My 10-Day Silent Vipassana Meditation Retreat Experience
ten day vipassana meditation retreat

My 10-Day Vipassana Experience (Silent Meditation Retreat)

Recently, I attended a ten-day silent Vipassana meditation retreat – ten days without technology, speaking, reading, writing, listening to music, exercising, or communicating in any way. Oh, and of course, close to 11 hours of meditating a day.

In this article, I’ll share my detailed experiences with you. This involves flow experiences, seemingly unbearable back and neck pain, fighting with boredom, finding out what type of people really meditate, becoming enlightened (yeah right!) and much more.

But first, what is Vipassana anyway? How does it work? What’s the point of it? And why would anyone do it?

What Is a 10-Day Vipassana Retreat Anyway?

Vipassana, which means seeing things as they really are, is one of the world’s most popular meditation techniques. It was supposedly taught by Buddha himself in India more than 2500 years ago.

Today, the technique of Vipassana is taught in 10-day courses all over the world. The courses are completely free of charge. All expenses are met by donations from old students – people who went through a course before, experienced the benefits, and wish to give others the opportunity to benefit as well.

The world-wide centers are built, maintained, and run by an organization founded by the recently deceased S.N. Goenka. The organization is nonsectarian and welcomes people from all faiths and backgrounds.

Goenka, the organization’s founder, is also the main teacher of the technique through audio and video recordings taken from one of his previous retreats.

Why Did I Choose to Participate in a Vipassana Course?

Before we get to my detailed experience of the ten-day retreat, I want to give you an understanding of why I chose to go through this in the first place. People go on such retreats for numerous different reasons. For me, the main reason was the proven scientific track record of meditation.

And by track record I mean the science-backed benefits of meditation. According to books and articles I’ve read on the topic, some of those benefits include:

  • Improved immune function, decreased inflammation, many other improved health markers
  • Decreased anxiety, depression, stress
  • Increased positive emotions, decreased negative emotions, more happiness
  • Improved relationships, increases in social connection, less feelings of loneliness
  • Improved focus and attention, memory, creative thinking
  • Improved self-control, emotion regulation, concentration, introspection

Meditation has been shown in multiple studies to physically alter the structures of your brain, increasing grey matter, growing cortical thickness, and increasing volume in areas related to self-control, emotion regulation, positive emotions, and paying attention.

If you’re interested in living a healthy, happy, successful, and fulfilling life, there’s hardly a better use of your time than meditation. I’ve said on numerous occasions that mindfulness is the #1 skill anyone can learn in life – and mindfulness is best cultivated through the practice of meditation.

I am convinced that – at least at this point in my life – meditation is one of the best uses of my time. Anything that helps me rack up more hours of meditation is interesting to me, hence going to a retreat made a lot of sense. One hundred hours of meditation in ten days? Deal!

While the research-backed benefits were my main motivator, I also enjoyed the idea of challenging myself and I wanted to make sure that I knew how to meditate properly. Plus, for various reasons, attending a Vipassana retreat was just something I felt like I had to do sooner or later.

How Does It Work? The Precepts and Course Rules.

So, how does a retreat work anyway? What are the rules? What does a typical day look like? That’s what we’ll cover next.

For starters, attendees of a Vipassana course must undertake five precepts for the duration of the course: 1) to abstain from killing any being; 2) to abstain from stealing; 3) to abstain from all sexual activity; 4) to abstain from telling lies; 5) to abstain from all intoxicants.

In addition to the precepts, attendees should also adhere to the following rules:

  • Noble silence. Students must observe noble silence from the beginning of the course until the morning of the last full day. This means any form of communication with fellow meditators – whether by gestures, written notes, eye contact, or sign language – is prohibited. (You can talk to teachers or course managers regarding problems related to the technique, food, accommodation, etc.)
  • No rites, rituals, or other religious ceremonies. During the course, all other forms of worship, prayer, or religious ceremony should be discontinued.
  • No mixing of techniques. All other forms of meditation, healing, or spiritual practice should be suspended. You’re not allowed to mix any other practices with Vipassana.
  • Separation of Women and Men. During the course, there is complete segregation of men and women. There should be no contact with the other sex whatsoever.
  • No physical contact. Whether it’s between persons of the same or opposite sex, there should be no physical contact whatsoever throughout the ten days.
  • No physical exercise. Jogging, Yoga, and all other forms of exercise are prohibited during the course. Walking is allowed and encouraged – there is a designated walking area available on the compound.
  • No smoking, drinking, or other drugs. Drugs, alcohol, or any other intoxicants are not allowed. This includes sleeping pills, tranquilizers, and other sedatives. (If you need to take medication, just notify the course manager.)
  • Clothing should be comfortable, simple, and modest. Tight, transparent, or revealing clothes (shorts, skirts, etc.) are not allowed. Sunbathing and partial nudity are not permitted either.
  • No phone, no internet, no outside contacts. Outside communication – including phone calls, letters, and visitors – is not allowed during the course. Smartphones and other electronic devices must be deposited with the management until day eleven. (In case of emergency, friends or family may contact the course management.)
  • Stay on the compound. Students are to remain within the course boundaries throughout the ten days.
  • No music, no reading, no writing. Listening to music, playing musical instruments, reading, or writing are not allowed. Taking notes is not permitted either because it’s seen as a distraction for the student.
  • No filming, no taking pictures. If you want to record, film, or take pictures, first ask the course manager for permission.

The rules may sound a bit strict and draconic in the beginning. After the course, however, I realize that most of them make total sense and are simply there to make life easier for the students.

I had no trouble following the rules, though I did do some pushups and other bodyweight exercises from time to time. As long as you don’t distract your fellow meditators, I guess it’s fine.

How Does It Work? The Timetable.

The same timetable is used on all retreats all over the world. Here’s what it looks like:

4:00 am
Morning wake-up bell
4:30-6:30 am
Meditate in the hall or in your room
6:30-8:00 am
Breakfast break
8:00-9:00 am
Group meditation in the hall
9:00-11:00 am
Meditate in the hall or in your room according to the teacher's instructions
11:00-12:00 noon
Lunch break
12noon-1:00 pm
Rest and interviews with the teacher
1:00-2:30 pm
Meditate in the hall or in your room
2:30-3:30 pm
Group meditation in the hall
3:30-5:00 pm
Meditate in the hall or in your own room according to the teacher's instructions
5:00-6:00 pm
Tea break
6:00-7:00 pm
Group meditation in the hall
7:00-8:15 pm
Discourse in the hall
8:15-9:00 pm
Group meditation in the hall
9:00-9:30 pm
Question time in the hall
9:30 pm
Retire to your own room--Lights out

Let’s go through the different points step by step.

Morning wake-up bell. We got woken by a gong at 4 a.m. every morning. We then had thirty minutes until the first meditation. Some of my fellow meditators used this time to shower or for general hygiene while others just continued to sleep. I usually went for some green tea, a splash of cold water to my face, and some light stretching.

Meditate in the hall or in your room. During these meditations, it was completely up to us whether we wanted to meditate in the hall or our own room. I usually started off in the hall and then switched to the room after 40-80 minutes. Many people spent these entire meditations in their room, some slept during the time, and others took walks. Five minutes before the meditation starts, the gong rings, signaling you to get ready.

Breakfast break. Breakfast break was an hour long. The food consisted of a variety of vegetarian foods, including bread, butter, margarine, peanut butter, jam, yoghurt, fruits, porridge, chocolate powder, cinnamon, and even instant coffee. I usually went for some yoghurt with cinnamon and a piece of bread with butter and peanut butter. The rest of the time I used for taking a shower and then walking until the gong signaled the next meditation.

Group meditation in the hall. For these three one-hour long meditations, everyone had to be in the hall. After day four, these meditations become sittings of strong determination (more on that later).

Meditate in the hall or in your room according to the teacher's instructions. For these meditations, everyone had to be in the hall at the beginning. Then, the teacher told us whether we should stay or could choose freely between meditating in our rooms or the hall. One of four groups usually stayed: old male students, old female students, new male students, new female students. If your group was told to stay, you kept meditating in the hall until the teacher asked you along with three fellow meditators to join him in the front of the hall. Then he asked you if you understood the new instructions (there were some new instructions and refinements of the technique on a daily basis) and asked you to meditate in front of him for a few minutes. Apparently, this was so that he could send you and the three other students love, kindness, and strength for the upcoming days. After that, you were free to keep meditating in the hall or meditate in your room.

Lunch break (+ rest and interviews with teachers). Lunch break was two hours long. The food was pretty good, usually consisting of a combination of rice/pasta with vegetables and a sauce. Green salad was always available, too. Plus, there was even dessert such as pudding or pastries. After lunch, I followed the same routine on most days: napping for 40-60 minutes and then walking until the gong signaled the next meditation. During lunch break, there was also the possibility to schedule interviews with the meditation teachers.

