Over the weekend, I completed a 3 day Vipassana silent meditation course.
Here are my other posts on my meditation practice as background:
- Something I Think I Could Fail At: A 10 Day Silent Meditation Program
- Reflections and Impressions from a 10 Day Meditation Course
- The Skill Developed in Meditation
- Meditation, Six Months Later
Having already written about meditation generally and Goenka courses specifically in my other posts, I’ll keep these thoughts limited to the most recent 3 day:
- Recharge. Think of a structured meditation course as a battery charge, and the charge weakens with every passing day you’re back in the chaotic day to day world. Returning to retreat every so often recharges the battery that keeps you on a daily practice.
- Old students, only. A 3 day Goenka retreat is only open to people who’ve done at least one 10 day course. Many people say they want to dip their toes in the water with a 3 day, but the Goenka tradition says that that’s not enough time to give a fair trial to the technique. You have to start in the deep end of the pool. Agreed.
- Still hard. Despite the 3 day being made up of experienced students only, it was still hard for everyone. Several people told me they thought about leaving mid-way. I certainly wondered what the heck I was doing with myself after the n-th hour of lying on my bed staring up at the blank ceiling, with nothing to read or write, no one to talk to. During the sits, the physical pain, while less than the first time, remained.
- Follow-on versus first time. A couple people have asked whether there are diminishing returns in terms of benefit with a follow-on course. As with everything, there’s nothing like the first time. That first 10 day will always stand apart. But in this follow on course, I actually got more out of every hour of meditating. I knew exactly what the setup was, I knew how I was going to physically sit (it took me 3-5 days last time to figure it out), I had the rules and regulations down. I could focus exclusively on the actual meditation instead of figuring out how to meditate. This is a mark in favor of doing a follow on course.
- Fasting. In addition to the silence and structured meditation, it’s basically a fasting exercise as well. Get up at 4 AM, meditate, eat at 6:30 AM, rest, meditate, eat at 11 AM, rest, meditate, rest, meditate, etc. until 9 PM. Then go to bed. Net: no food after 11:30 AM. Surviving this was a confidence boost: if I ever need to go a long time with no food, I can do it.
- Experts return to the basics. I really enjoyed spending a full day this time exclusively focused on breath (and not Vipassana body scans). I spent 15 hours trying to think only about the area below my nostril and above the upper lip, and how my respiration hits that area of my body. Breath is at the heart of any meditation practice. I walked away from the 3 day with a better command of my respiration.
- Organized religion. The audio discourses from Goenka in the 3 day were much more proactively secular. He said over and over again that Vipassana is not organized religion. That there are no dogma, no blind faith, no belief in higher power, no rites, no rituals. Simply observe what’s happening on the experiential level. Feel what’s happening in reality, and draw conclusions from that. I love this about the practice. And I think it explains this practice’s popularity and universality. For me, I’m so allergic to anything that smells conventionally religious (for myself — I’m pro organized religion in general as a force in the world), that even Zen meditation practices are hard to stomach — the bowing, chanting, the “priests.” At Goenka’s centers, you meditate in a “hall,” you wear whatever you want (sweatpants were common at the 3 day), there is no church hierarchy whatsoever. On top of that, the fact that it’s totally donation based removes the money aspect from the equation, which is a common corrupting force in organized religion.
- Big picture uncertainty: I’m not sure how I feel about the ultimate Vipassana goal of ridding your mind of impurities at the deepest level via the observation of impermanent physical sensations–on the grounds that, by observing the impermanence of the physical sensations, you come to realize it’s unwise to become attached to any particular positive or negative sensation, and therefore you realize it’s unwise to become attached to any particular positive or negative thought that causes the sensation. The logic tree breaks down a bit. I also have some continued qualms about the passionless, detached life this approach might lead to.
- Big picture positive: I may aim for the more “surface” goals of a clear mind, increased mindfulness, an intentionally detached stance to many emotions, a subtler understanding of my breath, a subtler understanding of physical sensations, and a stronger control of which thoughts I surface to conscious attention and when. Of course, those are not at all easy things to pick up, and are “surface” only in comparison to how Goenka describes his Vipassana objectives. Indeed, apart from any comparison, I believe these skills themselves can be transformative. I can already feel them transforming my life.
Overall: highly recommended.
6 comments on “3 Day Silent Meditation Course”
In the end, all one must remember in this regard, is to stay fully present in the moment, being your best self, and then detaching from the outcome, which is not in your control.
And the key to being more successful and making the biggest contribution is to take on projects that build on your natural strengths, interests, and acquired expertise.
I just wanted to tell you what you wrote here, opened an ocean of opportunities for me. I just realized where I should be heading and why I am suffering so much! This just answered my year and half journey to self discovery. Thank you!
Ben, You’re progressing really well… Now that you are `experiencing’ the benefits of structured continuity, practice the sits everyday at least for 30 minutes.
Your immediate next experience will be that of a silent yet observant `witness’ to the goings on ( Sakshi bhava). You will experience the `self’ morphing from a `physical’ ( as in your name, form and composition) to the `experiential’ that captures the expansive flow of time and space around a given moment. The `Experiential You’ (as opposed to the `Physical You’) shall slowly enlarge your identity to encompass the entire universe as distinct from that of a tiny tribe, geography or ethnicity that you were so far identifying yourself with and feeling proud about. Here’s where detachment – as in realizing the irrelevance of all things physical and hence delusional – truly begins.
Wishing you the very best of experiences.
Recently I have visited your one of the blog post Meditation – 6
I have completed two ten days course on Vipasana at Mumbai, India.
The experiences I could not express in words, (if heaven is there – I was in heaven for that ten days !)
I suggest you to come to Mumbai or Igatapuri (Maharashtra, India) for ten days.
To add more, I was a trainer in ‘Entrepreneurship development training’ field for 23 years.
Have nice life !
Meditation courses are important because they develop our productivity of work in daily life. Your opinion for Vipasana Meditation Courses is nice for our body to give an perfect life.
Thank you for what you have written about the three day course for old students. I have just attended one (only my second Vipassana course). It was partly reading your article which prompted me to attend. I gained a great deal. It clarified some points for me, both about the practice and my mental activity outside the meditation. Yes, I agree, it was just as intense as the first time, maybe more so. But I gained an incredible amount from it. I am 61 and glad I have found Vipassana, but oh how I wish I had done so 40 years ago. I could have saved myself 40 years of suffering. Good luck to everyone on this path.