Last week I went to a silent meditation retreat called vipassanā.
No Talking, no reading or writing materials of any kind are allowed. No exercise, no entertainment, no physical contact, and no food or drink besides what is provided.
But one has to meditate for 10h+ every day.
Yeah, it wasn't easy...
But if I hadn't done a 10-day vipassanā retreat in 2019, the Untethered book and this newsletter would probably not exist.
I was excited to be back to receive new life insights!
Once at the facility I saw the timetable for the first time in 2 years and remembered the wake up time: 4am 😱
What is it like?
This time around I opted in for the shortest possible vipassanā which is 3 days. The longest is 30!
Day 1 is always "easy" for me.
No major physical pains and lots of learning. I quickly gained a deeper understanding of my own monkey mind.
The “monkey mind” is a Buddhist term referring to the restless, confused, indecisive, or raging mind. The one that seems to always ramble, never stop, and is easily distracted. Over time, an overactive monkey mind can lead to mental and physical fatigue and divided attention.
Extensive digital tech use tends to feed the monkey mind by giving it even more to worry and think about.
But day 1 was again easy for me...
It focused on noticing the breath and my own monkey mind.
Day 2 is where the fun starts...
...lol, not really! It is where the work begins to slow the monkey mind and experience a deeper sense of inner peace and harmony.
But then the pain...
The physical pain from sitting cross-legged on the floor started to kick in on the second day.
“Work with the reality that you experience directly within the framework of your body from moment to moment.” - S.N. Goenka
The teachers learned to embrace the pain over time.
Whether a sensation on the body is painful or not, hardly matters to them.
But for me... it was different.
I could feel the pain in my muscles deeply. During my first vipassanā it took me 7 days to experience what it means to overcome pain. Thankfully, this time it only took me 3 days...
Day 3 - the miracle happened
During one session on day 3 I was able to overcome pain. Instead of feeling this unbearable sensation across my back, the pain started to turn into warmth.
The sensation was warm, subtle and pleasant.
Suddenly, I dropped into a deep meditative state during which the time seemed to pass by unnoticed. An hour and half later I hear a dong indicating that the meditation session is over.
I stand up slowly.
I feel no pain but rather just a deep calm. And I remember the words of Goenka: every sensation, every experience, comes and goes. It is all fading.
Sure enough, during the next session I again felt pain and had a difficult time focusing my attention.
What I learned from a 30 year meditator...
One of my co-meditators had just completed the 30-day version of this retreat.
I asked him how different the experience was and what he had learned from it?
The truth is, he says, that the struggle never ends, the monkey mind is never beaten and achieving consistent flow states continues to be hard...
- meditates for 2h every single day... without pain, without much struggle.
- claims to sleep less because his mediation practice feels so rejuvenating
- felt deeply present to me. I believe that he experiences more in every single moment.
- rarely gets worried and seems very relaxed overall
- knows his own path, values and priorities in life and follows them with ease
This experienced meditator might not have beaten distractions completely but what I did learn from him is that the mind can become very clear, resilient and able to recover quickly from difficulties when meditation is incorporated into one's life.
And most importantly, he doesn't perceive his smartphone to be a distraction any longer. In my opinion that alone is worth every minute of practice.