I have never thought about going to a Vipassana retreat, even though I have heard of it before. But then…
Ivo asked us with Ivan if we would like to join a vipassana retreat, I was down for the challenge. My objective was a white belt in meditation. I know that merely having that accomplished wouldn’t be any end just a means to raise my consciousness. It is only the beginning that could set the wheel turning faster in this direction…
This experience changed my life wholly without a doubt. The reason we did is that I guess we all believe in the same thing – raising consciousness is worth pursuing. One life is not enough to check all the practices that exist in the world today. From ancient times up to this point, they are constantly evolving and growing their followers constantly. I am talking not only about meditation, but Qigong, breathing exercises, martial arts, and spiritual practices as a whole.
So we signed in for the Vipassana retreat in Troyan this year. This meditation retreat is also known as Ten Days of Noble Silence. It is a wonderful experience in which you remain quiet and dive deep into yourself to explore the depths of your mind and come the other way cleansed. Well, not really, I think that is a little bit exaggerated but it is what they told us. Actually, it is just training to learn the Gotama Budha meditation technique, “the best” one.
It is 10 days retreat that is a sole journey, even though we went three of us they separated us in different rooms in the hotel that the retreat had been held. Actually, the best thing is that is for free, meaning that is working solely on donations. As long as you meditate according to the schedule you will be welcome to share the free vegetarian meals the volunteers cook for us.
The Challenge Had Started
It is a funny story of how we got there on time. Frankly, we were late volunteering at Webit Festival- a big tech event, in Sofia. Actually, we were already late according to the initial expected time of arrival. Of course, we didn’t know it and didn’t care to be on time because we wanted to stay as long as we could to listen to some talks on our free day at Webit (we worked 2 days before as volunteers to pay for our ticket). However, that is not everything though, I needed to go pay for my Ugandan visa because they expedited me to do it immediately in the last moment possible before going offline for 10 days.
I got some complications with that visa payment, and while waiting in the bank to resolve them a girl I met the other day was waiting for me outside for a date. I wanted to see her and this was an unexpected task that made me late, anyway at least it is a funny story. Because while we were having a beer under the rain my friend called me. He said, “We supposed to be there at 2 pm”, I checked the time – it was 5 pm already. I needed to go, but my luggage was there at the festival’s wardrobe.
The wardrobe number was in my pocket but hopefully, my friends figured out a way to get my bag without it. That saved us a bit time, in the meantime, it was starting to rain outside, I said goodbye to my date and headed to the subway. We agreed to meet with my friends where the car was – across town.
It was an experience of full contrast for us, coming from a place with high stress and distractions to no distractions and zero stress.
Introduction to Vipassana
Somehow, despite the rain, we got there for the second half of the introductory lecture. They reminded us of the basic principles – don’t kill, don’t take any intoxication, avoid physical contact, sex and talking. That is what was needed, to comply with the rules of morality, also known as “sila”. We then needed to give our phones and other special personal belongings to a bank (usually the manager). They had the conditions printed and after everybody reading the terms of the next following days and filling in his personal information we needed to sign it to agree to start the 10 Days of Noble Silence.
Yeah, can you imagine shutting off your phone and other devices, to disconnect yourself entirely from the outside world for ten complete days?
Vipassana has started. This vipassana retreat has been taught by S.N. Goenka who lived not so long ago in the last century, in the tradition of Sayagyi U Ba Khin. We then were brought to the meditation hall to be given a seat where we are going to meditate for the whole retreat. There were a lot of people. Like fifty man and women. Even starting with that put us, two groups, to separate between each other. That became apparent when we finished with our first practice that night.
So we went downstairs where the meditation hall was and waited for a few minutes before my turn came. The teacher and his assistants (volunteers) were announcing everybody individually from our side as they did on the female side. And after you get your seat you stay there until everybody gathers for a group meditation.
That was the first meditation we did. All three of us – Ivo, Ivan and me – started cheered up and excited for what was coming next. Before entering that room to pick our seats was the last moment we spoke to each other. And they already had shown us our rooms, three different rooms for us, with two more new roommates for all of us.
The First Four Days
The next day the gong rang as we were expecting at 4:00 am and I didn’t have any clock or perception of time for the latter 9 days either because without my phone I am clueless. Who wears watches today?
