Adventures in Silence: A Vipassana 10-Day Meditation Retreat


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This is my story about recently completing a 10-day course in Vipassana meditation in Malaysia. It’s also a story about impermanence.

Day four. It was 90 degrees outside, maybe pushing 95. Inside the meditation hall, I had been in some form of a restless, tortured cross-legged meditation posture for a total approaching six hours that day. It was 2:00 P.M. and I was in the midst of what one might informally refer to as a “body scan.” I was systematically surveying the surface of my body for sensations when I again faced a familiar barrier.

I sat hunched over at the bend in my lower back, forever a nexus of pain and constraint. “I cannot get to the rest of my body if I can’t get beyond here,” I thought to myself again. Sweat poured down my sides, inside my legs. A good sweat, the cleansing kind, the lubricating kind that eases the muscles and mind and allows impurities to spill from the body.

I leaned forward, to the left, attempting to wrest motion from and liberate the right side of my body. I caught on something, maybe a rib, maybe a burr, and pressed into a familiar painful muscle cluster, ground zero for all my body’s tension for as long as I have known. I moved further forward, twisting, bending.

Maybe this was focus. Maybe this was the “observation” I’d heard about over the speakers in the first days: “Observe the pain…craving and aversion create misery.” I observed my pain so deeply; it was electric. I leaned right into it. I immersed myself, bathing in the burn.

Then something snapped. I felt an unusual vibration, waves deep inside. Imagine twisting the tuning peg on a guitar just a little too far. You know, when the string breaks.


I have divided this article into different sections based on the various questions that have been asked of me about my experience. Skip ahead to what interests you most:

  1. How I First Learned of Vipassana and Why I Put It Off for Years
  2. The Snap…Continued
  3. The Flow of My Vipassana Experience
  4. Should I Take a Vipassana Meditation Course? (physical and mental expectations and outcomes)
  5. How to Take a Vipassana Course, All the Practical Details (finding a course, food, lodging, cost)
  6. A Typical Day: The Vipassana Daily Schedule

Bali Sunrise
Sunrise View

The Back Story: How I First Learned of Vipassana and Why I Put It Off for Years

Years ago our friend Jennie mentioned something about a silent meditation course retreat she’d taken. “It’s called Vipassana…ten days…no speaking…meditation…clear the mind…lots of traffic…it’s loud in the head…then peace.”

Those were among the tempting phrases and hooks I recall.

The term Vipassana means “to see things as they really are.” It's a meditation method discovered by Gautama Siddhartha (Buddha) over 2,500 years ago.

S.N. Goenka, a Burmese man of Indian descent who one might say reintroduced Vipassana to the world in the 1970s, opened the first centers. Today, there are more than 190 Vipassana centers around the world. His instructions and lessons are played during the course, the structure of which is identical regardless of the location: 10 days of silence, meditation from 4:00 A.M. and 9:00 P.M. with breaks for meals and rest in between.

Audrey and I were both sold on the idea, but I felt I had some physical impediments to overcome, including an inability to properly sit cross-legged. I could not fold my right leg in; I always sat leaning to the right or with my right leg kicked out. Whenever I visited a Buddhist temple during my travels, I was invariably that guy whose feet pointed in transgression at the Buddha, the altar, or the monks.

I have scoliosis, a curvature of the spine. Through nurture, nature or some devilish combination, the top of my spine is like a corkscrew, twisting like a piece of fusilli pasta while the base of my spine then collapses forward and the bottom tails off to the left. A lifetime of compensating for this had built up a rail of tension along the right side of my spine, a couple of small knots along the way, then a baseball-sized knot at the base. The tightness in the right side of my back extended to the hip and ultimately to the knee. Thus all those temple transgressions.

I never characterized myself as someone with chronic pain. When you have it, chronic pain is something you just learn to live with.

Shiatsu masters and Thai, Burmese, Swedish, Chinese, Laotian, blind, sighted masseurs — you name it and I have seen every type of massage therapist across the world — were all bewildered by my knots. I even took ten sessions with a Rolfing myofascial tissue specialist in Berlin last year, followed by sessions with other physiotherapists. All of that may have done some fleeting good, but nothing felt as though it really made a difference.

Each year I inched closer to being able to sit cross-legged, a little more flexible for some exercise I had done. Audrey and I would flirt with the idea: “Let’s do Vipassana this year.”

But I never felt prepared physically, so I put it off. It wasn’t the fear of silence, or other pleasures — like alcohol — that must be foregone during the course.

Then, last month Audrey was headed to Switzerland with her mom, giving me an opening of 10-14 days. I had plenty to occupy me work-wise. I also considered a host of getaways — to the beach, to the mountains, etc.

“How about Vipassana?” I thought. Ironically, Audrey was the more enthusiastic of the two of us about it. Perhaps that’s why I ought to have been the first to go.

So I did a search, found a newly available course at a long-standing center in Malaysia. I thought on it for a night, woke up, applied for the course and booked a flight to Malaysia for the following week.

If I waited until I felt “ready” I’d never go.

And what about the supposed mental benefits of a meditation course?

Yes, this.

The most apt description I’ve given as to my mental state prior to the course: “My head feels like a traffic jam.” I felt a ball of agitation, of quick response. Always reacting. I responded to too many circumstances negatively – not only more negatively than I would have liked, but also more so than was good for my health and for that of others around me. Whatever the appearances and whatever the notion is regarding “normal” for a freelance lifestyle, I was bearing a lot of stress.

It was time.

Vipassana Meditation Course
Breathe in…

The Snap…Continued

So, about that snap of the guitar string on day four…

“What was that?” After the confusion and pang of “Holy shit, what did I just do to myself?” I felt a most remarkable release. A dissolve. An unraveling.

Buckets of emotion washed over my entire body. I felt as if someone continuously poured warm water over my head and the rivulets seeped under my skin. Then came the river of tears. Unassociated tears. Tears of joy. Tears of stored physical and emotional garbage. Tears for so much of a life lived with chronic pain. I sat in the meditation hall, soaked and completely wiped out.

I got up slowly as one does after his body has been pretzeled. I exited the hall, closed my eyes and the brightness of something new streamed through the veil of my eyelids. I bent over once, then twice. Did it really happen?

Yes, it did. No more mother of all knots.

Just like that?

Yes, just like that.

The knot was truly gone. There one minute. Gone the next. I poked around for it. My experience was the textbook illustration of the concept of annicca, or impermanence, that had been echoed throughout the course instructions.

I felt phenomenal. More accurately, I felt like I had never felt before.

It often struck me – no, it still strikes me — as facile the suggestion that we ought to focus on our pain, that focus alone can make it go away. I found it simplistic, until I found a reason and approach that doesn't belie the reality that this process involves a great deal of work. (Note: I am not suggesting that observing your freshly broken leg will heal it on the spot, by the way.)

A short time later, the meditation bell rang calling us back into the hall. We were asked to sit, holding whichever position we chose for one hour. Excruciating. Whatever my joy, it had been replaced with unassailable pain.

My moment of glory was short-lived.

Impermanence, it seems, cuts both ways.

Vipassana Course
Calm at the end of the day…

The Flow of My Vipassana Experience

The Vipassana experience is a personal one. So it is different for everyone. I hesitate to share my journey out of concern that it may unduly influence someone else’s process and create unreasonable expectations. However, I’ve been asked a lot of excellent questions, and conversations suggest that sharing my story might serve to allay fears and apprehension about the course and process.

Arrival at the Vipassana Center

When I first arrived at the center, I felt a bit overwhelmed. Approximately 100 people were taking the course with me. There were people everywhere it seemed, people who appeared more adequately prepared for the experience in every way than I might have been.

I had the chance to speak with other students before the observation of “Noble Silence” began that evening. It was then I realized that meditators come from all over the world — truly of all ages and from all walks of life. Some had absolute no experience meditating while others had meditated a great deal. Some knew nothing of Vipassana, while others were returning for their seventh sitting of the course.

There were some who were severely troubled and were willing to talk about it — including people seeking to overcome addiction and personal loss. Others appeared fully evolved and completely free of internal struggle, however accurate or inaccurate that outward appearance might have been.

Within that universe, you learn to become comfortable. Comfortable with what is, who you are, where you are. Therein lies the first lesson.

