I completed my second 10-day Vipassana retreat at the beginning of October. Vipassana is a form of meditation originated in India around the time of the Buddha. It is now one of the most widely practiced forms of meditation in the world with over 200 centers worldwide delivered in 55 different languages. The recently deceased S.N. Goenka teaches the meditation technique using video recordings.
Why endure 10 days of complete silence and solitude from the outside world? There has been a growing body of research about the many benefits of developing a consistent meditation practice.
Here are the 10 major benefits I have found after completing two 10 day retreats in the past year.
1. Increased awareness
If you are not aware, change is impossible. At retreats, you wake at 4 a.m. and lights out is at 10 p.m. These are long days with plenty of time for self-reflection. You start to become more aware of the positive and negative sides to your personality and life. Having time set aside each day gives you a chance for this reflection. With this improved awareness I feel much more in tune with my emotions.
2. Remaining equanimous
This is the main teaching of Vipassana meditation. Remaining equanimous no matter what you experience. Equanimity is accepting all outcomes be it good or bad. So when you have a nice enjoyable experience you don’t cling or become attached to. Likewise, with bad experiences, you do not avert them. Accept everything as it is remaining equanimous.
Everything you know including yourself will eventually grow old and die. Everything. All of the people in your life and all of your possessions. During the 10 days you are consistently reminded of this. Realizing that your life is in a constant flux allows you to accept things as they are as opposed to clinging to the people and things in your life. It also makes difficult periods easier as you know that they will end as well.
4. Detox from life
During the ten days you observe noble silence. You are not allowed any electronic devices, reading, or writing material. This is such a strange and at times difficult practice as we spent our whole lives in a constant state of stimulation. Eliminating these distractions keeps all your concentration on your meditation practice. It also helps you slow down the pace of your thoughts as you aren’t digesting any new material. This lack of extra stimuli allows for a deeper focus on meditation and a much better detox.
“There is only one place to find real peace, real harmony. That place is within.” – S.N. Goenka
The range of emotions I went through during the ten days was like a condensed version of an entire year in the outside world. There are many challenges. The pain in your knees and hips from the long periods of sitting. The hours of endless silence. As the days move on you begin to realize how many awesome things you have in your life. Living like a monk you see all of the things you take for granted each day. Not being able to talk reminds you of all the great friends and family you have. In future you won’t be on your phone when you’ve arranged to catch up with a friend. The long periods of silence allow you to appreciate all of the great people and things you have in your life.
6. Learning to Fail
“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” – Robert F. Kennedy
With meditation you are constantly failing. The goal is to concentrate the mind by focusing on the breath. This helps quiet the mind but you are never going to go completely without thoughts, unless you reach enlightenment and this state is still impermanent. Constantly practicing daily throughout these failures builds willpower and perseverance. It makes you comfortable with failure which bleeds into other parts of your life.
Goenka states in his lectures that the 10 days is a surgical procedure of the mind. During the 10 days I experienced minimal external stressors. Each day we were trained how to remain equanimous when different situations arose. This practice has helped me to observe stressful situations without reacting to them in an emotional way.
8. Broader perspective
One of the stories told at the retreat is the story of 6 blind men who all touch a different part of an elephant:
Six blind men were asked to determine what an elephant looked like by feeling different parts of the elephant’s body. The blind man who feels a leg says the elephant is like a pillar; the one who feels the tail says the elephant is like a rope; the one who feels the trunk says the elephant is like a tree branch; the one who feels the ear says the elephant is like a hand fan; the one who feels the belly says the elephant is like a wall; and the one who feels the tusk says the elephant is like a solid pipe.
A king explains to them:
All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently is because each one of you touched the different part of the elephant. So, actually the elephant has all the features you mentioned.
The practice of meditation gives us a broader perspective on situations. instead of looking outwards at all of the problems effecting yourself you start to see that it is all a manifestation of your own thoughts. You begin to take responsibility for your own life.
9. Improved efficiency with time
During the retreat I learned for the first time in my life how to slow down and listen. Up until the point my mind was allows crammed with thoughts of what I “should” be doing. After this experience I realized that there is so much time in the day but it was how I was using my time that was the problem. I now focus on 2-3 important tasks and forget about everything else. Being more present allows for a deeper concentration when carrying out tasks. All of this results in completing tasks faster and more efficiently.
10. Improved mobility
Sitting cross legged for 10 hours a day is painful. The first few days will be agony for most of you. In the last 2 days my hips started to open as my body got used to sitting. Sitting cross legged with your spine straight, tail bone and knees in contact with the ground puts you in a perfect position that allows you to sit more comfortably for longer.
If you give yourself the time and solitude you need to ask the important questions you will be rewarded with a greater understanding of who you are and what it is you want from life. If you are looking for more information about Vipassana meditation including dates and locations check out there website.
Featured photo credit: Honey Kochphon Onshawee via pixabay.com