I just came back from what was supposed to be a 10-day silent Vipassana retreat in the middle of nowhere. A completely self-sustained facility, the Dhamma Patapa Center located in Jesup, Georgia is funded through donations from old and new students from all walks of life. It also gives former students the opportunity of volunteering their time to help with future retreats. This retreat is held at different facilities all over the world. For us Floridians, this is the closest facility, and according to a close friend of mine, Cynthia, who is well travelled and has attended other Vipassana retreats in other parts of the world, her favorite one by far is the one in Jesup, GA. What's not to love about this place? Ten days of silence in the middle of nowhere, away from the hustle and bustle, no makeup or bra, only wearing comfy clothes, grounded daily to Mother Earth by walking barefoot in the woods, all of this while being fed a wholesome, organic, vegetarian diet? Yes, please! Sign me up!!
Although the experience was a peaceful and a much needed reset for my spirit, I went there with the understanding that it would be an intense experience. And boy was it ever! It took one little trigger for me to sprint out of there in the middle of a meditation, and without giving notice... LOL
"Vipassana" means insight, to see things as they really are. It is the most ancient of all Buddhist meditation techniques in India. However, it is non-sectarian and open to all faiths and does not require to convert to any religious belief system. Unlike other mainstream systems of meditation that aim at calming the mind, Vipassana uses concentration as a way of "peeling the layers of your suffering". It teaches you about the concept of "Impermanence" and retrains the mind to be aware of everything that is happening around you and within you. It was precisely this inner work that caused me to be triggered and swiftly abandon the retreat, because I felt that I was not ready to deal with what was resurfacing from within. However, I hear abandoning this retreat before completing the 10 days is something that happens regularly. One other woman who was at my retreat abandoned it on the fourth day, so I think my 7 days are pretty impressive for being a first timer!
From the get go it is a challenge. You must commit to surrender your phone and electronics on the day you arrive, something that I was looking forward to, although half way through the retreat I broke this "course boundary" (it's hard to do this kind of work and be a business owner and sole operator). You must also commit to "Noble Silence", meaning no communication or eye contact with other retreaters.
The daily schedule is a routine: They ring the bells at 4:00 am to give you time to wake up and get ready for the first meditation, which starts promptly at 4:30 am and ends at 6:30 am. You have a break From 6:30 am until 8 am for breakfast and perhaps a little nap or a walk in the woods. From 11am until 1 pm you have lunch and then another nap or a walk in the woods. Except for the first day that you arrive, you will not get supper, so you're also fasting intermittently while you're there (food is not allowed in the rooms). There is a discourse every night via video with Master S. N. Goenka from 8 pm - 9 pm. You get a little break from 9 pm to 10 pm, then lights go out at 10 pm. It's the same routine every day for 10 days.
The first few days I was feeling great. However, I started getting uneasy on the fifth day due to confrontation of some of my inner demons that were peeking their head out. By the 7th day something happened at the retreat (which I will not discuss here) that made it unbearable. And just like that, I literally walked out in the middle of a meditation and into my room, packed up my bags and left. A dear friend, Yaisha, who also practices Vipassana, later told me I should have started slowly, with 1-day and 4-day retreats, then work progressively from there, like she did. She understands the intensity of it so she couldn't fathom doing it for 7 days the first time. Some of us are just more sensitive than others, so it's a good idea to test the waters slowly and progressively.
Would I attempt it again? Absolutely! The overachiever in me feels a little disappointed that I couldn't stay there the full 10 days. But in due time, I will finish this 10-day retreat. I need to give credit to my Master Teacher at the retreat, Master Ericka. Without her kindness and compassion I would have most likely left on the fifth day. I felt so bad that I disappointed her about breaking the course boundaries when she confronted me about some "missing time" (another course boundary is you cannot lie). I have nothing but the highest regard and respect for her.
Reasons you might want to consider a Vipassana retreat:
1. You need a reset in your life.
2. You want to learn a different style of meditation
3. You are ready to confront your inner demons.
4. You want to heal emotionally.
Interested in attending one of these life-transforming retreats? Here is the link! https://www.patapa.dhamma.org
May all beings be happy! Until next blog, Namaste <3