smile to the world, the world smiles for you.
On the morning of the 8th day, I felt a strange relief, thanks to a monk who was telling that we forget to relax when meditating. We just do it because it's good for us but don't really enjoy it.
It was the breakthrough point for me.
I accepted everything.
I accepted the fact that I'm spending my time in the meditation center voluntarily and I came to enjoy the experience, relax and find myself.
On the last day I knew, I love my life how it is.
There are so many incredible things that happened to me already, so many people I love surround me and there is not much I want to change.
I just need to appreciate it more, express my gratitude and show people that I care.
Meditation is a never-ending practice and my goal is to never stop purifying my mind, praising the moment and seeing more clearly.
Lessons I Learned
Recognition of emotions. I can identify my emotions and feelings better and not get angry for being sad. Instead, I can get to the root of sadness, understand that it comes from the past and just let it be. With time, it will dissolve.
A sense of calmness. I'm calmer and can enjoy things more by simply doing them slower and reminding myself about the present moment. If I'm drinking coffee, I can notice and repeat in my mind, “I'm drinking coffee, drinking coffee, drinking coffee,” to bring back thee focus on present moment and prevent my mind from circling around.
The suffering and negative emotions come from me, not other people. I've learned that people don't hurt me. I hurt myself by poisoning my mind with negative emotions and simply blaming other people or the world for whatever bad happens to me.
Increased awareness of the inner monologue and disguised thoughts. Sometimes I was just sitting, staring at the tree and thinking nothing (at least I thought I was thinking nothing). After some time, I started to uncover thoughts that were running circles in my head and I was simply not aware of them. Meditation allowed me to become more aware of thinking.
I see worrying and problems differently. Before the meditation retreat I'd get stressed about my personal and professional goals, about all the possible bad scenarios that can happen to my health, family, friends, and future. Meditation reduced that stress.
I've learned to move on. Most of the Dhamma talks were emphasizing the fact that life goes on, you may have lost everything but your mind, so all you need to do is to move on. Good or bad, it will always change, find the strength and move on.
Forgiving myself. I'm very competitive and have big dreams. I used to beat myself up and feel guilty for not delivering on plans, not achieving as much as I potentially could. I learned to enjoy the process, be proud of my work because no one is perfect. Someone had to remind me that.
I've learned to enjoy being on my own. I've never ever in my life have been separated from human interaction for so long. There was no one to speak to, no one to listen to, just me and my crazy thoughts. Sometimes I'd bring up sad memories, sometimes happy memories, sometimes angry ones, but at the end it was all me and my mind. I can't run away from it so being more aware of it and accepting everything had made me more relaxed.
I don't need to constantly look for quick fixes. There is no way you can do something and expect a miracle happening. Whatever you decide to give up or learn, remember that it's a long process. Take it step by step and you'll start seeing results.
The world slowed down. I don't have that extreme urge to consume, experience one thing and move on to the other one. I'm more aware of the urgency and have enough willpower to say no, slow down, take a deep breath and be present, even if just for a short moment.
I can sit still longer. I can focus on things longer. I can ignore urges, like scratching, feeling hot or cold, feeling emotionally high or low and just focus on whoever is speaking. I can pay more attention to whatever is happening and bring myself back from wandering in my thoughts.
Want to Take the Course?
If you ever consider doing a Vipassana retreat, simply Google it to find the nearest Buddhist centre, or check the Vipassana Meditation website.
If you're visiting Chiang Mai, check Doi Suthep Vipassana Meditation Center. All meditation courses run by donation.
How you decide to reflect and slow down it's your decision.
Originally published on 5 November 2015.