Leaning into the Silence: The Work Begins

It became clear to me why the silence, why the monastic sort of life for 10 days. The process and schedule seems aimed to minimize decisions and to put one’s mind at ease regarding needs and logistics. With none of that to worry about, you can focus on the process and yourself.

For the first three days, we learn to focus solely on our respiration, not to control it. To focus the mind, I observe my breath at the point where it enters and exits the nostrils. This focus proves an almost laughable struggle mentally and physically.

As I do this, I recall one of the returning student's observations before we went silent, “You will uncover memories you didn’t even know you had.”

To his point, my mind becomes a flipbook of memories in those first days, as I turn page by page from present to the past as far back as pre-kindergarten. I find I’m re-processing who I am.

This is a good thing.

I appreciate that I can eventually identify bodily sensation in and around my nostrils and upper lip. This sounds ludicrous, I know. But eventually you take that focused awareness of sensation to the rest of your body.

…unpleasant experiences arise and fall, come and go. The flip side: the pleasant ones do, too.

And that’s where you spend the remaining six or seven days. During this time, the connection between mind and body becomes clearer, and the relationship between all that and how to balance oneself day-to-day becomes clearer, too.

During the one-hour video “discourses” screened in the evenings, S.N. Goenka explains the phenomena we experienced that day and foreshadows some we may experience the next. It’s as if he can read our minds. He puts into astonishing and also sometimes emotionally painful perspective that unpleasant experiences arise and fall, come and go. The flip side: the pleasant ones do, too.

When this awareness finally landed, I felt free. But I also felt a little bit sad. Everything in our lives, good and bad, comes and goes.

And so do we. But we cause ourselves more pain by trying to hold on to it all.

Breaking the Noble Silence: We Are Not Alone

On the tenth day, “Noble Silence” is lifted, enabling us to speak with other students. Many of us were surprised to find ourselves slightly reluctant to re-enter the world of the speaking. But we’re human, wired for connection with others, and so we do.

Particularly in the West, we are taught to be strong. But to find our greatest strength, sometimes we must find room to surrender.

During my first “speaking” lunch, I had a conversation with another student who shared his experience with focusing on pain. Beyond the physical pain, he explained, he found a “gap” in his body — a feeling, in his words, indicating that he “somehow didn’t belong.” The sadness he related still chokes me a little as I write.

But this is what it means to be human. We hurt. We all hurt, just as we all experience joy. It's this recognition that allows us to settle who we are and leave a growing space of compassion for others.

He belonged as much as any of us. I realized more than I have ever realized, the power of the words I spoke in a talk we gave several years ago:

“We are not alone. We will go through challenges, and we will go through very significant struggles, and they will be personal, they’ll be financial, they will be emotional, and they’ll be physical, but understand this: there are people in our midst who are going through the same thing, and if not, there are people half way around the world who are sharing it with us. Take solace in this.”

Particularly in the West, we are taught to be strong. But to find our greatest strength, sometimes we must find room to surrender.

Final Meditation Sessions

With even more newfound perspective from my fellow meditators, my final three meditation sittings were perhaps the most productive of my time. I went farther than before, finding something deeper, achieving moments of greater focus. I cried a lot, not for something specific or even for something sad, but perhaps for the inexplicable beauty of the moment.

The words to describe reaching such a point currently do not exist in my vocabulary. “Powerful” and “transformational” can’t even touch it.

I leaned over and touched my toes for the first time in my life.

As I scanned my body, I felt that flow I always do on the left-hand side of my body, but I stopped at the top of my right hip. I watched it. And probably because of the 90-degree heat and 10 days of stretching, it finally gave way. A line of muscles tensed at the base of my spine began to dissolve, as if to separate from the bone. The physical sensation was absolutely bizarre. Imagine old, caked adhesive warmed by the sharpened heat and focus of the sun, then pulled away from the wall it was long stuck to.

I exited the hall after the meditation bell rang. When I did, I leaned over and touched my toes for the first time in my life.

This wasn’t some kind of crazy healing. It was a recognition of and focus on a storehouse of emotional and physical tension balled up in stiffness and pain. And as I slowly rid my body and mind of that tension during those 10 days, I felt a freedom, the likes of which I’d never felt before.

I appreciated the moment, recognized its impermanence, and was grateful for it.

Should I Take a Vipassana Course?

Rare are the experiences in life that get an unequivocal “yes” from me, but this is one of them. Vipassana is not for the faint of heart. The 10-day course is demanding and difficult in many ways. However, it is ultimately doable by absolutely anyone.

Understanding the Physical Requirements of a Vipassana Course

If the thought of sitting cross-legged seems physically daunting and too painful to bear, there’s the possibility of using back rests or even a chair. In other words, your perceived physical limitations should not deter you from taking the course.

And know this: I did it. Sure, I was athletic and ran road races and climbed mountains. But I could barely touch my knees, let alone my toes. And you already know about my fusilli pasta spine.

Despite that, I’m glad I toughed it out on the ground on my meditation cushion, for I’m almost certain I wouldn’t have achieved the results — physical, mental, or emotional — had I done otherwise. During the course, you have 10 days to experiment and plumb the depths of what you can withstand and achieve.

Managing Expectations and Accepting the Work

Will Vipassana solve all of my problems? Can Vipassana help me dominate the planet and become rich?

The Vipassana website will be the first to disabuse you of the notion that Vipassana is a panacea. It can provide a process for focusing the mind, appreciating the present moment, and navigating life’s never-ending stream of vicissitudes. That's it, really. But that’s kind of a lot.

…there are no gurus and it’s up to each of us to find our own way. It’s found and cultivated here, in the present moment.

I asked one of the returning students, there for his seventh sitting of the course, what he gains with these additional visits. “The measuring stick remains the same: equanimity.” He said. “I gain a greater inner vision. With that, I not only understand myself better, but I make better decisions.”

Convincing.

I also appreciate another fundamental message of the course: that we are the source of our own wisdom and liberation. Though Goenka is the voice of instruction and there are assistants who can be consulted for guidance, Vipassana sends a clear message – or at least it sent that message to me — that there are no gurus and it’s up to each of us to find our own way. It is not given to us or promised to us upon death. Instead, it's found and cultivated right here, in the present moment.

If we wish to find answers, it’s on us to reach inside ourselves to do so. This is very difficult work, the sort that takes a lifetime. And it's much easier said than done.

Make no mistake, however: the focus on self is not ego, but a rejection of ego paired with responsibility. It’s no surprise that the terms “service” and “compassion” occur frequently in the discourses.

Developing Your Personal Meditation Practice

It’s not a requirement that you have prior meditation experience to sit a Vipassana course. I realized almost immediately how little I really knew about meditation, regardless of how much I’d attempted to practice it for the previous 18 months.

Vipassana shifted my focus to observing my breath and bodily sensations. To observe myself, in broad and subtle ways, to observe my discord, to observe my peace. Sure, I had done “body scans” before, as prompted by meditation apps like Headspace (a decent place to begin for meditation, by the way), but I never understood how to properly observe sensations — and most importantly, why I would do so. Both the how and why have become clearer, as has the impact on my meditation, my daily life and my understanding of the world around me.

It's recommended that at the completion of the course, you continue your Vipassana practice by meditating two hours each day — one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening. For various reasons, this is not an immediate reality for me. So I meditate 30 minutes in the morning, with the hope that I will eventually introduce a session in the evening.

At first, meditating feels like a chore to me because of some physical stiffness, but after about 30 seconds, I’m grateful. And after 30 minutes, I’m grateful still. It proves a little easier each day.

Will I return to sit another course? Yes. Some people even do so annually, either as a reboot, a continual building on their practice, or both.

What I Learned

The lessons I learned during my ten days are the stuff of books. Note, I did not say book-worthy. Even though I did not have paper, pens or any recording device (you surrender those when you arrive…for the good of your meditation), I have written well over 10,000 words about my experience since, from the more technical aspects of Vipassana meditation, to the underlying philosophy to the implications of what I learned on my everyday life going forward.

Yes, there’s a lot to take in. But never has being slightly overwhelmed felt this good.

Isn’t There More?

