My Initial Thoughts On My 10-Day Vipassana “Retreat”

Well I promised an update once I wrote my thoughts down. Still in that process, but here is what I feel so far.

The technique is good, and the center is an excellent place to go if you need to break some bad habits. If you have enough willpower, and really want to change certain behaviors, then you should definitely go to a 10-day course:
https://www.dhamma.org/en-US/schedules/schkunja

There is also a center in Seattle and something in Portland. You can always find a ride at their ride share board, bus and train schedules are listed as well.

I do not want to cause people to not want to go by what I have to say next. I do not want to sway anyone with these words. But I do need to express myself. So consider this only my experience, my perception, and that it may have little or nothing to do with your experience or perception. If you feel compelled to go, go.

This “retreat” is not, in any way, shape or form a retreat. You will not spend time making friends. You will be silent, in your own little world, until the last day. You will sit for a minimum of 6 hours every day for 10 days, in whatever cross-legged or kneeling position you prefer. There are various benches and pads available. You can request a chair without having to be interview by the teacher for the discourses at 7PM in the evening. I recommend you ask the manager first thing on the first day. Don’t get caught off guard with a 3 hour sit as I did.

This place is a combination of bootcamp and a school. You don’t have anyone yelling at you, no drill sergeants. But you are stuck with course boundaries, you are segregated from the opposite sex, and you are expected to follow an ethical and moral code called sila
http://www.vipassana.com/resources/8fp4.php

Food and shelter is provided, bedding and pillows may be available but you should bring your own just in case, along with your own clothing. You won’t need much other than a towel, washcloth, various weights of loose clothing that goes at least to your knees and elbows and of course underwear. No need for makeup or grooming supplies. You could even go braless unless you needed the support. I just used PJs and sweats the entire time.

Rooms are nice with a lockable bathroom, you will have a roommate. Valuables can be locked up during registration, but better to leave all of that at home. Bring only the essentials. No books, drawing or writing utensils or electronic devices unless you must have your cell phone, but you will not be able to use it during the course. There is no need for bling or jewelry. You just need a toothbrush, toothpaste, unscented soap and underarm deodorant, at the most, for personal care. You can bring an alarm clock, you can not use your phone as one.

There are walking paths for the men and women, both outside the dorms and outside the meditation hall. You are required to sit not only through all group sittings, of which there are actually 4, not 3, but also through 15 minutes to an hour after a short break for additional instructions. They never tell you this. You understand that you only have to sit for the 1 hour segments, but this is a deception, same as the word “retreat” in the name.

I slept through most of the times when we were assigned to go back to our rooms and meditate or meditate in the hall. When I couldn’t sleep I walked. It is very pretty there in Onalaska, there are farms around you, although you can’t see them you can smell and hear them. There is a small garden, some trees, and a large grassy area between the dorms where the walking paths are located. Everything is very bare, rough and simple, no statues or religious depictions anywhere I saw.

You eat, sleep and meditate strictly segregated. No physical contact is allowed, once Noble Silence starts you can’t look at anyone, gesture to anyone, or talk. You will have your choice of oatmeal, a mixture of prunes and raisins, granola, fruit or toast for breakfast. Lunch will be a large variety of food, you will have to experience that for yourself. Some of it you probably have never had before. Dinner is tea and fruit, although I just had tea like the advanced students. There was instant coffee.

The whole thing is donation supported, like your local church, where the donations, if they are not actual donations, are called tithe. Here it is called Danna, and is not some rule or set amount like tithe, just whatever someone wants to donate, and you can only do so after completing one 10-day course. It really is a nice facility, you will find little to complain about the accommodations or food.

I came out of this physically sore, tired and feeling very raw. There may even be some anger in me, because this is not what I was looking for or wanted. I am still sorting through my feelings.

I have noticed that I have more energy,allowing me to get more done, I need less sleep, a lot of bad habits I had are gone and I think I lost some excess fat. I am also more balanced and equanimous, meaning I am less tossed about by the things that happen in my life. I think I am sleeping better too.

I feel that the technique itself is valuable and worth spending the time there to learn. But I think it is an artificial, human construct, this idea of mediation, meant to be one way to handle the also artificial construct of human society. More on this later.

I did not need or want, and do not appreciate, SNG’s Buddhist and Hindu philosophy. There is no attempt to convert you to anything. You are instructed to question everything SNG says by SNG himself. But he is constantly talking about Sankara, layers of these sankrara, how they are generated every moment, and how Vipassna meditation allows you to go into the depths of the mind to release them. Once your store is released, you become enlightened, or free.

