10-Day Meditation Retreat
The first time I took a Vipassana course on these, I had no idea of anything, I just wanted to understand why people would isolate themselves in a monastery or a mountain all their lives or even part of it in order to achieve for what Buddhist call enlightenment.
I was motivated by the discipline code, which stipulated many things that made sense to me. My parents, they worried a lot when I told them that I was going to a 10-day vipassana retreat, they thought that I was joining a sect, that they would practically wash my brain. But despite that, I kept going.
On the day of the start of the course of vipassana meditation, one of my best friends was on his birthday, so I told him to celebrate it the night before, which was a big mistake since that night I drank too much, I crashed my car, and I basically woke up the next morning with big regret, too late for the retreat and feeling very bad.
Despite all that, I went, in my car still damaged to the meditation center where the vipasana course would take place. Upon arrival, all kinds of people, some with hippie aspects, there also were older adults, pregnant women, among many normal-looking people.
I felt terrible. All I wanted was to sleep, so I practically didn’t interact with anyone and went directly to lay down in the bed they assigned me and rested until they called me for dinner. At dinner, there was a pumpkin soup, something that for the hangover, was the best they could give me.
At my table, a man, in his 50s, who was doing his second course. In addition, two young people of my age who were musicians, one of them, also in his second retreat. I had no idea how to sit, so I asked for advice.
One of them, in a moment, says something like “how nice to get into this again, to observe a little to ourselves”. The truth is that I listened, but did not understand what he was talking about.
It was time to get in the place where we would meditate, and they called us to assign us a place where we would meditate throughout the whole course. I sat down, and all I did was looking at the rest as they sat, still not understanding anything. The teacher gave some indications about the technique, which was nothing more than becoming aware of the breath, and started the course. From that moment on, a complete vow of silence should be followed for the next 10 days.
That night, and for the rest of the next two days, the only thing in my head was electronic music. Although I tried to do the exercise, I had a hard time concentrating. The doubts began. If I was able to continue with the course, if this was for me, if it was the right time to do it, etc.
I saw everyone sitting, like a statue, while I couldn’t achieve the exercise for even a few seconds. I must say, that during the 10 days, I wanted to leave every day. There were some moments when I saw my car, and regret came back increased. Concerns about if my family was fine, I was creating arguments to convince myself of leaving the course. The second day, I was decided, I went to talk to the teacher to leave the course. When I arrived and sat down, something made me change my mind. I only asked him a question about the technique of meditation and left. I was going to stay at least one more day.
I kept trying. That night, even with doubts about whether to continue in the course, I listened very carefully to the teacher’s speech, which by the way is another person, not the same one that was physically there with all of us. His words and the description of what I was living was so accurate, that he convinced me to try one more day. If a person like him, who is not physically there with you, a recording made a long time before, understood me so well, and said things with such sense, I should continue. Such was what he said, that we all laughed together at his words, that made me understand that perhaps, we were all going through the same things.
The truth is that silence was not so difficult after all. I wanted to talk to my family and to be sure that they were fine, but being silent in that place didn’t generate any problems for me. I began to realize that with each breath I was aware of, it made me more aware of what was going on in my head. The words of the boy on the first day were beginning to make sense, I began to slowly enter into my head, to observe the thoughts that were there. I realized how toxic some of them were. I was constantly fighting, with everyone, and I couldn’t get out of there.
I realized that until that moment, all the time my head was making thoughts, that I had never had a break, and that for the first time I was knowing what was happening there. I realized that I was a slave of my thoughts and the interaction between mind and matter was able to be observed.
I also understood what it meant to be present and to live this moment. Previously I thought they were phrases to motivate you, that living in the present was not being aware of anything other than now, that maybe it had to be with a philosophy of living without consequences, like living thinking that you might die tomorrow. But now I understand that being present is living the moment intensely, with a lot of awareness, awareness of where you come from, where you are going, but especially where you are now, at this moment. The thoughts in the mind, the sensation of the body and how the world interacts with us. You know that you might die tomorrow, but you also know that you might not. So live a life aware of the consequences of your acts, but don’t leave pending stuff without solving them.
