🧘 Meditation retreat

04 Nov 2019 in meditation,

In the middle of October I went on a 10 day Vipassana meditation retreat. That was honestly one of the hardest things I did in my life. Although the goal is to get out of your misery, during the retreat I couldn’t help but continuously think ‘I haven’t felt as miserable in the past year as I’m feeling right now’. Still, I am happy that I did it, and feel it brought me value.

What wasn’t difficult was not talking for 10 days. What was difficult was 11 hours of meditation per day, 11 hours of continuous deliberate focus. That I slept horribly and sitting was extremely painful for most of the days didn’t help either. But that focus was what was really hard.

Now I’m not someone who is normally distracted easily, but I think that I went into this week a bit ignorant and with a goal different than most might have had. For me it was just about ‘practicing’ my mind a bit more, while the retreat is set up to set you up to the path of enlightenment. So how did these 10 days bring me value? For that I have to explain the technique a little.

The concept

I already talked about how the goal is to get out of your daily misery. This misery is mainly caused by two reactions that you have on sensations. Your mind normally reacts with either craving or aversion, meaning that when you experience a pleasant sensation you want to have more of it, and when you experience an unpleasant sensation you want it to go away. The problem with both patterns is that you’re not happy with what is now. On top of that you start a vicious circle where you will also not be happy once the craving is fulfilled or the aversion is gone, because you’ll generate new craving/aversion.

The practice

The above probably sounds true on the intellectual level. What we learned in these 10 days (and it literally took me 10 days to even get a glimpse of how it actually works), is to experience this truth. To learn it on the experiential level. The way that is done is by focusing on ordinary sensations in and on your body. So for example the temperature of the breath, or your shirt touching your skin. You notice the sensation and simply observe it, not reacting with craving nor with aversion. What you’ll soon notice is that every sensation will automatically rise and pass away. It is therefore not useful to react to a sensation with craving or aversion.

Now there’s a lot more levels to this that I’m not the person to write about, and mostly you’ll have to actually experience yourself. The reason this was so hard though is that it is very hard to really be able to only observe a sensation. It took me 10 days to get to a state where finally I was able to remain equanimous for a longer period of time, not reaction to most sensations.

The value in daily life

Why it still brought me value is that I’m now better equipped to not react. When something happens that previously would make me angry, it still does, but now I let go of this anger a lot quicker than I’d previously. I’m able to observe what is happening in my body, and realize that also this anger will pass away. I will then sit with the anger for a bit, feeling it slowly dissipate, and will ideally refrain from outwardly reacting until that has happened.

So in the end I am happy I did this, but don’t think I’ll be doing it again any time soon. I am trying to keep to a daily practice (although I’ve already skipped a few days by now), because in the end the whole point is to practice your mind to not react automatically. The best way to do this is through meditation, and such a 10-day course is an intense kick-start.