What Happens at a Vipassana Retreat (10-Day Silent Meditation)

A Vipassana retreat is a not for the faint hearted, or for people who like to thrown in the towel too easily. It stands alone from the modern ‘mindfulness’ meditation that has seen a rise in popularity over the years in the Western world as it focuses more intensely on non-reaction, as opposed to awareness and mantras.

If you do meditate and are interested in going on a Vipassana retreat, we will arm you with what to expect. But first, let’s look at how the party got started…

Origins of Vipassana

People can be forgiven for thinking that it originated in India. After all the country has many Vipassana retreats scatted around its well-known spiritual land and the founding father moved to India to spread its word.

But it was actually Myanmar (“Burma” at the time) where Satya Narayan Goenka pioneered this Buddhist technique in the 19th century.  He now has centres all over the world including India, Canada, the US, Australia, New Zealand, France, the UK, Japan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma and Nepal.

Thing to expect at a Vipassana Retreat

  • You will wake up at 4:00 am – Night owls won’t be loving the first meditation session of 4:30am, but no one said that this would be easy.
  • You can’t kill creepy crawlies – One of the rules on your silent retreat is that you can not kill a living being during your time there.
  • You will be eating a vegetarian diet – Staying congruent with the ‘be kind to all beings’ ethos, it makes sense that the food you eat will be vegetarian. If you do it in India you’re in for a treat – the veggie food there is on another level!
  • No alcohol – I feel everyone should know this but I have heard some horror stories of people sneaking it in!
  • You can’t make eye contact – On top of having to stay quiet, you are not allowed to look another person in the eye. This will be much harder if you are an agreeable and smiley person.
  • Masturbation is forbidden – You can’t get your rocks off during Vipassana. Hey, don’t blame us we are just the messengers!
  • You will be incredibly uncomfortable – Even the most bendy and mobile of us will be surprised at how much we ache sitting in alien positions for a length of time.
  • You will grow to hate bells – Whenever you are due for a meditation session of meal you will hear a DING-A-LING-A-LING which will test your resolve at first.
  • You will judge books by their cover – It’s best not to of course, but it’s part of human nature. You will talk to people after the 10 days is up and you will find you had preconceived notions about them (good or bad) which turn out to not be completely false.
  • You will feel like you are back at school – “Shhh, noble silence!” This is what I got told when I accidentally talked to myself on my first Vipassana session. The spiritual leaders exude confidence and if you step out of line, expect them to tell you off!

Vipassana is one of those life experiences that you simply have to try out yourself to see how you would fare. Our advice is to go in committed, drop your ego and give it your all for ten days. The worst case scenario if you don’t like it is you get to say you completed a very difficult challenged, which in itself will help you to grow into a stronger person.

Nichola Hunt

Cocktail aficionado. Large dog breed lover. Fondness of summer dresses. Hater of pickles. Born in London, based in Bali.

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