What is a Vipassana retreat?
For those that haven’t heard what a Vipassana retreat / silent retreat / noble silence is all about, I’ll give you a brief explanation:
Vipassana = to see things as they really are.
To self transform.
Firstly, please note that not all Vipassana retreats are created equal, nor is everyone’s Vipassana experience identical.
Rules of Vipassana retreat / Silent retreat / Noble silence
The plan is; to be silent, reflective and completely present and mindful for 10 days straight. Without distraction.
A few days before this silent retreat started we were all sent a very extensive list of conditions to abide by.
Music… No Music?… NO MUSIIIC!?
Talking (to self or others)
Eye contact (again, with others or self – insert cross-eyed emoji here)
Yoga or any exercise
Smoking (Incl. internal combustion?)
Murdering of any living being
Food after 12pm
Shorts, singlets (or anything that allows heat to be released from our bodies, basically)
There are more rules, but I’m sure you get the idea. There is to be nothingness.
Sounds like a walk in the park, right?! I believe this to be the most extreme version of Vipassana retreat / Noble Silence / Silent retreat.
Silent retreat diary entries verbatim
This Vipassana retreat was from 16th -25th November 2019.
You know me, always rebellious from the start….These are my (retyped) hand written notes below.
Day 1: 16th Nov 2019
Arrived for the silent retreat registration at Brahma Vihara Arama in Lovina, Bali at 4pm. Scootered there by my very kind friend, Surya. I really want to call him Namaskar. (Yoga joke) I left my arrival as late as possible because I was actually nervous and questioning “Why The Fk?” someone would willingly do this Noble silence / Silent retreat / Vipassana retreat.
Why was I so nervous about coming here?
Is my concern about not coming out of this Vipassana retreat the same person I went in as? If that’s all it is, then why did you come here Dufus?!
Vipassana retreats should be about an inner, mindful journey – that I believe I have already been embarking on for a few years now.
The weather is, surprisingly, pretty darn hot up here in the hills. Maybe only a touch cooler – possibly because it’s nearing dusk and there’s a breeze. (Clearly gave me a false sense of security)
Katja and I are roommates and we have made the most of the time we have left to use our voices. We covered all the important details – literally talking at each other – where we are from, do we snore/fart, why the hell we are doing this.. etc. How grateful I am having met this wonderfully mindful German lady – who also is a solo female traveller.
We are offered some food at registration – as we all reluctantly hand over any communication devices to the temple staff. Then we are treated to an opening ceremony with the Burmese Buddhist Monk – Pembling Sayadaw U Oshada – we shall call him U-O from now on. At this stage we are given more rules and how to’s.
Will Katja and I not talk at all?
Include no airconditioning or fan in our tiny box room with 2 single beds and it’s better than a gym steam room.
It feels odd knowing that I’ll not be talking to any friends and family back home or abroad.
Day 2: 17th November 2019
It’s 3:50am – we are up, Katja and I, but we haven’t heard the wake up bell yet. Maybe, when we were told that a bell will sound 5 times at 3:45am to wake us ready for first meditation, was all a big in-joke made by the buddhist monks.
Fingers crossed that these weary legs will get used to sitting for so long each day.
Last night was a severe case of Monkey Brain (termed by U-O as erratic thoughts) as I attempted to drift off to sleep – unaided by reading, music or meditation sounds. Got there eventually.
First up we walk around in silence, the slower the better. Already I’m giggling internally at how we all look like a bunch of brown (sarong) and white (shirt) zombies – quietly, aimlessly, meandering the temple.
Yes, it’s a 4am start. At least the Balinese roosters that never sleep are making us feel as though we should actually be awake at this hour – without alcohol and party music.
It’s the first full day of our Vipassana retreat and I couldn’t complete it. I hobbled away at 7:30pm.
Ok, here’s how our days are supposed to go;
Wake at 3:45am
Walking meditation at 4am for 1 hour (walking really REALLY slow – focussing on our foot movements only)
Sitting meditation in the stupa for one hour (no movements unless absolutely necessary)
Breakfast from 6-7am
Blah blah blah
Lunch at 11am – 12pm… No eating AT ALL from midday until the following day’s breakfast.
Sitting etc etc
4pm Dhamma talks (or listening rather) with U-O – plus more rules to abide by
Finish at 9:30pm
In other words, we are awake 19 out of 24 hours each day. 2 of those hours taken up with food.. the rest is sitting and walking in silence. Do you want me to do the math for you?
8 hours sitting cross legged – because anything aside from that is considered impolite.
8 hours walking like a bunch of Thunderbirds.
That other hour is for laundry, bathing, teeth brushing, bug extraction and trying to still the mind without any help and getting to sleep ASAP.
We are allotted time to talk to the monk to discuss our progress every second day. Can you imagine all the verbal diarrhoea that we’ve all pent up in our silence?
Not feeling the love from my achilles and knee right now.
Nicotine patches start on the shoulder, seem to be locating them in my underwear around midday due to excessive heat (mainly) and menopausal sweat.
There’s a Justin Bieber look alike as one of the fellow zombies here. Hey Biebs!
