I just came back from a 10 day Vipassana retreat in Montebello, near Montréal in Canada. For the ones who have known me or have been reading me for a while now, I already did this Vipassana retreat three years ago. You can read (in Dutch) about my experience of the first time here.
Enthusiastic as I am, I was full of motivation to do this retreat again. The evening of the day of arrival the course started and we weren’t allowed anymore to talk or look at each other or make any other contact. At a Vipassana retreat you are not allowed to make contact with each other, listen to music, talk, read, write, watch movies, do exercise,... actually you can’t do anything else except meditating, eating, sleeping, taking a shower or going for a walk in the woods.
I was sleeping in a room with three other ‘old’ students and we all had our own private section in the room - which made it comfortable for the moments we could meditate in our room instead of the meditation hall.
4 am the next morning, the gong. Time to wake up. As a zombie I walk with all the other students to the meditation hall to start the first meditation of the first day. Finding my spot and taking a few pillows with me I was ready to start. The first meditation instructions were given and very rapidly I was like: “why on earth did I decide to do this retreat AGAIN?”. And that became my irritation of the first two days. I didn’t wanna be there. I had forgotton it was one of the most hardcore things I’d already done in my life and now I had decided to do it again. It was so hard. So so hard. Not because of the silence (well, the chattering in my mind broke that silence in a way), not because of the strict rules, the withdrawal of everything or the jail feeling. No, nothing of all of that. It was about the confronting battle of my own mind that had started again.
It’s funny in a way if you think about it - that one of the most difficult things is being confronted with your own mind, your own pain, in silence, while sitting. Well, that’s basically what I did the last ten days. The good thing about this retreat is that every day, step by step, you get guided in the meditation technique to become your own mind master. Not that you become a master of your mind after this retreat right away, but you slightly feel progress.
On the third day, I felt my mind calming down a bit - thanks to no input. That’s one of the benefits of not talking and reading etc. But still, I couldn’t believe how creative my mind was and how it wouldn’t shut up. Oh, what I would do after this retreat and hmm, I may not forget to leave the keys, how would my grandma be doing, then I am drinking coffee in Belgium with a good friend and then I am in a past memory as a child where I felt ashamed, why am I thinking so much- I need to follow my breath,...ooohh coconut water, how I miss that and then back to this place to that place, from this person to that person, from that wish to that plan, from that memory to that situation or future idea. Shut uuuuupp!!! Oooooh, the mind, how it likes to jump around the whole time, how it never stops...
The fourth day I really had the feeling I had a surgical mental operation. We learned a next step in the meditation technique and when I came out of the meditation hall I was completely blank, knocked out. There was just nothing. No thought, just nothingness. It felt like energetic healings I had had in the past, kind of a reboot that happened. Yeah, this was super strong working with the mind.
The days passed by, minutes seemed like hours sometimes. When was this ever going to end. I enjoyed my walks in the woods. It was funny to see how people became so fascinated with the little animals or beauty in nature. We had time to stop and look around. In the meditation hall I would look around and see all these other meditation students, sitting perfectly, eyes closed. It always seemed everyone else was meditating perfectly and I was the only one battling with my mind. I wished I could have entered other peoples minds sometimes, just to remind myself I wasn’t crazy and that everyone was going trough the same battle.
The sixth day I had kind of a breakthrough. I was making my tea and my friend, whom was there too, was making tea right next to me. And I was missing her so much, while she was just standing next to me. I went to sit somewhere, staring outside to the beautiful trees, with my wandering mind and my hot tea. I didn’t want to be there and my mind went off again to all these fun things I could have done during these ten days. I didn’t want to be there. And then suddenly I had a little conversation in my mind: ‘why don’t you want to be here? You chose to be here, people are cooking for you, you can have good sleep, spend some time to yourself, walk in the woods, there is peace, the sun is shining’, I answered: ‘yeah, but I don’t feel good’. ’Ah, that’s something else. Well, it’s okay if you don’t feel good.’ the other voice replied. Then BAM, I started crying. And I couldn't stop for a while. It’s okay if I don’t feel good. I felt such a relief. I was keeping myself too strong. And now I was letting myself feel how I was feeling. That’s also how the feeling dissappeared and I started feeling different again. I had motivation to go on.
The days after weren’t perfect. I still had my thoughts coming up, I still could have some pain. But it was so much easier to apply the technique and to experience peaceful and blissful moments. Learning how to truely accept that everything comes and goes is a very valuable lesson. This pleasant sensation comes and goes, this painful lifesituation comes and goes, this feeling comes and goes, pleasant or unpleasant. The impermanence of life.
The tenth day, when we could talk again, my roommate asked me if I was German. While I was trying to figuere out how she could know I wasn’t Canadian because we never talked, she started explaining me that I talk in my sleep and that it sounded German. She was saying how funny it was because the other roommate also talked in her sleep and sometimes she would ask questions in her sleep, like: “Jane, where are you?” and then I would go on with my Dutch talking - as if I was replying to her. We laughed together.
This tenth day was an amazing day because we could share our experiences with each other. It’s incredible how close I felt to these women, even though we hadn’t talked for all these days. There was so much laughter and joy, enjoyment of the little things and the realization of how other people add so much to your life. And observing all these women I found them so much more beautiful while smiling.
When I left the Vipassana centre, I left with a very peaceful, accepting, loving, stable, light energy. These ten days brought me so much. And little by little, I completely understood again why I decided to do the retreat for a second time.
"Let difficulty transform you. And it will. In my experience, we just need help in learning how not to run away" - Hma Chödrön
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I cannot desribe into words the profoundness of this Vipassana retreat. I strongly believe it’s something you have to experience.
If you are interested in doing a Vipassana course, there are courses everywhere in the world. You just need to have time and motivation. Money is not an excuse because it’s donation based. If you want to know more, there are interesting documentaries about it: ‘the Dhamma brothers’, ‘Doing time, Doing Vipassana’ and all the other information you need is on the website: https://www.pajjota.dhamma.org