I might have written this article (in my head) at least 100 times during the 10-day Vipassana retreat I did in September in Yangoon, Burma. Well 10 days … 12 exactly in the center and 10 in complete silence.
I arrived a Friday afternoon around 2pm, ready (or not) to spend the next 10 days in silence, meditating 10 hours a day. I was a little apprehensive, I must be honest. I had made this decision a few months ago already and had been traveling for 3 months, during which I met several people who had attended a Vipassana retreat.
There are different Vipassana retreats, but the one I chose and which resonates the most with me is the Vipassana method according to Goenka.
Goenka was born in Burma and was a businessman coming from a wealthy family of Indian extraction. After suffering from migraines, he discovered Vipassana and healed his migraines with this technique and became a teacher of the method himself after his teacher, U Ba Khin, trained him so he could spread the Vipassana method around the world. The center of Yangoon is the first center of Vipassana that was created by U Ba Khin and where Goenka first did his retreat.
The Vipassana method had been lost in India 500 years after Buddha’s teachings. Only a few Burmese sages still practiced the method the way Buddha had taught it and retransmitted it from generations to generations until it reached Goenka. According to the prophecy, 2500 years after the Buddha teachings, a Man would bring the Vipassana method back to India. It is exactly this 2500th year, that Goenka received an Indian passport (a miracle … or not …) to bring back the Vipassana method in India. The first retreats attracted a few people and very quickly, more and more people presented themselves which resulted in creating more and more retreats, then more and more centers so that today Vipassana is generously offered in the whole world and participating in a Vipassana retreat is on donation.
There are also monasteries that offer Vipassana retreats (in Thailand in particular) or other structures called Vipassana, with a much lighter program, ability to speak, walking meditations etc.
Goenka’s Vipassana retreat is very intense, challenging (to say the least) and really pushes for introspection.
If you want to find the complete program of a Vipassana retreat, visit their website.
As I said above, I may have written this article in my head about 100 times during the retreat. I have been out now for over 2 months and I did not feel like writing this article before. In fact, I do not want to write what I’ve read on blogs so far and what I had planned to write originally, telling my experience day by day etc. (Jokes included because we do laugh in Vipassana, in silence yes, but we laugh).
After talking about Vipassana with several people now, I realize that everyone has really different experiences. So, basically, no one can know how it will work for them before doing it. And, it seems to me that to go into details in what I lived would not be “right” according to what I have learned from this method.
You are your own master!
If you feel called or interested and want to do this retreat, just ask yourself, you have your answers and follow your intuition, your inner guide.
For me, it was an experience of rare intensity. A huge introspection … As Goenka says, it’s a surgical operation of the mind.
It has not been easy every day … And weirdly, silence is not the hardest thing. What is common to hear as triggers in most stories are the physical pain associated with the meditation postures for 10 hours a day, the emotional pain (all that comes back up), the mental pain (when the mind goes on and on and on…). But all this is natural and it is the basis of the method, to understand that everything is impermanent, in constant change: Anicca …
Whatever the sensation (good or bad) of the moment, it will not last and this impermanence (anicca) guides us towards non-attachment and therefore contemplation and equanimity.
I have noticed the evolution of my mind each day especially towards more clarity and I will gladly go back for a few days of retreat when I can.
I do feel a change in my behavior sometimes towards more wisdom which is a great “victory” already. I hear that word resonating “Anicca” when I am triggered and it does calm me down and I can see things more objectively. I feel the need to meditate more and reconnect with myself, my breathing, my body, be in the here and now and give some rest to my mind. I do not know if I saw “things as they really are”, but I learned a lot from this experience and I feel there is still a lot to be digested and integrated in the coming months.
So patience … Anicca!
PS: I am so grateful for the people I have met on the way and especially for my beautiful friends Lorene and Veronica and my roommate Inga, who have been such (silent) support throughout this whole experience. Thank you!