Day 3: 18th November 2019
Is today classified as the evil “day 2” blues day I’ve read about in other blogs about silent retreats / noble silences? Or was that yesterday?
My mindset is really happy and positive, but my friggen knee and achilles have something else in mind.
I can feel my heart rate has gone crazy high. Actually hit my target 2000 calories burnt before 7am according to my Fitbit Versa. (upon further research, it appears that my Fitbit conniption caused my heart increase, so don’t panic Ma.)
Couldn’t eat breakfast this morning, lacking appetite – even though my belly was rumbling like a mini earth tremor.
Mutant cockroach extracted by broom from bathroom. Poor Katja looked horrified or terrified – too hard to tell without words.
What am I doing here?
I’m still not getting the whole “Focus on the pain” – “Pain will lead us to Nibbana” (which I assume means Nirvana)
WTAF?! I don’t understand.
Oh! I was mildly lectured for two things yesterday…
- Resting during walking meditation. Nun: “this is walking meditation, not sitting.” Ali to self: it’s at least 40 degrees plus I’m fully clothed, hot-flashing, without a beach and piña colada in sight, luv.”
- Walking outside the (unmarked) female only territory.
C’monnnn! I’m just trying to escape…. V e r y S L O W L Y.
I’ve decided that walking meditation during noble silence now looks like a bunch of Cadbury’s Top Deck (chocolate) brides that are rehearsing walking dramatically slow down the aisle towards her future husband… while someone messes with the slow motion function on the TV remote.
Focus on the foot, not the hilarity of chocolate brides, Al.
Why is it we have to do so many hours of mindfulness?
Is this as simple as just being in the NOW? If so, I think I’m ok on that one, thanks – well, most of the time.
First interview with U-O today. I just know he’s going to tell me to focus on the pain without moving. FUCK THAT!! I was in tears last night because I’m not allowed to move this knee. (I’m laughing as I type this btw, so don’t feel sorry for me)
Today I’m walking like an 80 year old.
Did I mention the heat yesterday? Add to this some impromptu menopausal hot flushes at inconvenient sitting meditation times. Lost about 5kgs in sweat alone today. Geez I’d hate to be underwear for a middle aged woman.
5 Things I’m grateful for:
Learning meditation from a buddhist monk from Myanmar
My rebellious nature creating funnies
Getting through this 10 days
Vipassana interview with Guru was at 9am. I wanted to unleash verbal chaos, but found I had little to say or ask.
I have to focus on the pain. (Laugh and insert eye roll here)
Now, I know he’s said that numerous times already, however, I really tried it – it actually seems to work. My concentration… hey butterfly. Hey frog. Shhhhh. Did Beibs just look over here?…. Maybe needs some more work.
During one of the sitting meditations I had full comedic movies and funny cartoons playing in my mind. How did I not laugh out loud? Must go back to primary focus – observing the belly rise and fall with the breath… or the pain.
Fitbit having another conniption – complete loss of time knowledge and whether my heart is still beating.
Day something… 19th November 2019
I have no concept of time right now…
“And on the third day” they brought in the dogs and flies at breakfast to test our slow, mindful eating practices for our Vipassana retreat. Add the whining, needy cats and I think that gives you a clear understanding about how we’re feeling this morning.
I’m still internally chuckling at the slow walks, especially with the post-apocalyptic sunrises whilst watching the poo-brown-sarongs and white shirted zombies silently searching for brains. Perhaps it’s our own brain we are in search of? Have we lost them already? Here’s hoping.
So far this Vipassana isn’t at all what I anticipated. I know, I know – no expectation, Dufus.
Even though I am mildly amused and understand the required practice of being in the moment – I’m feeling that this Noble silence may be a tad primitive and very strict.
All previous thoughts I had about becoming a Buddhist Nun – GONE!
I can’t be fucked being mindful today. (Bahahahahaha)
Do I opt for a post breakfast nap – or save that for the heat of the day… or ditch the farken hot daylight completely today?
Currently sitting outside our room, mindfully snacking on my contraband sunflower seeds and cashews whilst breaking the rules of writing.
Ok, so maybe the mind is clearer? I feel like bursting with laughter at nothing. Maybe this is deliriousness or is it hysteria? Wasn’t the remedy for hysteria a vibrator centuries ago? You’re right, monkey brain hasn’t quite left me… yet.
Seriously, the slightest thing could trigger an outburst of uncontrollable laughter right now.
Tried to feed a grasshopper my breakfast prawn cracker. He’s not a fan either.
Mutant, tropical (human hand-sized) spidey in the bathroom is, so far, the only creepy that we haven’t extracted from our room. I think I’ll name him Wazza.
It’s so hard getting the flies to mindfully fuck off. Must. Not. Murder. Beasties.
I think my elbow bites have subsided a bit today. Unfortunately no escape via hospital visit today.
I wish I didn’t have hair.
5 Things I’m grateful for:
I’m still alive
Having rebellious whisper chats with Katja (I think our meeting was the reason we are both here – of which I couldn’t be more grateful) – we even got those “must-be-quiet-uncontrollable-giggles.”