Before that, I did not understand, but inside your mind, in the thinking, we are always traveling to the past (what a person did to me, what I did to such a person, what I experienced that made me feel bad or good) or maybe in the future (what I’m going to tell to that person the next time he tells me that, etc). Now, with my breath, I found a tool that brings me to the present, to breathe the world around me, free of thoughts, even if it lasted only a few seconds, I was living my present for the first time.
On the 4th day, another technique is taught, a technique called vipassana meditation, the technique that the Buddha supposedly taught, and that means, “seeing things as they really are.” It is a technique in which the sensations present in the body are observed from moment to moment, trying to observe the change in them.
The technique is described as a form of detoxification. And as the days go by, it starts to make sense. Very unpleasant thoughts begin to appear, and as such, they manifest in the body as intense and unpleasant sensations. Basically, there is a lot of pain.
All this makes the experience very difficult, but as Carl G. Jung once said, “nobody gets enlightened by fantasizing figures of light, but making their own darkness conscious.”
As the days go by, the process changes from moment to moment, differently in each individual, but the changing nature of the universe and of the mind is understood. At times there is a lot of pain, and meditation becomes impossible, while in others, meditation becomes very nice and easy.
It begins to surface thoughts already forgotten, and while advancing in the technique, you start to understand, you start healing, and little by little those toxic thoughts of the beginning, begin to disappear more and more. Although I still wanted to leave, I was able to see that meditation was certainly helping me. It is different in each one, but I understood among many other things, the great attachment I had with my mother, and the great suffering that caused me the separation from her when I started going to kinder garden. I found an obvious relationship between this, and the conflicts I had throughout my life at school, and later at university; between many other things.
On the 9th day, one of the boys who attracted my attention for how good it seemed to be doing (he was sitting and without moving since day 1), began singing after breakfast at a large volume, making references to love, and to how important this was.
He ended up leaving the course, and with that, I noticed how it affected many other students, including the teacher and me.
From the first day, one signs a commitment of not leaving the course, it is said many times that you are living a detoxification process, so if you leave the course early, it is like leaving the room in the middle of an operation, with the wound open, and going to the direction where no one can help you.
On the last day, a new technique is taught, a beautiful technique about love, where through a kind of prayer you connect with forgiveness, gratitude, and love. This technique is very valuable, as it helps you to get out of the state of detoxing and make you focus on love. After this, it concludes the vow of silence and it begins the last day when you are allowed to speak and with it, the last process of the course or retreat.
This process is something quite important since in it, we realize how similar everyone’s experiences are, even though there was no communication whatsoever. I could see how different they were while talking to them, compared to how I imagined they were during the silence. You can see in the eyes of others, how good they are after living the entire process, and you end up understanding everything that was experienced before.
Now, I can write, and describe what I experienced, but each one goes through different processes, and experiences might be different to mine. Anyway, after talking to many students and teachers benefited from the technique, I recommend if you go to a course like this to give a fair chance, and stay until the last day, no matter what happens. On day 10, is when everything is really understood, when the wound of the operation is closed. It is when I understood why someone would go all his life to a monastery, to understand the nature of one’s self, the self of others, to abandon toxic mental patterns that take you away from your own happiness, and to live the present more intensely. Simply observing things as they really are, clearly. And not because someone told you, but because you discovered within yourself, from your own experience.
Happiness is available to everyone, at all times, independent of the experiences they went through or have lived. If a monk or a person chooses to move away from the city or from the known to train and strengthen themselves in the art of living in the present, it is because regardless of where you are and who you are with, you can be present and be happy, but it is not easy to find a place or people who contribute to improv in this process. We all grew up looking outward, seeing who to compete with, who to win and giving our best in order to achieve that which would finally allow you to be happy. But few have been lucky enough to look inward, to compete with ourselves, and enjoy the happiness that you experience while trying to improve in the simple fact of being here and now.