Tea break. The hourly tea break offered a combination of fruits, fruit juice, tea, and even some milk to add to it. I usually just had a glass of tea and then went outside for a walk until the next meditation started. I didn’t consume any calories during this break for two reasons: First, I’m convinced that high fat, low carb nutrition optimizes health, energy, and brain power. So I kept carbs to a minimum as best as possible. Second, I’m well aware of the health benefits of fasting and decided to limit my eating window to breakfast and lunch.

Teacher's Discourse in the hall. Every evening after the last one-hour group meditation, there were so-called Dhamma talks – video discourses by S.N. Goenka explaining some of the theory and benefits of the technique. In many ways, these discourses were the highlight of my days. The talks were fun, interesting, and inspiring. They lifted my spirits and motivated me to keep going the next day. (You find many of his discourses on YouTube.)

After the discourse, there was a short break followed by approximately thirty more minutes of meditation in the hall. After that last session, there was the opportunity to stay in the hall and ask questions. I never stayed and instead went straight to bed. Thankfully, I never had any trouble falling asleep or staying asleep throughout the night.

And that’s it. That’s what a typical day looked like. Around ten hours of meditation. Two real meals. A shower. A nap. Lots of walking and stretching in-between meditation sessions. A highly entertaining and charismatic dhamma talk. Sleep. Repeat.

Registering for the Course – an Unexpected First Hurdle

I expected registration for a course to be a quick and hassle-free process. I was wrong. In the end, it took approximately 7 months from decision to do a course until actually enrolling and participating in one.

You see, Vipassana courses are popular. Much more popular than I thought. Registration to 10-day courses usually opens three months before the course starts and it’s not uncommon that courses fill up within a few days of opening up registration.

And it’s not like these courses take place 3x per month. It’s more like one course every 4-6 weeks. Long story short, I missed out on courses a couple of times until I finally managed to register on time and get accepted for the course from sep-19 to sep-30.

How I Prepared

After getting accepted to the course, it was time for preparation.

Until about a week before the course would start, I didn’t do anything. After reading about meditation, mindfulness, and spirituality for the previous two years, I felt like I was prepared well enough. Not to mention that I had been meditating on a regular basis for over a year.

One week prior to the course, my preparation started. The most important factor was adjusting my circadian rhythm. I did this by waking up at 4am for five days leading up to the retreat.

In the aftermath, I have to say I was very well prepared. The circadian rhythm thing plus my meditation experience definitely helped a lot. I talk more about how to prepare for a Vipassana course in this article.

Day 0: Arriving at the Center and Meeting My Fellow Meditators

For day 0, participants were told to arrive for check-in between 2pm and 5pm before a dinner would be served at 6pm.

On my way to the meditation center, I met my first co-meditator. To my surprise, he was a completely normal guy – no long beard, no hippie glasses, no sandals, no flower necklace, no peace tattoo.

I was positively surprised and we hit it off right away. He was about my age, a serial entrepreneur, an avid reader, and an overall cool dude.

Even better, he had very little previous experience with meditation and was simply there because a friend had recommended it to him. “Phew,” I thought, “there’s no way this guy is better prepared than I am. What a relief! I won’t be the only one struggling.”

Upon arrival at the center, we were told to fill out some required paperwork (name, age, address, prior experience, and stuff like that) and to hand in our smartphones and other non-allowed items. After that, I made my way to the room I got assigned for the next ten days. One of my three roommates was already there as I entered – another down-to-earth, intelligent, and cool dude. One roommate after the other arrived and we had a great chat before heading for the dining hall for our last dinner in ten days.

At dinner, I met even more people and continued to be impressed at how successful, down-to-earth, open, and non-woo-woo most of them were. Many of them were self-employed, business owners, entrepreneurs, students, or retired. To my relief, most of them weren’t very well prepared at all. They hadn’t read countless books on the topic, visited India, or meditated for years. For most people, it was their first retreat and frankly, their first encounter with meditation.

These first meetings with my co-meditators really quenched my nerves and boosted my optimism for the coming ten days. These were normal people just like me. They had no idea what to expect either. And they were just as excited/anxious as I was.