Yes, there’s always more. But that’s for you to find out for yourself. As I’ve shared my experience with Audrey and other friends, I have approached a sort of limit. I feel over-sharing might deprive you of experiencing some of the course’s most pleasant surprises and painful yet productive discoveries on your own.

I’m certain Audrey will also take a Vipassana course someday soon. We share so much in our lives together, it will be interesting to compare notes on experiences so similar, yet I’m sure so entirely different.

So I pull up a bit short and leave some of that on the table. The point of sharing all that I have shared is to suggest that life journeys are long, and that good things often require great effort. Stories do not unfold in the snap of a finger.

Vipassana is a good thing to do, even if you feel as though you might not be up to it right now. Someday maybe you’ll decide it’s the right time, and you’ll go. And you’ll find that the feeling you are least likely to emerge with is regret.

Just as I have.

Practical Details for a Vipassana Meditation Course

If I have piqued your interest in taking a Vipassana 10-day silent meditation course, here's some information you might need to help you take the next step. If you have more questions, please leave them in the comments section so I can address them in this article for the benefit of others.

Where can I take a Vipassana course?

Although the Vipassana course was developed in Asia, you can find Vipassana centers all around the world today. Check this website for a complete listing of course locations and dates. To understand which language(s) the instruction is in, check the Vipassana site. The audio and video components of the Vipassana course are in English (usually with local language translation offered) and individual consultation and question and answer sessions are often in the local language with one or another foreign language translation offered.

There are centers throughout Europe and the North America, although I found that these tend to fill up quickly. You may have to plan in advance to book your spot, especially if you are a beginner. The schedule, program, instruction and video discourses are identical no matter where you choose to sit your Vipassana course.

Can I do this course in less than 10 days?

Ten days may sound like a major time investment. Consider, however, that people from all walks of life with stacks of personal, professional and family obligations – far beyond my own limited responsibilities — have found the time. They do so because they have a sense that this process will be for their betterment and for the benefit of the ones they love. You'll find other courses, shorter and longer, available on the Vipassana website. However, you must begin with a 10-day course.

“Did you ever feel the urge to quit?” No. Out of the 100 or so people who sat the course with me, only one left during the ten days.

Can I take the Vipassana course with a spouse, partner, boyfriend or girlfriend?

The intent of the course is to focus on oneself, so the idea that you are taking the course with someone else or you have “company” becomes irrelevant once the course begins. In fact, it may be distracting.

Ideally, you and your partner set off at the same time and attend different centers and return together with a comparable, yet personal and differentiated experience. And most importantly, a new, shared vocabulary.

Where I took my course: The Dhamma Malaya Vipassana Center in Malaysia

I'm going to resist keeping this place a secret, all to myself. I thought the center and its facilities were excellent. I had my own room, for which I was grateful. (Note: I understand that not all Vipassana centers around the world are equipped to give new students their own room, but I found this feature immensely helpful, not only for my own convenience, but also to avoid creating any stir or inconvenience for someone happening to room with me.)

Having said all that, the center is not luxurious, nor is it supposed to be. It's not a spa. It's basic. Your ten days are to be lived simply.

For me, taking the course in the hot season was great. I could pack very light (a first for me!), as in a pair of light cotton trousers, a couple of t-shirts and bathroom stuff. Laundry dried quickly and I was never cold (something I find distracting). Additionally, all that I achieved physically was helped along greatly by the stretching I’d done, which I find becomes much easier in the heat.

What about the food at a Vipassana course?

“Simple vegetarian food” is on offer. It is plenty and it’s tasty. And there’s enough variety to meet most taste preferences. If you wanted, it would be easy enough to eat vegan during the week. If you have specific dietary restrictions, just let the organizers know in advance. There was even a pregnant woman taking the course while I was there.

Volunteers who have previously taken a course serve meals. I was profoundly grateful for them and their service. And they sometimes made me laugh inside. Watching a diligent server manage a 10-piece toaster while a bunch of ravenous meditators, me included, are trying to figure it out on the first day, is skit-worthy.

You also realize that food is one of those things with which we can barrage our body and senses. When heat and spice are toned down — not typical in my dining practice — as it is with Vipassana food, I found that it was one less distraction my body had to deal with. I also now find myself more sensitive to subtle tastes in food in general. I still eat the heat, but I find I'm even more attuned to enjoying the flavor.

Although the evening meal was very light – usually just fruit – I never felt wanting for food. You learn to eat only as much as your body really needs.

What is the cost of a Vipassana meditation course?

On principle, no fee for the Vipassana course is charged. Centers are instead maintained by the donations of those who have completed a meditation course. You may donate only once you have completed a course and you are free to choose the amount you wish to donate.

The idea: those who came before you support your course while your donation supports future participants. So you pay it forward.

Schedule: A Typical Vipassana Day and Timetable

For days one through nine, participants observe a “Noble Silence” which means no talking and no charades or other non-verbal communication. You can ask the instructor questions during sessions at 12:00 P.M. and 9:00 P.M. Remaining silent during this time is not nearly as difficult as it sounds.

The schedule is the same at every Vipassana 10-day meditation course, no matter where it is being held in the world. You can see this at the bottom of the Vipassana FAQ page.

Wake up bell: 4:00 A.M.

Most mornings, for whatever reason, my body anticipated the waking bells at 4:00 A.M. I set an alarm for 4:10 A.M. just in case and never had to use it. Not because I wasn’t tired in some way, or even jet lagged a bit, but because it was clear I had something important that I must do.

After a quick wash and water and a stretch, I was out the door into the pre-dawn darkness for a walk from my room to the meditation hall. The touch of cool before the birds would come alive and the warmth of the Malaysia hot season would land was something I’ll never forget.

Meditate in the hall or in your room: 4:30-6:30 A.M.

I quickly realized after a brief conversation with the instructor that meditating in the hall for newcomers is an important discipline. I found I would go much further with the structure and discipline of the early morning in the hall, despite the fact that the morning sessions ended with a chant that typically drove me borderline crazy.

On Day 10, after silence is lifted, one of the other students shared that he was tempted to leave the hall one morning after experiencing pain and frustration, only to look over and find me in a fit of what appeared to be even greater torture. Though we were discouraged from minding other participants, I’m grateful my struggles could serve as an inspiration to others.

Breakfast and rest: 6:30-8:00 A.M.

Both western and Asian options were usually offered for breakfast, meaning you could have toast and oatmeal or rice noodle soup and vegetables.

After breakfast, I would take a walk around the male side of the center (sexes are segregated during the course). I appreciated each and every sunrise in spectacular detail, well beyond the usual attention I might pay.

One sunrise sky in particular stood out: layers of the color wheel were strewn in bent wisps through contrails that arced over the intersection of red rooftops. The image was accented by the perfectly hung earth-tone outfits of the Bikkhu, those training to be monks.

If there was one tableau that captured the peace and simplicity of my 10 days, it was this. No, I didn't have a camera or iPhone to capture the image (you surrender those, too). But I'll never forget it.

Group meditation in the hall: 8:00-9:00 A.M.

 

Meditate in the hall or in your room: 9:00-11:00 A.M.

 

Lunch and rest: 11:00 A.M.-1:00 P.M.

For returning students, this is the final meal of the day.

Meditate in the hall or in your room: 1:00-2:30 P.M.

 

Group meditation in the hall: 2:30-3:30 P.M.

 

Meditate in the hall or in your room: 3:30-5:00 P.M.

 

Tea break: 5:00-6:00 P.M.

For new students, this is the final taste of food for the day. It usually consisted of a piece or two of fruit. Returning students only take tea. Hint: If you really think you’re starving, have some hot chocolate.

Group meditation in the hall: 6:00-7:00 P.M.

 

Evening discourse: 7:00-8:15 P.M.

“Discourses” are the videotaped talks given by S.N. Goenka, the founder of this Vipassana meditation course. These talks struck me as important because they explained the day’s experience, foreshadowed the practice for the following day and shed light on the connection between what we were doing, our lives and broad issues, including even life and death.

Final group meditation: 8:15-9:00 P.M.

 

Lights out: 9:30 P.M.

By bedtime, you are definitely ready for sleep.


Do you have any other questions regarding taking a Vipassana 10-day meditation course? Leave a comment and I will expand the information in this post so others may benefit from it.