To me it sounds like the Hindu idea of karma. It also reeks of the same “you are broken, you need to be fixed, here’s how” teachings of every religion out there under the sun. You are not broken, nature does not make mistakes, even when the mistakes appear to be obvious. They are not mistakes at all. You don’t need to be saved, you don’t need to work out your karma, and you have no sankara in the depths of your mind you need to clear, nor do you generate any.

You may have habitual thought patterns, a term SNG uses, and Vipassana is good for going deep, bringing the garbage to the surface, and clearing it out. That is as far as I will go with the reason for doing the meditation. Break habits, break your old ways of doing things, change yourself for the better. But that’s it, and really that is enough,. You don’t need the rest of SNG’s crap you get shoved down your throat from Day 5 or so.

The practice of Vipassana should not cause conflict with any belief system or religion you subscribe to. SNG’s teachings might, but you can ignore those, apply the technique the best way it fits you. Throw the rest of the crap out. Just understand that during the rereat you will be sitting through SNG talking about this stuff, and you can’t leave the hall.

SNG will talk about weak minded people. Weak or strong mind has nothing to do with it. Will is what is important here. If you have a strong will, you can go and make it through. If you don’t, you can strengthen your will by trying one of these courses. You also need strong discipline to keep the code you are expected to follow. The only use for a strong mind is so you don’t turn your Vipassana practice into a new religion, become some Vipassana convert hanging onto every word SNG speaks. If you aren’t strong minded enough to think for yourself, better not go, unless you want to go to train yourself to think for yourself.

I should also mention the people in charge there are awesome. In fact everyone there, students and volunteer staff alike were exceptional people. Even the former student who gave me a ride up there is an amazing lady, as well as the lady who gave me a ride to and from the bookstore. The atmosphere and environment is healthy and peaceful, the vibe is good. The male manager there in charge of the men’s side of things was always gracious and nice. I was not only was a student under their care, I worked with them for a very brief period, and found them also very good to work for and with.

That’s all I have to say for now.

SNG stands for S.N. Goenka

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One thought on “My Initial Thoughts On My 10-Day Vipassana “Retreat”

  1. I see meditation as a tool, as mentioned in the course, to experience one’s true reality. I have personally done several of these retreats and have had varied experiences during each. The one commonality between them all is that I do exit with a better understanding of how it is my mind that is the common core of my experience and existence in this reality I call life. I’ve been fortunate enough to work towards a level of experiencing the true workings of my personal mind/matter phenomena. I have also been fortunate enough, through these observations as well as study in Neuroscience to have scientific knowledge give vailidation to this observed experience during this deepend state of mind. These retreat’s offer a venue for the individual to conduct an experiment in self observation and exploration. It is certainly not meant to be a social gathering, as this would be counterproductive to its intention. Personally, I enter a course in an effort to learn as Gotama did, through self observation and discipline. Gotama had no teacher, had no particular guide, he had the drive to understand what it was that caused him torment/misery and after getting beyond the outer blame game, he went within, taking a look at himself. Taking personal responsibility for these feeling and attempting to find the root of these feelings. He, as has been explained for centuries, was more of a scientist than a spiritualist, objectively exploring his reality. Do I know this because I have read it in books, or heard it in discourse? Honestly, I have conviction in saying this, because this is the approach I have taken in my meditative experience. To me, discourse, sutra, written instruction, so on and so forth are just playful venue for the mind to attach itself to. I sometimes see the Tipitika as a cruel joke to those during that time that could not just take “keep trying” as an answer. We human’s are funny animals, always looking for answers beyond ourselves. Yet every answer is locked inside your Sankara latent mind. A twisted ball of knotted twine, with an absolutely beautiful core of energy providing us with the truest nature of our reality. That knotted twine…that is the torment…that is the suffering….and meditation is a tool to help one observe this and start unraveling the ball to eventually take us back to that core. This isn’t a learned wisdom and it can never be a learned wisdom, it can only be an experienced wisdom….and to experience such wisdom, one must have, or more importantly use the tools available to do so.

    I applaud you for having the courage to make it through a 10 day vipassana retreat. It is certainly a daunting challenge to complete a course and stick within the guidelines. Goenka’s discourse is the entertainment. It, again, is a playful venue to attach one’s mind. As is with any book/video/tool created by something beyond yourself…take what you must from it to help guide you down your path. There have been many wise beings on this earth at one time or another…and often their teachings were taken from their simplicity and expanded upon for one reason or another, its the adaptive nature of our species. I encourage you to attend another course, this time using this fine tool to explore yourself and not allow attachment to external influence. Either way, I wish you much peace, much happiness.

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