Anyway, that is a different topic, but time was really different phenomenon there. That is why I am emphasizing for that is because spending 10 days without any contact with the outside world or among each other could be harsh.
So I brushed my teeth and headed downstairs to the meditation hall. Going there was a bit cold, but I came over that feeling after a while I got accustomed. If I am doing that for ten days I better develop a taste.
Making myself love the things I hate is one of the greatest lessons I reconfirmed for myself again because of this retreat.
The schedule was printed on a couple of places in the hotel. And you could notice how space was separated with blue curtains where there was more traffic. It was the lobby where we were passing simultaneously with women. But you can’t see them, you can’t hear them because they don’t talk, you could only hear them walking. And that is before and after every meditation session, breakfast, lunch or small break. You could go out in a small limited area behind the hotel to take a walk and relax your limbs a bit, women took the part in front of the hotel. There was no space for Yoga, but if you find any it was alright to practice as long as you are not disturbing anybody around you.
These first four days we started practicing anapana meditation. We needed to learn this first beginner’s technique in order to start learning the actual Vipassana.
In a nutshell, anapana is a deeply focused cast on the triangle area from your top lip and covering upwards your nose.
You should become aware of that small area of your face and how the air is coming and going – in and out. Of course, you won’t start feeling anything special from the first day if it is your first time doing Vipassana, you just need practice.
This was what we did for two days. Our teacher was S. N. Goenka told us to limit this area to a smaller segment – starting from the top lip to the entrance of the nostrils. This very small limited area was what we had to keep at mind at all times.
The Second Five Days
We had 10 hours a day to practice the strength of our focus and attention. No distractions were present except when somebody in the hall moves, sneezes.
I didn’t want to even complain about the first four days of my poor preparation. I was sitting on a big pile of clothes I had in a half lotus position. Others seemed rather better prepared with special cushions or at least a yoga mat, I didn’t have anything alike.
At the end of the fifth day, I saw Ivo and the guy next to me to be given a chair. This is not a chair for a dining table, but very small, just simple two leg chair made a bit inclined forward so you can put your legs under it as samurais do. That for me was a revolutionary improvement, my days at the hall no longer were hell.
I had moments that I felt perspiration flowing underneath my clothes a few times while meditating. Especially in the fifth and sixth day when we started doing Vipassana. We got new instructions to start a body scan from the top of our head to the toes and back again. From top to bottom and bottom to top.
According to the teachings of Buddha, as the evening lectures were informing us, we had one hour of lectures every night, that every part of the body has emotion at all times. The lesson here is that “everything changes”, the ancient word for that is “Anicca” – meaning “impermanence”, everything is destined to be changed.
There was a group meditation three hours a day, that is required for everybody through the course. From the first day to the very last moment you spent there. The difference in the first four days and the latter six is that you can’t move in those three hours. We were practicing nonreaction. This is what they call stillness avoiding any temptation to scratch, touch and movement in general of your limbs.
The 10th Day
Here it was the final day! I was waiting for it for so long, meanwhile, I was already used to the schedule. But I gladly was happy to start talking again. We finally could speak to our roommates, well one mine left on the fourth day, but anyways at least we had more space for ourselves.
I spent the majority of the day talking with new people about the journey. It was so liberating and interesting to share and hear others’ stories.
After 10 am we were allowed to speak, and that is because we were given instructions for the last bit of Vipassana, which is “Love and kindness” meditation. I know that Tim Ferris practice love and kindness meditation, he speaks about it on his podcast.
Everything in this life is bound to change. Sooner or later you are going to have a contrast to your current feelings. If you are feeling good, there would come time something would piss you off or else would make you sad. “Everything is temporary” is the lesson. So don’t cling to any feelings.
That is the lesson Vipassana taught me. Also, I learned that I am a highly visual guy and sitting with ten more hours a day with closed eyes was definitely challenging for me. I missed writing and talking a bit.
All in all, this challenge made me realize that I can do more than I think I could. I meditated following strictly the schedule and I am proud to say that. Ten percent of the people who enrolled had quit before the last day. This is certainly not for everybody, but those who do it would see what is possible and achievable without any external stimuli.
Our mind and body have immense ability to do great deeds you just have to learn how to unlock it.
Not to forget about flow, harnessing your focusing ability without a doubt improves dramatically your flow time. The easier you can focus on something for a long period of time, the easier you would be able to tap into a flow state.
Design your flow lifestyle.