You ready to get into the nitty gritty of a ten day silent retreat?!
The daily schedule
It went as follows and was the same every day:
4:00 am Morning wake up bell
4:30-6:30 am Meditate in the meditation hall or in your room
6:30-8:00 am Breakfast break
8:00-9:00 am Group meditation in the hall
9:00-11:00 am Meditate in the hall or your room according to the teacher’s instructions
12:00-1:00 pm Rest and interviews with the teacher
1:00-2:30 pm Meditate in the hall or in your room
2:30-3:30 pm Group meditation in the hall
3:30-5:00 pm Meditate in the hall or your room according to the teacher’s instructions
5:00-6:00 pm Tea break
6:00-7:00 pm Group Meditation in the hall
7:00-8:15 pm Teacher’s Discourse in the hall
8:15-9:00 pm Group Meditation in the hall
And then you literally fell into bed!
The men and women were segregated the entire time. We all sat in the meditation hall together on different sides, but since you were never making eye contact with anyone you never even looked over to that side. There were separate female and male dining facilities and dorm style accommodations. Every female had a private room and bathroom. Picture a small, sparse, modest single dorm room.
Although the meditation center as a whole was extremely modest, the meditation hall was beautiful. It was made of all white marble and had thick white carpeting as a bed for our cushions.
I did mostly all of my meditations in the hall because I focused better there than in my room, and all my cushions were there and I was most comfortable.
The hall was filled with a plethora of seating arrangements. It was incredible! Nobody sat the same was and there was every single cushion configuration you can imagine. We all started with a 2X2 flat cushion and a small cushion on top, but there was a room adjacent to the hall that was filled with every type of cushion or block you can imagine to help support knees, hips and backs. As the days wore on and body parts began getting sore, the piles got higher and higher.
There were about 100 people sitting during my course, and I would say every age from 20-70 was represented, as well as many ethnicities. It was a beautiful mix of people.
I was worried about the food situation until about a week before I went and the guy that checked me out at Lululemon said he had been to this center and the food was really good.
I knew that it was vegetarian, which is perfect for me, but I was freaked out about only having two meals a day and no snacks. At home I eat every 2-3 hours, and even though I did contemplate stashing some protein bars in my bag, I really didn’t want to cheat. If everyone else was going to bed hungry, so was I!
The food at the center was actually DELICIOUS! It was plentiful, and I even asked for a few recipes when I left. Believe it or not, they have them online because so many people ask for them.
Breakfast was the same every day. It consisted of oatmeal, stewed prunes (which were actually amazing and I miss them), fruit, toast, yogurt, and cereal. You may see a theme here—you eat a lot of carbs.
The first day all the carbs freaked me out. There was pasta and rice at lunch, and my first thought was that I already had oatmeal that day. It’s not that I don’t eat carbs, but usually not at every single meal. Well, I got over it really fast. My next meal wasn’t for 19 hours, so if there was rice, potatoes and lasagna all served together I ate them all. It didn’t exactly turn out to be the food detox I had imagined! There was lots of rice, indian food some days, hearty soups and a salad bar with every lunch. It was all amazing and I think I am the only person who ever ate only two meals a day and gained weight!
You may have noticed on the schedule that there is tea time, but not dinner. That’s because you literally have tea. You are also allowed to have a piece of fruit with your tea, but quite honestly by the end I couldn’t stomach one more apple, orange or banana, and since I was going to go to bed hungry anyway I skipped the fruit on the last few days.
There was a pond next to the female dorm and I walked around it after lunch for about 45 minutes. It felt so good to move. Other exercises or running were not allowed, but I did do some planks and push ups in my room when I had a few extra minutes and I didn’t feel like staring at the wall, or I had already flossed my teeth. I also did a few balancing yoga poses and stretched.
Noble silence means no talking, no gestures, and no eye contact. This was a very intense part of the experience, but super important in making your experience your own. There was no comparing your meditations to anyone else’s because you had no clue what kind of experience they had. As hard as it was to not speak for ten days, it really was essential to get the most out of a course like this.
It felt amazing to be a student again. I mention this in Hot Mess to Mindful Mom, but we can never stop learning and improving ourselves. It keeps us fresh and excited about life.
The course is taught by videos and recordings of S.N. Goenka, the gentleman that revived Vipassana Meditation and brought it back to India from Burma, and to the Western world. He is a wise and loving man with a great sense of humor. He has since passed away, but people all over the world are taught by him still.
Vipassana is one of India’s most ancient meditation techniques. It was long lost and rediscovered and taught by the Gotama the Buddha 2500 years ago, but fell away in India, and the tradition of pure Vipassana was kept alive only in Burma all these years.
