A few months ago, I signed up to join a 10-day Vipassana Meditation Course in Dasmariñas, Cavite from August 3-14, 2016. It would be ten days of austere living, disconnection from the outside world – no internet, no mobile phones, and while at the Dhamma Phala Center, we were also to practice “noble silence” – no speaking, and not even reading or writing. And of course, being as it was a meditation retreat, there was a scheduled 10-11 hours of meditation. Every. Single. Day.
I was looking forward to being disconnected, and not talking, but I wasn’t sure how I felt about not even being able to write. I was also feeling really uncertain if I could endure meditating for such long hours, given that during previous experience of one hour or even ten minute meditation sessions, my mind would wander and I couldn’t seem to sit still.
Was I ready?
As the days leading to the retreat approached, a friend here and there would ask if I was ready, after all, whenever people leave for trips abroad, even when we know we can maintain internet and mobile connection, we still get anxious leading up to the trip because we have to prepare this or that, or finish this or that job / project / errand, or make sure the people or work we leave behind will be okay. What more with this complete disconnection?
And then of course, there was the fact that I was going to be doing a ton of meditating. 10 days. 10-11 hours a day. That’s 100 hours of meditation that I was going to subject myself to. Would I make it out alive with my wits intact?
Ready as I ever will be
Truth is, I didn’t really know if I was really “ready”. But as with a lot of major challenges that come in life, you’re never really certain, but you can do the best you can to be as ready as you can be. And some part of me was anxious, but a larger part of me was at peace with the decision to finally push through with this.
So finally, when August 3 came, I set up a vacation responder in my personal email, posted on Facebook to let people know I’d be unreachable for a while:
…then set off on my journey to Dasmariñas, Cavite.
Sure enough, upon my return, many of those who knew about me taking the course were curious about it too. And so, I’ve compiled answers for these 8 FAQs about my own personal experience, takeaways, reasons, preparation, and how you might explore it for yourself as well.
FAQs About My Vipassana Meditation Marathon
How was it? It was good. It was both torture and bliss. Almost like a masochistic thing one puts one’s self through. Meditation from 4:30AM to 9:30PM. @_@ I won’t indulge you with too many words about the actual experience. That’d be too easy. You’ll just have to go and try it for yourself.
Are you “enlightened” now? What do you think? Heck no. Disappearing for ten days won’t magically make me a Buddha.
Are you then at least a beacon of peace and tranquility now? Or joy and happiness, maybe? Going into it, I believed that I wouldn’t suddenly emerge as a saint or a vegetable or a ray of sunshine at the end of the course. And that isn’t what I think people should expect either.
There was definitely a sense of peace when I was there (when I wasn’t thinking torture. Torture. TORTURE.), and I felt more ready to deal with life’s challenges and annoying people with more calmness and patience when I left. So far, so good.
Did you get what you were looking for? Yes and no. I went there primarily to learn this particular meditation technique and dissect its “soundness” in my life, and in the lives of others, and now, I feel like I came away with more than I had expected to gain.
At the same time, I also acknowledge all the introspection and action I did prior to the course, and I also know that the work doesn’t end with the ten days – it is about the work I will continue to do moving forward too. Each person has his or her own reasons for going into it.
Each person brings his or her own different life experiences, perceptions, habits or “baggage”, if you will. Each person will have his or her own openness and commitment to the process as well. And each person will have different results, depending on their practice while taking the course, and their thoughts and actions after the course.
What were your key takeaways / insights?
The Art of Dying is the Art of Living. Always been a fan of this philosophy since I was younger. So it just echoed it more.
Non-attachment ≠ No goals / ambition The thing that always baffled me about Buddhist philosophy since I encountered it in my college days was how could it be applied in a modern society obsessed with productivity / success / KRAs (Key Result Areas) / KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). It’s become clearer to me that it’s more about have goals in place but not causing one’s self and others extreme misery or wanting to go kill one’s self just because certain ideals were not met.
