I got the chance to fulfill my dream of going on a 10-day silent meditation retreat after graduation in 2014. I had no prior experience of regular meditation before that retreat. Fortunately, I found a Vipassana center called Dhamma Thali in my home town of Jaipur in Rajasthan.
After completing initial formalities of registration and submitting phone, wallet, and other belongings, I went to my room. It had a bed and attached bathroom with other necessary items.
Many first time participants also got rooms on twin sharing basis but I got a single room. There is not much difference but there is a lesser chance of breaking the Noble silence when one is living alone.
We just strolled and roamed around the area whole afternoon before the evening snack at 5. After that, we were once again familiarized with the rules and regulations and shown our meditation spots in Dhamma Hall.
With this, the noble silence ( Arya Maun, where you are not even allowed to communicate with gestures and eye contact) commenced. After a brief introduction to the Aanapan meditation, we retired to our rooms by 10.
DAY 1 – DAY 3
The actual ritual started from next day morning at 4 am when volunteers came around ringing bells at doors waking up everyone.
Everyone was very excited on the first day and gathered enthusiastically at 4:30 in the hall. For the whole day, we tried taming the wild mind animal by focusing on our breaths ( Aanapan Meditation).
By the end of the day, I understood that the routine just looks tough on paper- it is a lot tougher in practice. Moreover, almost 10 hours of sitting cross-legged trying to maintain a straight back posed another challenge.
During the teacher’s discourse (video lecture by S.N. Goenka) on the first day, he warned that the tendency to quit is very high on 2nd/3rd days and 5th/6th days.
The thing is that for the first 3-3 ½ days, you only practice mindfulness of breath with few variations on the 3rd day. So by the end of 3rd day, there are definite signs of frustration, doubts, and negativity. This happens especially among new students who begin to question their decision to come there.
The routine continued and excitement came back on the 4th day when Vipassana was introduced. Though I experienced overwhelming emotions at times but my mind was calm and relaxed most of the time. And this is what was required for Vipassana practice.
In the meanwhile, the teacher’s discourses in the evenings were growing interesting day by day as we begin to understand many things related to religion, dharma, and spirituality.
It was actually an added bonus as my sole aim of the retreat was to relax and learn some meditation. I never imagined myself sitting in a hall and listening to discourses on religion and spirituality. But this retreat gave me much more than a relaxed and calm mind and it was all just the beginning.
DAY 5- DAY 6
The fifth day was a major day for me. During the morning mediation, I experienced a major emotional breakdown remembering my parents and realizing how much I love them but take them for granted.
My heart filled with love and gratitude towards them, my eyes welled up with tears and a huge lump in my throat appeared.
I could not eat breakfast that day. I spent the complete rest hour in my room, letting all the emotions and feelings come up to the surface and let go of them.
I felt a strange calm by the time of mediation at 8 in morning. I thought everything was fine. But it was actually the calm just before the storm.
That day, I struggled really hard for the first time to control my mind and focus on my breath. By the end of the day, I actually hated myself for not being able to calm my mind on a silent meditation retreat.
How was I ever going to cope with the external chaos?
These feelings remained with me till the morning of the 6th day. At the breakfast, I decided that enough is enough. My aim to come here was to just relax the mind and body.
Let the meditation go to hell. I am just going to enjoy the surroundings, watch the monkeys play and during meditation, I would just close my eyes and think whatever I want.
Little did I know then that decision would lead me to one of the most profound yet simple lessons from this retreat.
As decided, I stopped paying attention to trying to control my mind and instead I let my mind wander wherever it can. That evening, while strolling in the rest time, I was enjoying the play of monkeys watching them jump from one branch to another.
Suddenly, I was able to envision my mind in that monkey and I became the observer. That was the biggest Aha moments out of many where I smiled and told to myself,
“Look. This is you. Mindlessly jumping from thoughts to thoughts without being aware of them, reacting to them and creating problems in the mind itself. “
From that moment of realization, I knew that big changes happen in an instant. It was not the first time I have heard or listened to this concept of being aware and observing your thoughts.
From the first day itself Mr. Goenka was making us realize this nature of mind. It was just that I was never able to realize it in such a profound manner. I once again decided to give the technique a full try with complete dedication from seventh day.
I woke up on Day 7 with full enthusiasm. I was able to concentrate and meditate quite successfully in the early morning session. The breakfast tasted very delicious that day and I ate happily and satisfactorily.
However, when we again got back to meditation, I experienced very mild discomfort in my stomach. I could have easily ignored it by remembering my full fledged delicious breakfast and carried on. But it was time for another deep realization.
My mind started imagining and exaggerating that discomfort. It magnified those moments to a severe case of diarrhea and I imagined myself going back to home without completing the course. Right there in the meditation hall, I felt my eyes getting moist and deep sadness in my heart.
But this time one big change had already occurred on 6th day which again made me look into the situation objectively without reacting. And I realized about my tendency of making mountains out of molehills.
Either my mind is busy jumping from one thought to another like a crazy monkey or it keeps on exaggerating one single thought to maddening heights.
Another Ahaaa moment…and boy was I happy.. Yes.. Though I knew these things about me somewhere deep down but I had never experienced them like this. I was able to see and observe my thought processes so clearly.
So one moment I was sitting in hall secretly crying over the prospect of returning. And another moment, I was smiling to myself on truth realizations. And all this time, I was supposed to be concentrating on my breath and body sensations!
But it was kind of more fun also, fighting and defeating my inner thought demons. That was the actual purpose of this journey. I felt pure joy and peace that day.
DAY 8- DAY 10
We were allotted separate small rooms in the main Pagoda for meditation alone during these days. Experience in those rooms was quite wonderful.
I continued to have many realizations from different perspectives about many deep rooted problems. I was brimming with happiness and peace that finally I have some satisfactory answers to some problems.
On the 10th day, the noble silence of 9 ½ days finally ended. By the end of that day which happened at 12 midnight instead of usual 9, almost everyone was suffering from mild to severe throat choking which was the after effect of verbal diarrhea after the noble silence. 😀
Final thoughts on vipassana experience
I have not explained how vipassana meditation felt like in body because everyone feels differently. However, this meditation retreat can surely work wonders in making you think about your life and thought processes in a clear balanced manner.
It certainly gave me a fresh perspective, if not completely turned over my life. A new perspective to see things in life, to see things as they really are, without any judgments, without reactions and maintain equanimity in every situation life has to offer.
That is Vipassana; the insight meditation; to see things as they really are; the way to life; the True Art of Living. If you want to know about this fantastic technique, the best way is to go there and experience it yourself. In India, Igatpuri meditation center is the biggest but also the busiest so you may have to apply 4-5 months in advance!