Vipasana Meditation, also known as the “free meditation retreat” or “no talking meditation” is very popular among backpackers while traveling Asia. I’m not sure if it’s because it’s allure to become enlightened or because “free” is a backpackers favorite word. Either way, it’s an incredible experience that I would highly recommend. But before you run off and reserve a seat, just read below to see what you’re getting yourself into.
Key Things To Expect From Vipasana Meditation:
Wake Up Early (4ish AM.. this is not a typo.. 4am)
Vegetarian All-You-Can-Eat Meals (my personal favorite)
Strict Meditation Schedule
Sleeping On What Most People Would Not Consider A Bed
No Talking, Phone, Books, or Journal
7-10 Days (maybe even stay as long as you like)
No Dinner (only tea, maybe a banana)
Totally Free And Only By Donation
I can already hear all of the “What?! Why?” people screaming at some of these, so let me go through them one at a time…
Why Am Waking Up So Early?!
It is the buddhist idea that we should wake up as the earth is waking up. While all of the world is starting to come alive, we should be there to be apart of it because it is natural for our mind to wake up with the world as well…or something like that… That’s the best explanation I have for you, and I’d like to tell you that you get used to it.. but not really. Next question.
What Is The Meditation Schedule Like?
This is different with every retreat, but it basically goes like this.
Morning bell, get ready quickly, morning reading about meditation or Buddhism, mediate, (then maybe yoga if you’re lucky), walking meditation, sitting meditation, breakfast, chores, break (maybe to do self meditation, shower, hand wash clothes, take a walk, stare at a tree, exc.), afternoon bell, meditate, guided group chanting, monk gives a talk about Buddhist values/ meditation practices, meditating, walking meditation, more meditation, lunch, chores, break, evening bell, meditation, walking meditation, meditation, evening tea, maybe more meditation, get ready for bed, sleep, and repeat.
It’s actually a lot nicer than it sounds. Once you’ve passed the third day everything becomes pretty routine and you get past most of the body aches from sitting all the time.
What Kind Of Chores?
Nothing unreasonable. Just stuff your mom would ask you to do around the house… sweep the meditation hall, mop the bathroom, wash the dishes. The basics.
Sleeping On A Non-Bed
Don’t let the word “retreat” fool you. The purpose of this retreat is to humble you and give you a very small taste of a monk’s life. Maybe you’ll even get a glimpse of enlightenment.
You are given a raised bed frame… that’s it. There is no pillow no mattress, and no padding. This is because it’s how traditional monks sleep. It is the modest and natural way of resting. They believe we are given so much excess and luxury in our lives that we cannot see past what is unnecessary. But if you’re not really diggin the natural sleep, you can always spread out all your clothes to sleep on and use your backpack as a pillow.
I’m not sure why everyone thinks this was the hardest part, but it was probably the easiest and I LOVED it. The purpose of not talking is so you can focus inward. For the first time in your life you won’t have a phone, computer, or t.v. to distract you from your thoughts. You won’t have a journal to reflect back on your previous writings, and you won’t have anyone to influence your thoughts. It’s just you in your head and the more days you have to listen to just you.. the more clearly you can hear yourself. You can notice reoccurring thoughts and ask yourself why you haven’t let something go, forgiven someone, forgiven yourself, grieved properly, accepted a circumstance, or just found stillness in your own head. Half way into the retreat you will be able to talk to “counselors” (maybe even one of the monks) and ask them for advice. You will not be able to ask general questions like “What is my purpose” or “Should I break up with this person”. But you are allowed to ask “I am having a hard time forgiving.. what do you recommend” or “How do I let anger go”.
I thought the reason behind this would be something spiritual or an ancient holistic secret to digestive health.. but no. The reason you do not have dinner is because in the olden days of monks, the monks would leave to get food in the evening and be tempted by women and alcohol in the night so Buddha forbade them from leaving for dinner. Hence, no dinner. Technically with all the sitting we don’t actually need the calories either, but, ugh, it can be hard to sleep when your stomach is screaming at you, so pack it in at lunch.
It’s Free? Really Free?
Yes. Simple as that. I had planned to donate the money I would have spent on a hostel for that week and ended up donating twice what I planned because it is just that wonderful. I honestly think everyone should try it. If you end up not liking it then you can leave, they usually have one set time every day a van will come to take back people who have finished their time. But at least trying to just mediate and focus on your own mind and well being is worth the attempt.
They make it free because they believe it’s not true Vipasana “see things as they really are” if you spend your time there thinking about what you’ve paid for, and if you’re getting your money’s worth. All of the facilities, services, food, exc. are given out of generosity and kindness so just keep that in mind when you have a tough time with the bathrooms or the bed or all you want is a pizza.
Do You Fell Like It Helped You?
Abso-freakin-lutely. Everyone gets something different out of it. Personally, I had a very difficult time with the meditation and I don’t feel any more skilled at it than I was before. BUT I do have more patience for it and I know that there is a benefit to meditating daily. They also taught me several different techniques to meditation as well as different postures, which have definitely been helpful.
I’d have to say the biggest impact I got out of the whole thing is that I finally had the time and focus to listen to my mind and I found thoughts and emotions that kept coming up and kept me from being at peace with my past and my future which was, in essence, keeping me from enjoying my present. Once those were identified, and worked though, then it felt like a weight was lifted and my mind was more clear than ever.
Differences in Retreats
You should also know that every retreat does things a little differently. You might get your own room, or it may be dorm rooms. You might get a snack as “dinner”, you might only get tea. You may be allowed to nap or read(reading they provide to help you with your meditation), you might not. But the main thing is the meditation sit time. I’ve seen meditation schedules with 45 min sit times and 2 hour long sit times. Even if you have been mediating for years it can be a killers on your back and shoulder.
These retreats are not only they are all over the world. I would bet money that you have one in your country. So if you don’t want to have to travel all the way to Asia to check this out than you can plan just a road trip to your nearest friendly Vipasana meditation center. Happy meditating!