About Daniel Noll
Travel and life evangelist. Writer, speaker, storyteller and consultant. Connecting people to experiences that will change their lives. Originally from the U.S. Daniel has lived abroad since 2001 and most recently has been on the road since 2006. When he's not writing for the blog you can keep up with his adventures on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. And you can learn more about him on the About Page and on LinkedIn.

100 thoughts on “Adventures in Silence: A Vipassana 10-Day Meditation Retreat”

  1. Fabulous post. I almost did this on my recent travels in India. However, I did do a small stretch at a yoga ashram. Sounds like an amazing experience. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  2. My husband and I did a 10-day introduction to Buddhism course at Tushita in Dharamsala. It was not as “hardcore” as Vipassana as there are lectures and discussion groups in addition to meditation. But I will say that it was not distracting to be in the course together. We sat next to each other all day (we hadn’t intended to, but it wound up that way) without saying a word. In our shared life, we continually talk about everything – future projects, what to have for lunch, what we thought about the temple we just visited, etc – and it was really interesting to have no idea what the other person was thinking for 10 days. People in our respective discussion groups knew we were married and that our spouse was also in the course, but many remarked that they would never had guessed that we were sitting next to each other because they never saw us exchange a word or even look at each other much. So, going with a partner can add an interesting dimension to a retreat, depending on your relationship, of course.

    Reply
    • Thank you for sharing your experience, Casey. I probably should have indicated that my impression on couples sitting the course together was formed in part by feedback from people who attended with a partner. Having said that, if schedules better support sitting a Vipassana course together, then do it. And if one focuses on his own practice, having a partner across the room should not distract.

      In any event, I’m glad to hear your Buddhism course experience was worthwhile, and that you were able to share it with someone important to you.

      Reply
  3. Thank you Dan for sharing your experience and being so open and honest. It sounds amazing, hard, forgiving and life changing. I never considered it before but you may have planted a seed.

    Reply
    • Thank you, Diane. Am glad to hear that I may have planted a seed. I appreciate your use of the word “forgiving” to describe the experience. Quite apt.

      Reply
  4. I’ve been waiting for this post, Dan. I’ve often considered Vipassana meditation — there are a lot of centres in India — but have not yet made the commitment. Your words are very inspiring as I, too, have a lot of back problems that years of yoga, body work, meditation, etc., have never fully relieved. Maybe it will take something very focussed, very intense like Vipassana to work through it. So, thank you for this because it may be just what I need to get me to finally schedule the 10 days.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Mariellen. I’m glad to hear that this just might be what you need. I’ll be curious to hear about your experience if and when you go.

      Reply
  5. Thank you for the detailed and honest post. This is something that I would love to do at some point in my life. The thought honestly scares me right now, so I think I’d like to start by adding shorter meditation retreats and building up my home practice first. Now that my kids are getting a little older, it’s time to start taking better care of myself!

    Reply
    • You are welcome, Jenna. The thought of Vipassana frightens and deters a lot of people. Although I understand that, having been through it myself, I now understand it was my imagination getting the better of me.

      Your approach of easing into it with shorter meditation sessions and retreats sounds like a great idea. And no better time to take care of yourself than the present.

      Reply
  6. Really appreciate this post and your sharing of this practice with the world. Last year my wife did a 10 day Vipassana meditation in Japan during a bit of rocky transition period in her life and I think it had incredible short-term and long-term consequences in her self understanding, patience, and purpose.

    Reply
    • Thanks for sharing your and your wife’s experience with Vipassana in Japan. I’m really glad to hear, despite the personal circumstances in her life at the time, that she emerged with desirable short- and long-term results.

      Reply
  7. What a wonderful post Dan! Very insightful as well. Though we have many centers in India, and I have people surrounding me who have done it, I somehow never could bring myself to do it.

    Did you notice some spiritual changes in you as well?

    Reply
    • Glad you enjoyed this, Nisha. Excellent question about spiritual changes. The changes are actually more corporeal, of the body, of the mind, of here and now, as opposed to something outside of the body or ethereal. Vipassana, to me at least, is very much about tuning one’s awareness to what is, as defined by one’s sensations, at the core of which is one’s breath. Having said all that, Vipassana can help put one in touch with what I might call the “divinity of experience” — feelings of appreciation and satisfaction in exceptional yet often quite simple experiences in life that somehow feel transcendent, larger than any one of us, or universal — despite whatever other labels we might apply to our belief systems.

      Reply
  8. Thanks for this post, Dan. I, too, have thought about a Vipassana course, but have never taken that next step. Did it bother you at all that you were only “allowed” 6 1/2 hours of sleep? Also, was there a specific focus you were asked to meditate on during each session, each day? And finally, you touched a bit on how the experience felt and affected you, but can you expand on how you carry things you’ve learned into your life now? Thanks again!

    Reply
    • Excellent question about sleep, Sarah. I did not find the 6 1/2 hours of sleep a problem. Although I operate optimally on about 7-8 hours a night (not that I get it regularly, mind you), I had no problem during Vipassana. A lot of that had to do with the steep reduction in stress, no devices, no urgency, no to-do lists, and a great deal of peace and calm.

      I’m not certain about this, but I believe that meditation stimulates the pineal gland, responsible for production of melatonin which modulates sleep and wake patterns. I don’t know for certain that meditation reduces one’s need for sleep, but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that it does, or to hear that it increases the quality of one’s sleep.

      The focus of the mediation during the first three days is simply your breath and sensations in and around the nostrils. The remaining days, the focus is “scanning” your body for sensations. So, there’s no focus on happy thoughts, a mantra, a deity, or anything like that.

      The most important awareness I bring to my daily life now is focusing on my breath and bodily sensations as manifestations of various reactions I have to pleasurable and not-so-pleasurable experiences. The biggest upshot of that: I tend not to react, and react as strongly, to negative experiences these days. That said, it’s a process. So it’s not as if I walked out after 10 days of Vipassana and am fully evolved. 🙂

      Thank you for some thoughtful questions!

      Reply
      • Dan, thank YOU for your thoughtful answers! You’ve inspired me to look for/enroll in a course sooner rather than later. The benefits you outline sound like “enough” to me- what does “fully evolved” mean, anyway, right? =)

        Reply
  9. I really enjoy reading this post !! i think that is a life changing experience ….. it really teach you of how yo can Understand your minds and body . i wish some day i can try this. Thanks for sharing this with us!!!

    Reply
  10. This is a fascinating story Dan! What an incredibly intense and life changing experience. My husband, Barry and I just read it together and are very intrigued to try it one day for ourselves! Thanks for sharing. We are big fans of your blog. Keep up the amazing work!

    Reply
    • Thanks so much, Laura. Glad to hear that you enjoy Uncornered Market and also glad to hear that this might open up the opportunity for you and Barry to pursue the intrigue and try Vipassana for yourselves.

      Reply
      • I thank you for your insight on the course, I have been thinking of following the course and have just app’ied for a course in Jaipur in a month, having followed a hip replacement I was scared too much sitting will be painful but I will take this course as Your words are re-assuring

        Reply
  11. Dan, thank you for this insightful post! I clicked over to read about your meditation experience, having an interest in a retreat myself. But I was blown away when you mentioned your body alignment issues and the release you were able to find – even temporarily. I have a similar issue, and it never even dawned on me that this was possible. You’ve opened up a new avenue of research for me, and I’m so grateful for you sharing this experience.

    What an amazing conversation and understanding you and Audrey will have after she finishes this course, too! Again, thank you for sharing such a personal experience.

    Reply
    • Glad you found it useful, Betsy. And I’m glad I opened up a new avenue of possibility for you.

      Even in my conversations and experiences with physiotherapists, it’s clear there’s a real connection between our minds and bodies and issues and constraints in each. Obviously, not all (I revert to my broken leg example above) issues with our bodies can be overcome by adjustments in our minds, but I suspect a great deal more can be than we might be aware of or lend possibility to.

      Reply
  12. Great post Dan.

    I am considering going on a vipassana course this year. I know you talked about doing this with a partner, but what’s your opinion on doing it with a like-minded friend? My other question is logistical – how far in advance would you sign up for a course?

    Thanks!

