Just returned from my meditation retreat at a Vipassana Meditation Centre near Auckland. Now I know that 10 days can be very long, especially when you have to meditate 10 hours per day, but it was definitely worth it! The direct experience of the changes within your body and mind even in one and a half weeks is absolutely amazing.
Vipassana is one of India‘s most ancient meditation techniques and means “seeing things as they really are”. The so-called process of self-purification by self-observation was rediscovered by Gotama the Buddha more than 2,500 years ago. With continued practice it eliminates the causes of unhappiness and breaks the old habit of reacting in an unbalanced way.
We, a group of around 50 students, made our first steps into meditation by observing the natural breath to concentrate the mind. With a sharpened awareness we proceeded to observe the permanently changing sensations within the body, trying to reach the unconscious mind. It is incredible how much more prickling, tingling, pulsing sensations you can feel on a small area like the upper lip if you concentrate hard enough. After six days, I reached a stage called ‘free flow’ that can be compared to a shiver you could sweep up and down from the top of your head to the toes, a unique feeling. The pain in my back and knees was really bad during the first days. It felt like doing extreme sport instead of just sitting cross-legged, but with the time it got better, as the body got used to it.
All students had to observe Noble Silence, which meant that any form of communication including eye-contact and physical gestures was forbidden. However, we could speak with the teachers if necessary. Not talking for 10 days and not being able to share my experiences with anyone seemed quite harsh to me in the beginning. However, in the long run it proved to be so useful, because only in this way I could entirely concentrate on myself, having the impression that I was working in isolation.
As there was no dinner after 12 pm – only fruit and milk or tea at 5 pm – my biggest fear was that I would run around hungry, but it proved wrong. The delicious food was enough and made up for all the pain and strain, even for getting up at 4 am. The bell was our worst enemy or best friend, depending on when it would ring or what it would announce. Further rules and regulations included a segregation of males and females, no contact with the ‘outer world’, a ban of reading, writing and physical exercise.
What was quite hard to deal with was the boredom at times. We could only take short walks in the forest inside the course site, so my mind went crazy being my only companion. Every bird and possum seen and every sound heard made me so happy! In the morning of the last day we were finally allowed to speak with each other and face the real world, which was quite intense after so much silence.