Are you interested in clearing your mind and getting some serious quiet time? If so, perhaps you should consider a Vipassana retreat for your next “get away.” Vipassana is an ancient technique of meditation, rediscovered over 2,500 years ago by Gotama, the Buddha. In an unbroken chain, stretching forth from the Buddha,Vipassana Meditation is taught today by, Mr. S.N. Goenka. He has shared the technique with tens of thousands of people, including his appointed teachers, from all races and religions, all over the globe.
Vipassana Meditation technique is taught during ten day retreats which take place around the world. The technique, which is not aligned with any specific sect or tradition, was shared by the Buddha as a universal remedy for universal woes. In other words, this is the meditation for every man.
Please understand, this is no vacation. The word retreat generally conjures up images of catching up on your reading by the pool, spa treatments, intimate conversation with a lover by candlelight, steaks and champagne. There will be none of that. In fact, think of Vipassana as more of a literal retreat from the world. For ten days, you will live as a monk. What does living like a monk entail, you may ask?
- Number one, the Vipassana Meditation course involves a schedule. From sun up until sundown, there are specific times for specific activities. The majority of the day is spent in meditation practice.
- There is no meat available. Each day, students are fed delicious vegetarian fare for breakfast and lunch. There is no dinner served, just a light tea in the late afternoon. While you can eat as much as you like, stu- dents are encouraged to keep the body and mind light by not overeating.
- By the way, all ye fellow caffeine heads, there are no intoxicants or stimulants allowed, so that means you must forgo your daily cup o’ joe.
- When it comes to stimulants, you will find how many non-chemical attachments you really have when you have to go 10 days without reading, surfing the internet, talking on the phone, listening to music, making music, making art, the list goes on and on… Even vigorous exercise is off limits!
- Men and women are kept separate, living in totally different areas, and meditating on opposite sides of the communal room. Modest dress is required, so that means no bikini sun bathing during your break times!
- Finally, one of the most startling and life changing aspects of the Vipassana Meditation retreat is that it requires ten full days of silence! How many of us have ever gone more than a day without speaking. The only moments where speaking is allowed is during a short daily one on one question and answer session with the instructors, for those who need clarification on technique. You may also speak on the final day.
Vipassana is not for the faint of heart! I don’t say this to frighten you off. I am merely telling you the truth as I experienced it. I found my Vipassana Meditation experience to be one of the most challenging, but also one of the most life changing, hands down. In addition to having a powerful tool in my spiritual arsenal, I also learned lessons that I will never forget. These lessons began on the ride up, which I undertook with strangers and kept on going right through the final day.
One lesson in particular revealed to me my own superficiality. Peering around at my fellow students during mealtimes and yes, at times when I was supposed to be in closed eye meditation, my mind spun with judgments, spinning stories. There was a young lady, one of the few other young women of color who I quickly decided I simply had to speak to before leaving. Stylish and beautiful, I envisioned great depth, mutual interests and scintillating conversation in her almond eyes. I was also into her Vans which were festooned with edgy skulls. Speaking of skulls, there was another woman by whom I was positively aghast. She looked like a walking skeleton, sagging skin and bones with a halo of the driest, frizziest hair I’d ever seen. I imagined that her mind and personality were as dull as her hair.
By the time the last day arrived, I had long since ceased to think about any of the people around me. I was really at the point where I did not know whether I ever felt like speaking again. Arriving at mealtime early, I took a seat. Of course, the lady I had internally dubbed, Skeletor, made a beeline for my table and asked whether she could join me. Next two other older ladies joined our table and I watched, vaguely wistful, as Skull Shoes joined a table of younger guys.
Long story short, I had one of the most amazing and enlightening conversations with the women at my table. They were absolutely brilliant, stunningly so. As we conversed and ate, an occasional wave of ungraceful honking laughter would float over from Skull Shoes as she and the guys engaged in totally banal conversation! I know, I sound terrible, but I definitely got the message that day about judging a book by its cover.
If you have not found yourself convinced enough by my accounts of asceticism or life changing results, perhaps you will be moved by this fact: The Vipassana Meditation retreat is 100% free of charge. That’s right, all people are welcome to try out the Vipassana technique for themselves.
Since the time of Buddha to today, the technique has been handed down by an unbroken chain of teachers. Great emphasis is placed on preserving the technique in its original, unadulterated form. The authenticity of this technique has been unmarred by commercialism. None of the teachers receive any material compensation. All expenses are paid via donations from prior students who have experienced the benefits of Vipassana, and wish to pass on this gift to others. I think that is beautiful and call me crazy, but I genuinely think the purity of intent is what has allowed Vipassana to remain untouched while so many practices, including yoga, have been sucked into the commercial vortex of the world we live in today.
Vipassana must be learned, experienced and practiced to be understood but I would describe it most simply as a way of self-transformation via deep self-observation with peace as the ultimate goal. Deep attention to physical sensation, leads us to understand that sensation, desire, suffering and attachment are ever changing, constantly arising and passing away, arising and passing away… It is through understanding this basic truth of life that we can eventually exit the wheel of suffering. I say eventually because results come gradually through continued practice, far beyond the initial ten days.
To attend a Vipassana Meditation course and see for yourself, go to www.dhamma.org and fill out an application. There may or may not be a waiting list, but either way, someone will contact you upon completion of the application. An alphabetical list of worldwide course locations is available on the website as well as a graphical interface of course locations worldwide and in India and Nepal.