    Leon

    Reply
    • Thank you, Leon. Glad you found this useful.

      Regarding doing this with a like-minded friend, so long as you can resist the temptation of watching or minding the other person and their progress, and focus solely on you, then you’ll be fine. However, the temptation might be quite strong (as it would be with anyone you know), particularly as you feel the going get tough and face difficult points in your own progress. Doable, but something to be aware of and disciplined about.

      As for signing up in advance, I believe but am not certain that the European and North American based courses fill up several months in advance. Courses in various parts of Asia and elsewhere, you can find them in as short-term as I did, just a week or two in advance. It really depends on each location. The best thing to do is to browse the courses/locations on http://dhamma.org/ to get a sense of how quickly courses in certain locations fill up.

      I hope that helps.

      Reply
  13. Thanks for the detailed insights into Vipassana and how to located suitable courses. I’m a little worried that trying to go from life at my desk to a ten day course might prove a little too much for me. I look forward to giving it a go though.

    Reply
    • Glad you found it useful, Stuart. I can appreciate your apprehension about Vipassana. It’s common. However, if you give it a shot, you just might surprise yourself. When you do, please let us know how it goes.

      Reply
  14. Thanks for sharing this. I learned meditation when I was in university (like a century ago) and still doing it once in awhile. I never able to do it more than 15 minutes though, so congrats for doing it. I know it’s not an easy thing to do. Were you thought to recite mantra to help the concentration?

    Reply
    • Laughing at your self-deprecating age comment, Mima. Thank you.

      In order to focus on the breath and bodily sensations, Vipassana actually instructs not to use mantras. I suppose the idea is that attention to the repetition of a mantra, a word or phrase, might actually detract from one’s awareness of bodily sensations.

      Reply
  15. I’m so glad I came across your insightful post, thank you for sharing :). I’m going on my first course in 3 weeks. I am dreading 2 things: 1. The cold (it is winter in my country, South Africa) & 2. The 20 hour bus ride to get to the centre. With that said, I do believe it will be worth my while.

    Reply
    • Great to hear that you are going, Nozuko. I’ve been on my share of 20-hour bus rides, so I appreciate your aversion to them. I may be wrong here, but I suspect and hope that the center and accommodation will be sufficiently warm so as not to distract you from the practice.

      In either case, I hope your experience is a good one. Please let us know how it goes when you finish.

      Reply
  16. I’m currently researching on a possibility to do a Vipassana retreat – and found this article really helpful. I guess I’m really nervous because ‘what if i can’t do it’ and I too struggle sitting crossed legs for longer periods of time. My legs always fall asleep and start burning….but hey…no pain no gain 😉 I’m curious to know how i will feel at the end of it.

    Thank you for this

    Reply
  17. Daniel
    Thank you so much for sharing your Vipassana experience. I will be starting the course exactly one month from today. I am grateful that I have a center here in Texas..but honestly I am also filled with little fear. My main concern is sitting so long ( besides giving up my books and writing..)
    Did you see anyone using a meditation type floor chair? Is this “allowed”?
    Any advice you can offer me in getting ready for the course would greatly be appreciated.

    Bonnie

    Reply
    • You are welcome, Bonnie. Glad to hear that you’ll be taking the course soon.

      I did see a woman sitting in an actual chair and a man sitting on the floor aided with a backrest. I suppose this is something you can discuss with the instructors when you arrive at the center. Perhaps give sitting a chance on its own. You might surprise yourself.

      As for not being able to read or write, you might find it a different, refreshing experience that makes both of those activities even more fulfilling once you return to them.

      In any event, we’ll be interested to hear about your experience after you return.

      Reply
  18. Dan, thank you so much for this incredibly useful and positive article! It answered many of the questions and fears I had about this. I heard about the retreats fairly recently and originally thought “Geez there’s no way I could EVER do that”, but the more I think about it, the more I think it might be good to prove that belief wrong! You don’t know what you’re capable of until you try it 🙂

    I do have one question…. I eat a lot throughout the day, and in small amounts. If I don’t eat every two hours or so, my stomach starts rumbling really loudly!

    Did you, or other people at the retreat, have this?! Or did everyone just ignore it and think of it as part of the bodily sensation? I hate when my belly is rumbling in a silent room (it happens all the time, and I’m really embarrassed about it!)

    Thanks again for a really insightful and inspiring article 🙂

    Claire

    Reply
    • You are welcome, Claire. True that: we have no idea of our capabilities until we try.

      Your question about eating and stomach grumbling during Vipassana is a good one. The “old” students, or ones who have previously taken a course, refrain from eating after lunch. I imagine their stomachs are especially empty, particularly in the morning.. Truth is, you don’t really hear stomach grumblings or pay attention to them. There’s enough coughing, sneezing, etc. going on, not to mention all the focus on your own meditation. So, as you said, like other bodily sensations, you observe it, it comes, then it goes. Not something to be embarrassed about.

      Glad you found the piece inspiring and insightful. We’ll look forward to hearing about your experience.

      Reply
      • Thanks, Dan – that’s really helpful, and put my mind at ease. I don’t know when I will try a Vipassana retreat yet.,, but it will happen! I’ll report back when I do 🙂 I love your website, by the way – please keep up the awesome work, as it is incredibly inspiring! It’s always great to learn that there are other people out there with a similar mindset 🙂

        Reply
  19. Hello Daniel,
    Thank you for the information. A friend I met in a zazen retreat in Tokyo had previously participated in the Vipassana 10- days retreat. He said he thought he couldn’t make it and
    some participants gave up during the course. It was very difficult for him but did the whole thing. His mind calm down with this experience and I think he found out being a quiet person is not bad. But he mentioned he used mantras and other ways to resist the long daily journey. Now that I read your comments the only thing you can do is be aware of your breath and body. So, maybe the good effect on his life o inner will not be as good as the people who strictly follow the Vipassana instructions.

    In the zazen retreat we had to sit with cross legs ( veins and arteries were swollen, looked horrible, never had swollen veins in my legs) for only about 40 min and it was at the beginning a nightmare for me. Look at a point, breath don’t think.. How can’t you not think?! The work o the mind is thinking, lives by itself. You can slowdown it, maybe change it contain for better thoughts and question the bad ones. The only way I could handle those three days wiith about 5 hours meditation was taking a look to the beautiful Japanese green mountains. Anyway, it was a marvelous experience to stop, have legs pain, boring sensation like ‘ oh! again sitting down and numb legs! and was wishing for the meal time, the bath, the break time every day. But as you mention the next day is easier and you gain peace and balance. We had Buddha lectures too.

    An adult who is great always moving and can’t be still where just the idea of being hours focusing in their breath and body gives her/ him chills and a sensation of panic…( a new panic: panic to be bored and still). what recommendation, what mental preparation does she/he need?

    How many pounds /kilograms do you loose? How about the bath? When you are alone do you end talking aloud to yourself ?

    I ask all these questions because I wonder if I can do it. I will love to discover more myself and learn from the wise Buddha.

    Thank you again,

    Reply
    • Good questions, Ana. And thank you for your comment.

      I suppose each person will approach Vipassana how he or she sees fit. Having said that, I understand why the course instructs that meditators not use mantras. Remaining quiet — even in one’s head — is extraordinarily difficult, particularly in today’s always-on media barrage. But that’s the point, total peace and silence so as to tune oneself into one’s breath and bodily sensations.

      Stepping back from that, if your friend (or anyone for that matter) derived benefit from the course, practicing however they practiced, that alone strikes me as a good thing. After all, this is a all a process and journey — whatever steps we need to get there, we should take.

      The swollen legs and arteries you speak of sound uncomfortable. In Vipassana, there’s definitely room for a lot of pain. And I think everyone deals with it differently. Some people are able to sit in the same position for one hour, as I’m sure many others are not. I kept my eyes closed, trying to resist watching what others were doing. But some of my fellow meditators told me they couldn’t do it, while others said it was excruciating in the beginning and became easier in the end. I was able to just about hold my position in the end.

      Having said that, the pain itself can become a distraction, no doubt. Like anything, we do the best we can, keep working, make progress. Although my form was not perfect, I felt as though I changed my life by the steps I took. Something for anyone reading this to keep in mind.