On site were our assistant teachers. They answered all of our questions and were extremely helpful. My female assistant teacher was a patient and kind woman who reminded me in looks of Betty White a bit. It takes years and years to reach the level of assistant teacher, about 14, so when it comes to Vipassana meditation, she was as knowledgable as could be.
Even with all my meditation experience, when it came to this style of meditation I was a complete newbie. I was a beginner just like everyone else. Vipassana is the most intense style of meditation I have even done, but I loved it and instantly connected to it, even though it felt so HARD at the beginning.
Breaking the silence
In order to re-acclimate to speaking and conversation after practicing noble silence for days, we were allowed to speak on the afternoon of the last day. It was the most bizarre feeling. We were all giddy and felt almost high. My voice sounded weird and I was talking so fast. I am so glad I got that out of my system before I went home! All I wanted to know at first was what everyone did in their room when they were alone. It turns out pretty much everyone flossed their teeth a lot!
It was crazy because you didn’t know anyone’s name or where they were from, but you noticed their habits. I knew who walked around the pond clockwise, and who preferred counter clockwise. I ate lunch next to the same girl most days, and the only thing I knew about here is that she ate cinnamon toast at the end of every meal.
A few of my OH SHIT moments
During the afternoon of Day 2 I was craving a break. I just wanted to know if Christina had her baby on Parenthood in the next episode! I got pissed that you couldn’t read anything, even if it was spiritual.
On the evening of Day 4, after we had learned and began practicing the Vipassana technique, I cracked. It felt SO hard and I thought I had made a mistake. I decided that I should have done more research and I berated myself for being so impulsive. I literally had to talk myself off the ledge, and remind myself that the Universe doesn’t make mistakes. I was exactly where I needed to be and meant to learn this technique. I had to shift my energy around the meditation from it is hard, to it is super cool. Look what my attention can actually do! Look what it is capable of? How amazing is it that things are constantly changing, and how can that help me in my every day life?
I cried myself to sleep that night. Noisy, wet pillow crying.
I also missed my family so much it felt like a physical ache. I could only allow myself to think about Mark and the boys when I woke up in the morning and before bed. If I spent all day thinking about what they were doing, I couldn’t do the work on myself that I was there to do. Whenever I thought about them during the day I used present moment awareness, came back to my breath, and stayed in the moment. Otherwise it was just too painful.
I was so tired from waking up at 4 am every day, that on Day 5 I am pretty sure I slept through most of my 4:30 am meditation!
Apparently the “real work” for me began on Day 6. My teacher called it a storm. I started crying during my lunch. I was grateful nobody could make eye contact with me because I probably would have completely lost it like a mad woman, but at the same time it was super hard to not be able to connect with someone when I was having such a hard time. I am sure the people near me felt so sad and uncomfortable not being able to ask me if I was ok. That is how I felt every time I heard someone cry.
The tears sliding down my face wouldn’t stop, and I began to realize that ultimately we are truly responsible for our own emotions, and we can’t always count on someone to get us out of our funk. We have to do the work.
At the time I felt meditated out, and I wanted to hear Adam and Dylan’s voices to the point that my heart ached. I felt like it was cutting me in two. On top of it, I was getting horrible cramps eating in this state. It was truly a new version of emotional eating! Ordinarily you would find a private space to let loose, but I wasn’t getting another meal for 19 hours and for once there was dessert, so I refused to leave the dining room.
I went to see my teacher after lunch, walked in, and started bawling. She told me “Congrats, the meditations are working.” She also confirmed what I already knew—that wasn’t the root of what I was releasing, it was just what was on the surface.
She must have seen overachiever written all over me because she told me that I was really far ahead of a lot of other people. This was “the work” and this is how the transformation comes. With that I had a renewed dedication to my meditations. That is why I was there—to do the work, and it was working!
I remember walking into a group meditation on the evening of Day 7 thinking, “If I can do this, I can truly do anything in my life.” Just when I thought that I couldn’t meditate one more freaking time, I had to dig deep and meditate one more freaking time.
I had a smaller storm before bed on Day 8. I didn’t actually realize what was going on until it was over. I went to bed teary because I simply couldn’t tell if anything had really happened to me so far. Did I feel different? Did I transform at all? Did I do enough? Did I try hard enough? I came back to my breath and eventually fell asleep.
It was crazy because when I woke up the next morning something was different. I felt calmer inside, more confident, and if this makes sense more ME. That’s when I knew I was on the other side of the storm.
It is hard to even describe the feeling…I just knew something was a little bit different about me. That was the moment that I finally understood in my core why I’d come. It was to find a little bit more of ME.
As I continue down my path I’ll find bits more along the way. So it turns out the perfect 40th birthday gift to myself was ME.