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Vipassana – What you need to know about 10 days of silent meditation

Vipassana – What you need to know about 10 days of silent meditation

Vipassana, a 10 day silent meditation course. Yes, that’s right, 10 days of silence and meditation.  

Earlier this year, I attended my first Vipassana course in Hong Kong. Needless to say, I was skeptical, excited and unsure about the entire experience.  

Henry and me at The Vipassana centre we attended. Dhamma Mutta – located on Lantau Island, Hong Kong.

Below, I will list some of the things you need to know and answer some of the questions I get asked most often about Vipassana. Don’t be deterred by some of the answers though. If you keep reading, you’ll see it has a happy ending.

Here are the top things I think you need to fully understand before you go…. 

What you need to know

Is it really free? 

Yes. There are no hidden costs for the accommodation, food and teachings.  

10 days of accommodation, food and teachings, for free? How do they afford it, you may be asking? 

The centres run on a donation basis and you are not allowed to give a donation until the end of the course.

On the last day of the course, if you feel you have received benefit, and you would like to give the gift of the teaching to someone who comes after you, you may donate as much or as little to the Vipassana centre as you wish.  

Silence is deafening 

Shortly after a briefing on the first day, we commit to a vow of noble silence, which will only be broken late in the evening of the 10th day.  

The thought of silence is often comforting in a hectic world. It was to me. But let me tell you, after hours and days of not talking and mostly silence, with the exception of the teachings, the sounds you hear will be deafening.  

The voices in my head were deafening. The lack of conversation with your roommate will become deafening. You cannot perceive fully what it is like to not speak for 10 days. To share a meal with your neighbour for 10 days, and never utter a word to them.  

Is it religious? 

No. There is no religious requirement or teaching during the entire course. No indoctrination or preaching of any kind.  

Nor is there prejudice of your beliefs, whatever they may be, or any requirement of you to relinquish your faith. Or lack thereof.  

No phones?! 

Nope. No phones. You are to have no contact with the outside world during your stay.  

Wondered why I only have a few photos of after the course? Well, yeah that’s what happens when you have to hand in your phones 🙂

In fact, you should not have any external stimulation or distractions….. 

All external distractions 

No books. No laptops. No internet. No writing. All forms of external stimulation or contact are forbidden during your stay.  

Food 

Food is provided throughout the course, and every meal is vegetarian.  

I am a meat lover, so for me this was a bit daunting. As a South African, like many in my home country, I was raised on a heavy meat diet. Many of our culture’s social gatherings thrive around a good old braai. That’s Barbeque or Shashlik – as it may be known where you are from.  

Every Vipassana centre will have different local produce as well as volunteer chefs, but I found our food to be very hearty, fulling and satisfying. I hardly missed meat at all. Breakfast and lunch were very satisfying, but I won’t lie, the meagre piece of fruit and tea we were given for dinner left me hungry on the first night or two.  

There is a good reason for the diet though, so trust in the process and remember that it is temporary. You’ll probably find, like me, that it was not that hard. By the third day your body is used to the portion sizes and actually feeling very good.  

The dining hall – Yes I am aware it looks like a prison. Taken on the last day – after getting our phones back!

Please also be aware of and respectful of the fact that you are not allowed to bring in any food of your own into the centre. 

Vipassana Daily schedule 

It’s kind of brutal. There are some variations on the schedule from day to day, but for the most part, this is what it looks like: 

vipassana_daily_schedule
Taken from the Vipassana website page which details the Code of Conduct: https://www.dhamma.org/en/about/code

Just in case you didn’t count them, the hours of meditation are just shy of 11 hours a day. Yes, that’s 11 hours a day of meditation.  

Vipassana Meditation Technique 

I do not want to give too much away or to create any unrealistic expectations, I will however say that the meditation technique is different to any other that I had tried before, and that the technique was complex.  

It is not simply a focus on the breath type of meditation. Each day the teachings build on from what you had learnt and practiced the day before.  

It will be hard 

For many reasons, it will be hard.  

Your body will ache. A LOT. Your mind will wander. Remembering things you had suppressed and dwelling on things you thought you didn’t care about.  

You will constantly wonder if you are doing “it” right. Do you have “it”? Am I too distracted? Too tired? Too sore to do this right? 

You will miss your comforts. You will be sad, and angry, and lonely.  

This was my bed! Modest dorm rooms provide all you really need for a short stay. You will be so exhausted after a long day that you will just crawl into bed and sleep.

It will be worth it 

Through all of it, it was worth it. Not just for me, but it seemed like for all the amazing people I got to share the experience with.  

In another post, I share my personal experience with Vipassana, but here I will leave you with this….. 

I have now felt another level of happiness. Another level of inner peace I had never experienced before. I fell in love with life again after this course. I learned to love and forgive myself, and to appreciate each day as it comes.  

Taken as we left the Vipassana Centre. (No phones the whole time means I have no photos from during the course).

Daily life after Vipassana 

All these beautiful experiences and feelings I mention, are the fruits of daily practice.

The reason you practice for 10 straight days during the course is to expose you enough to the practice that you can fully grasp it, and feel its benefits.  

When you leave the centre, if you want to continue to feel the benefits of the technique, you need to continue to meditate daily. Not for 10 hours a day though. Aint nobody got time for that!

Taken on the last day – after getting our phones back. Me chatting all night with my roommates. We had 10 days of talking to catch up on!

Final thoughts

One of the most eye opening and rewarding experiences of my life.

Difficult does not mean that it is not worth it. In fact, it is often the hardest experiences that challenge us to grow.

As mentioned, you do need to find a way to incorporate the teachings into your daily life, and I encourage you to read my other post about my full experience with Vipassana.

Please also feel free to ask any questions you have, by leaving a comment below or by getting in touch with me.

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Full-time traveler. My aim is to inspire others to travel more, and to be less afraid of the world.

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