      I should also mention that even upon my return from Vipassana, I ended up taking a break — not necessarily deliberately, but because I was traveling and waking up at 6AM for work and lost my time to meditate. It turns out that the 6 week break I took was what my body needed to adjust and/or heal. I actually feel more focused and physically prepared now after this break, than just after completing the course.

      So, perhaps there’s a lesson there.

      The adult you mention who is always moving, has a sensation of panic to be bored and still — I suspect that’s the real focus of the work of Vipassana. Not to be bored, but rather to be aware. Maybe that means boredom to me is an inability to encounter the simplicity and sometime the apparent emptiness of what is, the lack of available distraction. As I write this, enjoying all that silence can be a great thing. Learning to do it is the development of an art, perhaps the art of inner peace.

      What mental preparation does one need to do this, particularly at the course? One needs to listen and attempt to follow the instruction as best as one is able. And to be as honest to it as possible, knowing that that the feeling of boredom and panic may come, but that the process offers a focus on bodily sensation as a path of awareness, then a path of surfacing the panic, and watching it come and go. The panic isn’t forever. Nothing is. And that’s at the core of what Vipassana teaches. (Or at least it was one of the most important takeaways for me.)

      This is not a way to say that I have arrived at some finish line. I don’t wish my words or tone to convey that. Instead, I recognize it as a journey, a process.

      As for weight, I’m not sure I gained or lost. I ate a lot, honestly in the mornings and at lunch, because my metabolism is very fast. However, I sweat a lot. So maybe those two balanced each other out.

      Bath: I showered each night, preferring that to showering at 4AM, which I did once or twice. Occasionally, I would take another shower in the afternoon, but not usually. I know many others showered multiple times a day, as one sometimes does in the heat in Malaysia. I preferred to spend that time walking, resting, stretching most days.

      When I was alone, I don’t remember speaking to myself. To me, that was part of my vow of Noble Silence. To some degree, I enjoyed not talking at all — including to myself 🙂 Also, I figured that if I began talking to myself, I might just slip and begin talking to others.

      As I’ll say to others, you might surprise yourself. And the fact that your focus or aim is further self-discovery, it’s sounds to me like you are as ready as you might need to be.

      I’ll look forward to hearing more, including your own Vipassana experience if and when you go. Thank you again for the thoughtful comment and for sharing your experience.

      Reply
  20. Thank you for post on Vipassana as I have considered taking it soon – maybe within the year. I do not know anyone who has taken the course.

    Several questions by others have been asked and you’ve answered which gave me an idea as to what to expect – the challenges and pain.

    Many thanks again.

    Reply
    • I’m glad that the post and comments helped inform you about Vipassana. Besides the challenges and pain, there is also joy. I didn’t want to forget to mention that. If and when you go, please share your experience with us here.

      Reply
  21. Amazing story – I just subscribed for a Vipassana course in Greece
    As a business man and Yoga Teacher I run retreats in Portugal
    Traveled a lot in Nepal – love to do meditation
    It’s time to go deeper an see what Vipassana can bring
    Would love to come in contact with you for organizing business events in the corporate world

    Reply
  22. That sounds like a great life experience. I am hoping to try a similar thing towards the end of the year with some monks in Greece for a few days. 10 days on this retreat sounds like the perfect amount of time. I wonder if you will return every year?

    Reply
  23. It was, Dave. I have it in mind to return to a Vipassana course within the next year. If I could manage, I’d love to do it yearly.

    Reply
  24. A very interesting Reading! But like to share one thought of mine.

    To say “… It is a pre-Buddhist meditation method, revived by Gautama Siddhartha (Buddha) over 2,500 years ago.” is like saying Newtons Law of gravity is a pre Newton law revived by Newton.

    We should not undermine a discoverer’s efforts or contribution by just saying that he/she revived it (connotating that it it was nothing new). It was the discovery made by Buddha more than 25 century ago that we have today a roadmap to enlightenment! it is not a small thing. Giving due credit and being grateful to the one who shows us the path to liberation is perhaps the first step in the practice of Dhamma.
    Wish you all the best!

    Reply
    • Thank you catching this and taking the time to provide feedback. Sasta. I suppose an argument could be made for Vipassana pre-dating what we know as Buddhism. However, rather than split those hairs, I made the correction you suggest, referring to Vipassana simply as a meditation technique discovered by Guatama Siddhartha.

      Reply
  25. I appreciate your sharing all that you’ve shared here. I’m bedridden and when I sit/stand my body swells up. Would I be kicked out of the retreat if I was to meditate lying on the floor?

    Reply
    • Hi Lisa, good question. I really don’t know about this case. It’s probably best to consult the http://dhamma.org website and see if there is a forum where you can ask that question. You could also take the approach of applying for a Vipassana course near you and in the application describe your situation, ask your question and see if you are accepted.

      Reply
  26. Hey Daniel,
    I lead a life of tension and stress as a student and when I visited Malaysia I looked forward to a relaxing vacation with my family. I came across your blog and decided to try the Vipassana meditation after reading it. It really did help soothe my mind.

    Reply
    • That’s great, Indrajit. Did you go to Dhamma Malaya, or another Vipassana center in Malaysia. If you went to Dhamma Malaya, do you remember your instructor’s name?

      Reply
  27. Hi there! Great article you have, I would also want to share my thoughts that Meditation indeed has positive effects not only in the body but also in the mind, a total holistic wellness that brings us to know our inner-self better. It gives us a peace of mind that helps us have a much better perception about our lives.

    Reply
  28. Namaste from Nepal, Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. Enjoyed every bits of what you had felt and what you had to say. I am also planning to join one very soon. Is there anything more I should think of or consider before starting?

    Reply
    • Namaste. Glad you enjoyed this, Sunaina. When you decide to sign up for a Vipassana course, you’ll have read everything you need. Let us know how it goes.

      Reply
  29. Hello Daniel, thank you for sharing your experience. I had completed a 10 day Vipassana retreat in June, 2015. I practice meditation every day for about 30 – 45 mins and it has changed my . I think most of us forget one more important thing apart from meditation which is taught at the retreat and that is having your meals in a timely manner. It’s been six months now and I still follow the same pattern of eating food: Breakfast at 0700 hours, lunch around 1130 hours and dinner before 1800 hours (The sun sets around 1815). Also, I do not eat anything after 1830 hours till next morning. I know its difficult to follow but the fruits are worth it. I believe that if we keep the body in good health then the mind doesn’t have to engage in repairing the body and this in turn will help to live a peaceful life. I would like you to share this vital information to benefit people around especially who meditates regularly. Thank you and wish you a happy new year 2016.

    Reply
    • Yash, I’m so glad to hear that Vipassana affected you so positively and profoundly and that you continue with the practice. Thank you for re-affirming the lesson and teaching about the timing of meals, and the impact of a eating and a full stomach on concentration and one’s meditation. I may be an undiagnosed hypoglycemic, but I experienced a pretty severe reaction to the lack of food by the final “meal” of fruit on the first or second day. (I should note, I’m quite skinny and have been described by friends as having the metabolism of a hamster.) I also found that during morning meditation, by around 6:00AM my mind began to wander out of what I might describe as hunger-fatigue. Eventually, I took to having some hot chocolate with my late afternoon fruit and that seemed to help a great deal. This is one of my concerns, actually, regarding returning to Vipassana as an “old” student. Having said all that, I’m aware that my reaction to the shift in meal schedule might just be something I needed to work through. I’m aware there are many adjustments required in Vipassana that were painful at first but eventually bore fruit.

      Thank you for taking the time to comment and add to the discussion based on your experience. A happy and healthy 2016 to you.

      Reply
  30. Super description of the course with just the right amount of detail, thank you Daniel.

    I would very much like to take the course, and there is a Vipassana centre quite near where I live. However, I simply cannot take a full 10 days off from my responsibilities at work and at home.

    In June I will be able to take 5 days off, and I am thinking about designing my own Vipassana course, which I will follow in isolation in a remote mountain chalet that is available to me.

    I have downloaded S.N. Goenke’s introductory talks, and the ten daily discourses, from YouTube. I intend to follow the course schedule, but to cover 2 discourses each day for the 5 days.

