At the mention of the word 'retreat', our minds naturally conjure up the images of swanky resorts, sipping cocktails on a picturesque beach or zoning out in a luxurious spa center. After an eventful year, I decided to wrap things up differently with a 10-day Vipassana silent meditation retreat.
What is a Vipassana Silent Meditation Retreat?
As I was based in Thailand, I picked a temple in Chiang Mai that offers the retreat payable by a donation basis. Here's some basic information about silent meditations retreats:
Strictly no communication in any form, no talking, no eye contact with anyone at the venue
Use of any electronic devices or communication devices is prohibited
No reading, writing or any form of entertainment is allowed
Daily morning call at 5 a.m, one hour of Dhamma talk, and one hour of chanting daily. The remaining time will be spent on meditation.
Only vegetarian meals are provided twice a day. The first meal is at 7 am and the last meal should be finished by 12 noon. Although you are expected to fast after lunch, biscuits and hot beverages are still allowed for people who get too hungry later in the day.
Additionally, you have to abstain from:
Killing (not even a bothering mosquito that is going to leave you with a distracting itch)
Intoxicants such as alcohol, drug, smoking
Eating after 12 noon
Singing, dancing, playing music, entertainment performances, wearing perfumes or physical adornments
Overindulging in sleep and luxurious places for sitting or sleeping, so no napping!
Upon hearing all of the above, most people considered this as an impossible ordeal and even call it modern-day torture. I totally get it but at the same time, I saw the value of doing this.
Personally, this is not a bucket list kind of activity or a challenge to stroke my ego. Instead, I genuinely wanted to experience solitude and silence as we've been unacquainted with them since birth. I viewed this silent retreat as a great opportunity to practice detachment towards everything in life that I've held on dearly for comfort, convenience, and enjoyment. According to Buddhism and Yoga, attachments are often the source of our suffering.
The calling came when I noticed my attachments are clouding my perspective, influencing my life choices, and hindering my personal growth. Since it isn't easy for me to stay focused and undistracted in our urban lives, I decided to reboot my life with a Vipassana meditation retreat.
Now, let's take a closer look at the agenda and benefits of this silent retreat.
Vipassana meditation and its functions:
Vipassana meditation technique is a practice that is preserved and passed along for more than 2500 years, often practiced and taught by Buddha Gautama. Vipassana holds the meaning of insight into the true nature of reality. The practice of Vipasanna meditation helps us to see things as they are, learn how to live in the present moment, ease up and let go of the selfishness that is destroying our lives and the world. Ultimately, the goal of Vipassana meditation is to lead us to the realization of humanity's highest potential which is enlightenment and liberation.
Despite its association with Buddhism, it is a non-sectarian, universal practice that can be adopted by anybody. Like yoga, it isn't dogmatic and different practitioners or teachers may infuse their teachings with their religious or cultural practices.
To prepare for my retreat, I researched on it and thought I could share a few key points about the method, Apanasati. In direct translation, Apanasati means mindfulness with breathing. In the beginning, we start with:
Exploring life through subtle awareness and active investigation of our breath and life
Learning how breath influences our physical, emotional and mental bodies just like how feelings influence our mind and actions
Contemplate any important truth or reality of nature, observe and scrutinize it within the mind while being conscious of every inhalation and exhalation
Then in the advanced stages, we'll learn about:
The mind and how it works
The secrets of life and laws of nature - Buddhists call it Dhamma
The causes of unhappiness - craving, aversion, and ignorance
The aspects of developing life - a life that is free from problems and sufferings
The tools that will help us in this development and how to enhance them
Baffling, isn't it? Trust me that you're not alone but let's just look at something more comprehensible which is the benefits of the practice.
Like other meditation techniques, Vipassana meditation offers both immediate and long-term value of both mundane and spiritual benefits to people of all stages.
Below are some of the benefits that are inherent to the practice:
Good for physical and mental health - e.g. easing tension, high blood pressure, nervousness, depression, and anxiety
Allows us to understand and observe our body acutely
Helps to eradicate psychosomatic diseases
By grounding ourselves in the basic reality of our human existence, it provides the stability we need to cope wisely with feelings, emotions, thoughts, memories, and the rest of our inner conditioning.
Releases the knots tied by the old habits of reacting in an unbalanced way to both pleasant and unpleasant situations
Helps to cultivate a gentle calm that allows us to do everything with more grace and skill
Brings us into touch with reality and nature
Meditation wasn't a natural thing for me. I had my struggles and there were times I just gave up on it because it made me more frustrated than zen. Eventually, I found my way into meditation while providing Reiki healing. During a healing session, I have to become the clearest conduit by emptying my mind to channeling the purest energy to my recipients. The experience of being fully concentrated without wandering thoughts made me realized the art of meditation. Since then, I decided to give meditation another try and I'm curious about what I would learn from this silent retreat! I hope I would be able to make the most out of it and be able to teach experientially in the future.
Till then, wish me good luck and I look forward to updating this space when I'm done on 10 November!
p.s. I would love to thank my ever-supportive husband, Joey for giving me all the love and freedom, and respecting all my life choices. ♥