Non-attachment = Everything changes Shit happens. Move on. Good things don’t always stay that way. That’s life.
You learn a lot by observing people in silence. It was as much an introspective experience as it was an anthropological experience for me. I’d forgotten how amusing it was to observe people like that. And you can tell a lot about people by how they act in that environment.
Silence is sacred. We always tend to have some sort of media on, whether it’s checking Facebook or Instagram, listening to some music, watching TV, going to the movies, or listening to podcasts. But we need to conscious of our consumption of all that media all the time too, and not be obsessed either being hyper-productive all the time, or drowning out our own thoughts with all these distractions during possible pockets of silence.
It is amazing what you can do with strong, yet detached determination.
There’s more to it still, but I’ll stop here for now. 😉
What made you want to do it? Initially, family health reasons caused me to re-explore meditation this year (and I currently have 3 free versions of the Headspace, Calm, and 10% Happier apps on my phone, and I read Dan Harris’ 10% Happier).
And even when I was no longer doing it with family, I decided I wanted to explore it further for myself, as part of a complete “Life Detox, Declutter and Design” experiment in which I used my own self as guinea pig.
As mindful as I’ve tried to be in thoughts, words and actions in the past 4 years, in how I shopped, ate, got around, and as conscious as I tried to be in building MUNI, I still felt like there was some residual stuff that I needed to address and get to the root of to better realize what I wanted to happen with the rest of my life. So I came into for focus, clarity, and a bit of curiosity, as my psychology roots and the scientific part of my brain kind of wanted to dissect the process.
Those were my personal reasons. Of course it is different for everyone. But I guess a sweeping, all-encompassing statement could be that the objective for a lot of people who come into it is to find a change within.
How did you prepare or psych yourself up for it? Again, it’s probably different for everyone, so don’t use me as a yardstick here, but I guess you could say the preparation that I personally needed took me almost 4 years. (Yep, that long.)
I had first started looking into meditation as far back as 2012, trying out a few one-hour meditation sessions with Ananda Marga in Manila, and then in my travels around South East / South Asia that year in Hariharalaya in Siem Reap, and in Chiang Mai. I was fully aware that I could have taken 1-day, 2-day, 3-day, 10-day meditation retreats (and longer) while in Cambodia, Thailand, Laos or Sri Lanka, but somehow psyched myself out of it, telling myself that my mind would be way too busy to sit through one whole day. I told myself it wasn’t for me. So I just sought out meditation group sits or monk chats (mostly in Siem Reap and Chiang Mai) while traveling back then.
When I got back home to the Philippines, I sought out local meditation courses and found the Vipassana Meditation Philippines site, first signing up in September 2012 for a January 2013, then backing out due to an “important event” that came up, then again signing up for a March 2013 run, then backing out due to conflict with another project. And then I never really picked it back up again since.
I had been so convinced that I was too important in the world to get away from it for ten days. Of course, this was also during the early days of my exploration of MUNI, and I guess you could say I still had a great sense of FOMO in case I missed anything, as I was still really a solo act at the time without a team to lean on.
So it was a process of readying my mind (psychological readiness), and also re-designing my life a little bit (practical / operational readiness) so that I wouldn’t really “miss out” (making sure I didn’t take on additional responsibilities that would conflict with the schedule + making sure I had some folks to handle things I couldn’t attend to while I was away). And with much stronger volition and resolve this time, I finally committed to taking this on.
It helped that I was also conducting a personal life detox, declutter and design experiment, so I had also begun a physical and psychological journey of detachment through decluttering.
Okay, I think I want to look into it too. How do I learn more about the course? ALL course information is available at http://www.phala.dhamma.org/. 🙂
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Jen Horn is a wanderer, writer, and founder of MUNI, a community for mindful living. She encourages people to think critically – to ask questions about how they shop, eat and travel, to explore more socially and environmentally mindful ways of living while remaining kind to one’s self.
She writes about psychology, wellness and the environment, and loves diving and bike-commuting. Follow her at @nomadmanager.