    From your experience and the experience of other readers, is there anything about this that you would discourage, or any additional advice that you might have for a would-be lone retreatant?

    Thanks, Graham.

    Reply
    • Thank you, Graham. A couple of considerations come to mind. First, it strikes me that Goenka structured the Vipassana course very deliberately to unfold over 10 days. Sure, it’s not scientific per se — that is, would 9 days be OK? Would 8? Maybe, I’m not sure. However, my own experience tells me that only after about 7 days can I really begin to separate myself from my previous daily concerns. It doesn’t matter whether I’m taking a Vipassana course, or whether I undertake a long hike, trek or walk.

      The Vipassana course is also structured to focus on the area around the nostrils for about 3 days, which to many sounds ludicrous. It’s deliberate, though. The six days that follow are intended to take that awareness of sensation to the rest of the body, which becomes quite a task. I also found that the environment of the meditation hall, the structure of the relatively long days, being exposed to groups of people you do not communicate with, the way meals are prepared for you to release you from concern, the rhythm and resonance of the group meditation — all struck me as having been integrated and designed deliberately to affect the surfacing of specific types of experiences and sensations. When I think back, each of these features of the course and environment, individually and together, carried a lesson.

      I don’t wish to discourage you from exploring Vipassana in a way that works with your schedule limitations. I am not an expert in Vipassana and cannot authoritatively speak to whether your approach would be an “appropriate” approximation of Vipassana. One way to look at your five days: simply an opportunity to meditate, which carries plenty of benefits all its own, rather than as a Vipassana short course. I’m not sure that would be fair to you and your experience and to the Vipassana practice. In any event, I advocate taking the full course one day when the time is right for you.

      Reply
      • Thanks Daniel. I fully take your points, and I think you are right. I’ll use the time to meditate and relax, and I’m sure an insight as to how I can find the 10 days will come :-).

        Reply
  31. Great post, Daniel! I want to do it but I’m afraid because of some practical things… I can eat vegetarian food, but I don’t eat salad or cold food at all. I’m afraid that’s the only thing they would serve, which then I wouldn’t eat. What are the options they provide? Also, when I hear that you have to wake up at 4am and will only have breakfast at 6am freaks me out because I have low blood pressure and if I don’t eat right after waking up, I might easily pass out. Do they allow you to bring something small to eat when you wake up? Another question I have is if you’re allowed to have breaks during the meditation period. I would certainly have to use the restroom in a 2h or more period. Thank you in advance!!

    Reply
    • Good questions, Michelle. The food options will depend on the Vipassana center and the location. This might be a question best answered by sending it to the dhamma.org site. They may suggest a Vipassana location whose food profile might best fit your dietary needs.

      As for waking up at 4 and not eating until 6, I appreciate the concern. I had it. This might be something to check with your doctor. I think it’s fair to say two things with confidence: everyone feels hungry, sometimes even especially so, at times during the course; each of us will emerge with a different understanding and relationship with food, including what we need and when we need it. This is to say that we have the ability to withstand mild deprivation much more than we think, and the Vipassana course teaches and underscores this. Again, it’s not meant to hurt or harm, but allow participants to develop a different relationship with their bodies.

      Technically, one is not allowed to eat before breakfast. However, if you have special medical needs (e.g., hypoglycemia, for example), you might want to query the dhamma.org site and determine what steps might be available to you at the Vipassana center.

      As for using a bathroom during meditation — yes, whenever you need. Aside from the 1 hour of strong meditation, you are totally free to leave the hall, walk around, go to the bathroom, stretch, drink water, etc.

      Reply
  32. Hey Dan, you have written excellently! All that I want to know is that can my family contact me there in case of any emergency?

    Reply
    • I believe most if not all Vipassana centers can be contacted by email or by phone, so in theory, it’s possible Urvashi. You may also want to have a discussion with your family regarding what constitutes such an emergency.

      Reply
      • Yes definitely. And by emergency I mean extreme scenario. I am just being prepared for the worst case possible. Thank you for your reply! I will now soon register myself for any session available here in India in October maybe.

        Thanks a lot again!

        Reply
  33. Thanks for the great post.
    I am gearing up for my next month 10 day course!
    I have had the idea lingering for years and now is the time… EEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!
    😀

    Reply
  34. I wonder if you both keep practising vipassana everyday. I have just finished my 2nd course in France and would like to know how vipassana practise change your work and your daily life (i.e your health, concentration, relationship with others, life satisfactions…).

    Thanks very much for your sharing. It really helps to spread vipassana.

    Reply
    • Excellent question, Phuong. I do practice Vipassana regularly. I say regularly becuase there are times when I’m traveling that it’s difficult to find the optimal conditions. In general, I have found Vipassana to only be a positive influence on all that you have mentioned. I believe it aids health, by helping to reduce stress and positively impact blood pressure and heart rates. Relationships and overall satisfaction, too. Having said that, Vipassana is not a panacea, or a one-size-fits-all solution to life satisfaction. I see it as one of the many tools in the toolbox. I also do not see it as a tool that hones in on life satisfaction, but rather one that helps me better process and deal with the difficulties, challenges and vicissitudes in life.

      Reply
    • Phuong, I should also clarify — when I practice Vipassana, I now do so 30 minutes each morning and at other times during the day when I feel it necessary. This is in contrast to the 1 hour in the morning, 1 hour in the evening recommended by the course.

      Reply
  35. Happy to read your words – synchronicity has led me to my first Vipassana course starting the day after tomorrow. I’m equally and simultaneously excited, anxious, nervous etc. Really looking forward to the experience, whatever it may be. Thanks for writing.

    Reply
    • Great to hear it, Tom. You are welcome.

      How was your Vipassana experience? How was your experience different than what you expected?

      Reply
  36. Hi Dan, thank you for your post! I am preparing for a 10 days program in Europe. There are some practical questions popping in for instance when you had time for taking a shower or brush your teeth etc… the schedule seems to be tight and fixed, not much space anywhere. The only option Ia saw is before 4.00 am or after 9.30 pm. Though it is still a question how to manage it without speaking to room mates not to collide with them or not to disturb them while they sleep.
    So, how did you find your solution for that?
    Emma

    Reply
    • Since I stayed at a facility with single rooms, I can’t comment on the roommate situation with Vipassana. However, a couple of things come to mind. First, the waking tone is at 4:00, but you have 30 minutes to wake up and wash before meditation begins at 4:30 (at least that was our schedule). Also, at sign-in/orientation, you can ask how to handle this. You might also have time to meet your roommate (and speak with her) prior to Noble Silence. Having said all that, the point is to be able to simply and peacefully navigate, which will likely prove easier in this environment. You both will likely find yourself making more room for one another than you imagine. Enjoy your Vipassana experience, Emma. And let us know how it goes.

      Reply
  37. I have never ever succeeded in sitting and meditating for more than 10 minutes in my life. Always feel this is not something I am capable to do. And I find no relevance in it. But I did register for a Vipassana course as a challenge on myself and now have got the invitation.
    With a new business, most of the work depends on me and my phone.

    I really cant decide, if I should take the chance and go for this. The whole idea just freaks me out along with the idea that my new business would be shut for 10 days.

    Can you please throw some light on it and advise. Maybe a new perspective, I miss out on, or maybe some concept note which helps me take a call.
    Should I delay it for sometime in the future?

    Reply
  38. Hi Dan,

    It was lovely reading your blog today morning on your experiences with the Vipassana course, bought back lots of memories 🙂

    If you guys ever decide to visit either Mumbai or the principal centre – Dhammagiri at Igatpuri (3 hours by road from Mumbai) please do let me know. Will be very happy to help in any way possible. Have shared my handphone / mobile no

    Hope Audery has a good course too.

    warm regards & metta
    Abhi

    Reply
    • Thank you for the very kind offer, Abhi. Audrey is in her first Vipassana sitting (here in Sri Lanka) as I write this. I suspect she may share some of her experiences eventually on our blog. All the best & metta, Dan
      P.S. I removed your phone number from the comment for your privacy, but I have made a note of it.

      Reply
  39. Hi, Would you be so kind to tell me how long you meditate there at one sitting without a break?
    From the schedule it seems that is 3 hours. I would like to do this course but to be honest I cannot imagine I could sit crossed leg for 3 hours. This position is not comfortable for me.