Exceptional sunrises at the temple (that I shouldn’t be watching because I’m supposed to be indoors pretending I’m a pretzel, meditating)
3 or 4 days done already
I humbly apologise to anyone I may have spiritually distracted during noble silence meditation today. Seems the creative juices are flowing and I don’t want to stem that flow.
Questions about Silent retreats:
So what is the point of all this mindfulness?
Is it to open up our intuitive receptors?
Am I a silent pineapple?
Is it to have that control over everything in our sub & conscious minds?
To slow down everything?
To become completely present?
Observation and not reacting to our feelings?
Learning loving kindness?
Is that silent guy really Justin Bieber?
Am I prettier when I don’t talk?
Katja and I are obviously trail blazers because I caught a few others not going to class and opting for sneaky whisper chats across beds.
As for this fasting bizzo to enhance our mindful eating… pffft! Don’t they realise they’re trying to stop a cow from what it does naturally?
Food definitely tastes better. Or is it that I appreciate it more due to lack of availability?
OH! Last night I dreamt I was a fighter pilot!!!! Not just your average flying dream. You may call me Maverick.
Before the retreat we also received a list of items that were recommended to be brought to the silent retreat.. One of the critically notable items to mention is toilet paper. This poses the question:
How much toilet paper does one person need over 10 days? Answer will be confirmed at the end of 10 days.
Can people hear me munching on my choc chip cookies right now?
Is the Nun going to send another of her creepy crawly army into our room to punish me? (as I sit here editing whilst indulging after midday, there’s just one fly testing my mindful eating – nearly 2 weeks later)
What do Monks and Nuns wear under their robes? Personally, I hope they are like the Scots with their kilts. And is this how all the bowing started – trying to get a sneak peak of what’s underneath?
“Initiate. Peel. Lift. Forward. Drop” (this is the mental mantra for each step as we gaze mindlessly 6ft in front of us) Every. Single. Step. Eight+. Hours. Per. Day.
Another day begins… 20th November 2019
My earworms upon waking are back. “I wanna walk with you on a cloudy day. In fields where the yellow grass grows knee high” Nora Jones. (Hello my Grangamite – that is my beloved Grandmother’s song)
Dream: In a resort/car fix place. I jumped into the tiny pool and was blamed by a very cranky female owner that I emptied the pool of too much water from my bomb. She used a folded towel to show me how much the water level had dropped.
I’m guessing this has something to do with being in a delirious dehydration.
New earworm: “Would I try a little tobacco, would I keep on hiking up my skirt?” “EVERYTHING’S FIIIINE!” – Tracey Bonham
I’m completely convinced that I’m done here. Perhaps I’ll talk to U-O to find out the full purpose of this Vipassana retreat / silent retreat.
Last night the large red ants crawling all over my bed was the last straw. I actually feel great mentally – physically not so much, but I’m ok with that.
I’ve realised a few things:
Hinduism is officially my favourite now.
There’s no chance I’ll be a buddhist nun.
I enjoy not talking/no phone/fasting.
Super rapt I met Katja – she’s hilarious, quietly – of course.
Nobody looks or “feels” happy here.
I’m better equipped to deal with pain now. Maybe this was my lesson.
Will they allow me to quietly escape?
I’m a non-conformist. I’ll continue my path of research to come to my own conclusions about living mindfully (and spiritually & mentally happy) instead of following a particular crowd.
I spoke with U-O and impressed him with my limited Burmese lingo. He tried to convince me to focus on the heat… DUDE! That’s all I am doing. Not helpful in this instance. Just ask my saturated clothing.
Just realised why there’s underwire in bras… fluid collection during crazy inner and external heat.
I escaped…. SLOWLY.
I didn’t get the answer to the most important query – being how much toilet paper does one human need over 10 days of noble silence… but after 4 days I was well on my way to finishing the first roll.
Maybe Katja can provide the answer? I left her what was remaining of my poo tickets..
Answer: A vague recollection, a few weeks post-retreat has us thinking that 3 rolls of toilet paper between two of us over 10 days was just about right.. possibly only because I left early though.
In addition, I wasn’t the only one that attempted or succeeded in escaping.
How a Vipassana retreat should work
Do I need to mention that I meditate 2-3 hours every day? It’s not like this quietness and solitude is new to me.
If it takes 21 days to make or break a habit… so, why is it 10 days of noble silence?
According to Dhamma.org; “the prescribed code of discipline is to learn the basics of meditation and to practice sufficiently to experience its beneficial results.”
To learn abstination from:
- Sexual activity
- Speaking falsely
The cost of Noble Silence / Vipassana retreat
We weren’t charged to do this silent retreat / Vipassana retreat, however we were encouraged to leave a donation.
- For the temple for accom & food
- For U-O and his mean nun
Above all else, (and post further research), it seems as though I feel most of the above practices are my every day life. I know I could do more, but I’m actually happy where I’m currently at – for now.
I will do another silent retreat, just maybe not as strict or hot or full of creepies.
Perhaps a visit back to Incredible India is on the cards.
It’s all about being zen as fuck, living in the present and being skinny… or something like that.
Please talk with me about your experiences with Vipassana
Are there any other mid-life women out there that have tried this version of Vipassana retreat? Please tell me your thoughts.