Saturday, 24 March 2012

Vipassana Meditation Retreat

Surprise, surprise!  It has been a very long time and to be honest, I considered deactivating my blog because for a while my heart just wasn't in it.  But lately I've occasionally been thinking that the things that I've been doing would be a good subject for blog posts.  So for the past month I've been trying to motivate myself to get back at it, but it has been an uphill battle.  But I'm back, perhaps not permanently, but back for now, at least till I get all these stored up posts out of my system.

This particular post is one that is very special to me, because it relates to many of the things that are near and dear to my heart: meditation, inexpensive vacations (!) and self-improvement.  From February 1-12, I attended a ten day silent meditation retreat at the Northwest Vipassana Center in Onalaska, Washington.  Onalaska is about four hours from where I live in North Vancouver, British Columbia, so the trip was not entirely without a carbon footprint, but at least I could drive, instead of flying.

The first thing that I should mention is that a vipassana retreat is not quite what you would think of as a "vacation".  I did, indeed, take some time off of work, and I was not at work during those days, but that is about where the retreat and the concept of a vacation depart.  Actually, one other way that it was like a vacation was because the food was provided for us, and it was delicious!  It was vegetarian with vegan and gluten-free options at every meal, which was amazing.  I'm so used to having to struggle to find food that this was a welcome change in itself.

Vipassana meditation is also known as insight meditation.  I won't get into the technique because it took nine of the ten days for me to learn and I won't be able to do it justice, but the actual experience of being in a new environment with eighty other people, none of whom you can speak to, fascinates me.  Last year I went on a five day meditation retreat (it was a different style of meditation, not vipassana), but there was actually a fair amount of talking on some days.  At this retreat there was no talking, except to the instructor and the assistant, so maybe a total of a dozen words a day.  It is shocking how easy I find it to slip into silence, and how jarring it is when you are allowed to speak again and you're so used to thinking that you no longer know how to carry on a conversation.

What was also special about this retreat was that the rooms and facilities were very nice.  Here are a picture of my cubicle/room that I slept (we had two people to each room and you share a bathroom with that other person, but you have a separate cubicle area so that you aren't tempted to speak), along with our bathroom:

It was much nicer than the place that I went last year, although I don't care that much if the places I go to are more "rustic".  But it was nice to not have to deal with being cold, or having to walk long distances to use the washroom.

If you are at all interested in meditation, I would strongly recommend attending a 10 day vipassana meditation retreat.  There are centers all over the world, it is free to attend (you make a donation at the end, if you want), so you really have nothing to lose.  And the silence, although different from our normal lives where we speak and otherwise communicate way too much, is not as intimidating as it seems.  We have so much of our egos and personalities tied up in the way that we communicate that it is nice to take a break from once in a while.