    Reply
    • Hi Peter,

      The maximum single sitting duration is one hour. During that time you can uncross your legs if you want.

      As you sit through the sessions the instructions will guide you on what you need to practise for the session. For example in the initial one hour session you need to just observe the in coming and the out going breath.

      The meditation technique is administered through audio tapes and there are teachers to guide you in case you have any queries or difficulties.

      As the days pass the instruction during the meditation session change

      The 3 hour schedule you see on the timetable is not fixed for one session but has 5-10 minute break after an hour.

      During the later part of the course, say Day 6 on-wards, the instruction may ask you to “try” and sit for 60 minutes without trying to change the posture. Again there is not hard rule that you must achieve it. Just asks you to try your best.

      In the event you have a back problem or a medical issue you may ask the assistants to provide you with a chair or a back support. But this support should be taken only if required due to medical reasons.

      Hope this helps

      regards,
      Abhi

      Reply
    • Hi Peter – Abhi pretty much covers it. The very longest that you are asked to sit without changing your position is one hour, and this request takes place later in the course (Day 6 or so). And to Abhi’s point, you do the best that you can. I understand your questions and apprehension (I experienced both), but I recommend not to let those get in the way of your sitting the course. The course and its teachings are not aggressive or unbending (to my mind, anyhow) like the impression that other meditation and yoga courses might give off.

      Reply
    • Me, too! I am committed to mid-November in Varanasi. I have started reading other people’s experiences: still afraid but know it’s the best thing I can do right now on my spiritual journey. I am ready for this!

      Reply
    • I (and I expect most people reading this piece) can understand your concern and apprehension about certain aspects of sitting a Vipassana course, Annette. However, I hope your experience proved that the concerns in reality were less than you’d thought, that they were all worth it, or both.

      Reply
  40. Great post. I related to a lot of this, it really reminded me of my experiences at vipassana. It has me now thinking I should book myself in for another one soon…ish! Ha.

    Reply
    • Thanks, John. Glad to hear this resonated. I’m probably going to sit another Vipassana course within the next 6-12 months. I’m due.

      Reply
  41. I have registered for Vipassana course …
    But I too have severe scoliosis .. so I am so worried .. as you too have.. so you can understand and you can explain in better way how you survived there 10 days… As scoliosis is so painful.. any tips and advise regarding this…?

    Reply
    • Thanks for getting in touch, Rashi. I just returned from my 2nd sitting of the course a few days ago. This sitting was also very painful. However, I’m finding that many of my symptoms of scoliosis are due to muscles and muscle fibers having formed as “compensation” of the initial curvature of my spine. Things like muscle knots, malformed muscles, myofascial tissue buildup, etc.

      Sitting Vipassana has helped me loosen the muscles in my body. It has even helped me to slowly change the position of my pelvis, hips and spine.

      If your scoliosis is severe, you may want to speak with an open-minded doctor at home regarding how far he/she thinks you can go. Again, I endured extreme pain during the course that really felt as though I was breaking my body. However, it turned out OK for me. I felt much better after the course and have greater flexibility. However, each person is different.

      During the course, if you feel that the pain you are experiencing is somehow dangerous, you can discuss with the instructors how to approach it. There were a number of people in this course that sat it with the aid of back rests and also some people who chose to sit in chairs positioned low to the ground.

      I would say the idea is to bear and confront as much pain as is safe, but no further. That limit is different for everyone. That is something you’ll have to work out.

      I hope this helps. And I hope you find the course worthwhile. Please let us know how it goes.

      Reply
  42. Hi Daniel,
    It was great to go through your post and the comments. I shall be shortly going for a Vipassana course here in India and your post helped to answer many of the queries and reservations I had.
    I am not sure how I would handle the emotional part of it. Or is it something not to be handled but let whatever happens to happen.
    Thanks!

    Reply
    • I’m glad it helped.

      Regarding the emotional part of Vipassana, the second part of your final sentence is exactly it: “something not to be handled but let whatever happens to happen.”

      I hope you have/had a good Vipassana experience. Let us know how it goes.

      Reply
  43. What was it like returning to your significant other after Vipassana? How was your partner supportive in your transition back to normal life? What could have been better?
    My fiancee is currently at one, and I’m nervous for his return- I want to be a supportive environment, and part of me is fearful that he’ll feel differently towards me.

    Reply
    • Good question, Kat. After you read this, I’d be interested for you to share your thoughts and feedback on your actual experience after his return.

      The first and best thing to do is for everyone involved to manage expectations. Vipassana may be “transformative,” or it may not. The implication of “transformative” to one person may be different than the implications of “transformative” to the next person. To me, that’s an important observation to think on.

      How to support your partner? Ask some open questions. How was it? Then listen. Ask if he needs anything. And if he needs space, give some of that, too. He may have lot to share, Or he may not. Or it may take some time, especially if not much time has passed since his sitting.

      Note: you may have things to share, too. Or you may need space. That’s OK, too!

      Regarding your partner’s return to you after Vipassana, remain open. After returning from Vipassana, I’d imagine your partner will likely be attuned to things in such as a way so as to show more compassion and patience. But he may not. Changes may be favorable or unfavorable to you, and subject to shifts and change. Vipassana is not a permanent impression, but a process underscored by the very impermanent nature of life.

      That said — in general, I’d say Vipassana offers a way of thinking and approaching the world that is generally positive for relationships of all kinds.

      That’s a long way of saying that Vipassana will likely do good things. But those good things may ebb and flow, making their impression known over time.

      Reply
  44. Dear Dan
    Read your post on your experiences of Vipassana. I have been thinking to attend 10 days Vipassana course from last 17 years. Finally I have taken the plunge and will attend 10 days course in June this year at a centre near Hyderabad, India.
    I read your post three times and I realised and feel I am carrying a lot of emotional baggage. I hope this course will do a lot of good for me.
    Anyway what happens will happen for good.
    By the way I am 62 years old. What advice can you offer for me a first timer?
    With Blessings and Best Wishes

    Reply
    • “What happens will happen for good.” — In all the meanings of that phrase, it seems to me that you have the proper perspective. I suspect you’ll find that your experience will unfold as it should, without the need for advance thinking or preparation.

      If you have yet to depart, we wish you a good course. If you are returning, we would look forward to hearing about your Vipassana course experience.

      Reply
  45. Dan,

    Inspired by this post when I read it a year ago, I have just now found the time and the course availability to attend my first Vipassana course, which will be in Kelseyville CA. I depart tomorrow at noon. I expect to have thoughts to share on my return.

    Warmly (in all senses — forecast is for 97F this week),
    Greg

    Reply
  46. Hi Daniell,

    Thanks for sharing your experience Daniell. my boyfriend is currently doing a 10 day course. and i’m scared if this will be a barrier for our relationship. i’m afraid if he will get away from me slowly. all i want to know is what are the both positive and negative effects for a relationship by doing this course? is there any negative effects?.please let me know about this. I’m so scared :'(

    Reply
    • Good question, Venissa. I’m inclined to think that Vipassana is a clarifying force for relationships, rather than a barrier. I suspect this is because of how prominent compassion is in the teaching.

      Fear and apprehension are understandable. But what Vipassana helps teach is to place those and other fears into perspective and to not let them rule our lives.

      See also my exchange with another reader above:
      https://uncorneredmarket.com/vipassana-meditation-retreat/#comment-1510213

      Please share your thoughts and experiences so that others might benefit.

      Reply
  47. Hi! I found your post before I attended my Vipassana course. Resisted reading the reflections part and went straight to the logistics portion as I didn’t want any expectations prior to the experience.

    Now that I’ve completed the course and still processing it, I do share many similar experiences and insights with you.

    It took me 5 years to make this a reality. I felt intense joy and also immense frustration during the course. At this moment, I’m actually thinking when I should do my next course! There were a couple of times during the course that I was sure I would never do another. Talk about impermanence!

    No idea whether it would take me another 5 years to do the course again … letting it be. Glad to be ‘on the path’.

    Reply
    • Glad to hear that my experiences and insights resonated, Charlie. Your conflicted feelings about the course are understandable and clearly shared by many. Good luck on the path!

      Reply

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