Last week I attended a Vipassana silent meditation retreat in the jungles of Hawaii, waking up at 4am to spend seven hours in seated, cross-legged meditation, four hours in meditative yoga, and the in-between moments (which added up to an additional six hours) soaking up the restorative magic of the jungle…and then falling into an exhausted sleep for a couple hours before waking up to do it all over again.
Vipassana means “to see things as they really are,” and the purpose is to sharpen awareness and self-observation (through sensation-based meditation) to “observe the changing nature of body and mind and experience the universal truths of impermanence, suffering and egolessness.”
Throughout the duration of a Vipassana retreat, meditators are required to observe ‘Noble Silence’ and refrain from speaking or making eye contact. Additionally, students are required to follow five main “precepts” by abstaining from killing (this would include eating animal products or killing bugs,) stealing, sexual activity, lying, and intoxicants of any kind.
While it is definitely not a vacation or even a particularly “relaxing” experience, it was an incredible one and something that I would do again – although there were moments during it when I would have said, ‘No WAY I will ever do this again.’ (Those moments typically came twice a day: once at 4am, and once during the 7th hour of cross-legged meditation when I felt like my body was about to snap apart into a heap of pieces.)While I think that the meditation aspect is good, my favorite parts of the experience were being completely unplugged for the week, and being off the grid in one of the most beautiful areas in the entire world. The retreat center was nestled in the jungle atop rugged, lava-lined cliffs, and photos can’t even begin to do it justice.
The Vipassana meditation retreat that I attended was different than most, in that there was more movement allowed (we spent several hours a day in yoga,) we were able to sleep in beds, we weren’t required to abstain from ‘bodily decoration’ (i.e. I could wear flowers in my hair every day) or to wear shirts with sleeves (and none of the guys wore any shirts,) we were permitted to eat dinner (thankfully,) and there was music during the yoga meditation sessions. I was grateful for each of these differences.
Most Vipassana retreats are 11 days, and mine was only seven. Earlier in the year, I was planning to attend a traditional 11-day retreat but it was cancelled due to lava flowing through the area. Although the destruction caused by the lava is unfortunate, I’m glad now that I did the shorter retreat! Some would argue that it is impossible to obtain the full value of the Vipassana practice with anything less than 10 days, but for me, one week was perfect. If you’re interested in experiencing a Vipassana meditation retreat, I would strongly suggest that you compare different locations and their structure, to determine what would be the best fit for you.
**It’s hard to summarize my Vipassana experience in a few hundred words, so rather than having a massively-huge post, I’m dividing it into two parts. While this first one was more of a general description, the second part will include more details of what to expect during a Vipassana retreat. Read Part II here!
***Please excuse the poor quality of these photos — they were snapped with my phone at the end of the retreat.