Once dinner was over, the noble silence started. We got some general info from the course managers in the dining room before heading to the dhamma hall for the first time. We were assigned our meditation spot and got our first instructions from our teacher, S N Goenka, through an audiotape.

If I remember correctly, the instructions were about 30 to 40 minutes long. We were told about some of the basics of the technique along with some of its history and some instructions for the meditation itself.

It was during that time that I realized for the first time just how hard this was going to get. After sitting for about 10-15 minutes, I already started experiencing lots of pain and discomfort. All I had to do was listen to an audio recording for a little over half an hour and already I was struggling – a foretaste of what was to come.

Once this torture introduction was over, it was time to go to bed. Thankfully, sleep never was an issue during the course. I was able to fall asleep fairly quickly and sleep through most of the night. I also rarely struggled with fatigue, but more on that later.

Day 1: Let the Struggle Begin

At 4 a.m. a gong went off multiple times and jolted me out of sleep. I got out of bed and nervously made my way to the meditation hall. I sat down on my cushions, tried to find a comfortable sitting position, and started meditating.

My nerves calmed down after a few minutes, allowing me to concentrate on the technique. Things went surprisingly well: I did what I was supposed to do and brought back my attention to the object of concentration every time my mind had wandered. Meditation 101. No big deal. I got this.

After about ten minutes, my early enthusiasm started fading and the madness began. Turns out my mind and body were not delighted to sit in meditation for such long periods of time and started revolting. The body signaled its unhappiness through pain, aches, and discomfort. The mind through restlessness and agitation.

Long story short, those were two of the longest hours of my entire life. The madness just didn’t seem to come to an end. I had to change my posture approximately every 5 minutes. I just couldn’t sit still for longer than that, constantly giving in to the pain of my body and the restless nature of my mind. I was always wondering, “How long is this going to take?! This is impossible! There’s no way two hours aren’t over yet. This must be a mistake.”

And then there it was: The chanting of S N Goenka, our meditation teacher, signaling that the end of the meditation was near. What a relief. Soon I had made it. Well, actually it still took thirty more minutes, but somehow I made it to the end of that first session.

During and after that exhausting experience, thoughts of agony and despair were rushing through my mind: “This was just the beginning… just the first meditation… just a taste of what’s to come… I’m still fresh… I just slept for 8 hours… yet I am already completely beat… I am already destroyed… everything hurts… how am I going to survive this?”

Okay, maybe things weren’t as bad as I make it sound. Thanks to reading books by Eckhart Tolle, Osho, and other meditation-related people, I knew exactly how to handle such distressing thoughts. Just observe them with detachment and accept that they’re there. No need to freak out. No need to question everything. No need to worry about whatever bullshit the mind wants you to get caught up in. Just let the thoughts be there and do your thing.

After the 2-hour morning meditation, it was time for breakfast. Options included porridge, bread, butter, margarine, peanut butter, jam, yogurt, fruits, chocolate powder, cinnamon, instant coffee, and lots of tea.

My breakfast for the coming days would always be the same. Yogurt with cinnamon (and sometimes some apple slices) and a piece of bread with butter and peanut butter. I tried to keep things as low carb, high fat as possible because I think it optimizes your energy levels and your brain’s capacities. After breakfast, I took a shower, did some yoga stretches, and went for a walk until the gong signaled the beginning of the next meditation.

I kept this routine pretty constant throughout the ten days: showers after breakfast and moving + stretching as much as possible in-between meditations. Oh, and napping for as long as possible during the 2-hour lunch break. I’m convinced that the intermittent movement and napping did help me by mitigating the pain a little bit and boosting my energy levels. Fatigue rarely was a problem for me during those ten days, while it definitely was for others (they told me afterwards). One of my roommates seemed to be tired all the time and often slept during meditation time.

The rest of Day 1 was just as much of a struggle as the first two hours. I had to keep changing my posture every couple of minutes because I couldn’t handle the discomfort and restlessness of my mind.

It was a constant battle between temporarily giving up (“I can’t do this anymore. I need some rest.”) and then making a comeback (“C’mon, we can go for another five minutes.”) and then giving up again (“I just don’t have the discipline to keep going.”) and then making another comeback (“Don’t be a pussy. Let’s try again!”) and so on.

The cool thing I realized was that I had much more self-discipline, vigor, and strength than I expected. As you get pushed to the outer edges of your limits, you find that the reserves are there. It’s like they say, we are capable of so much more than we think.

The highlight of Day 1 was undoubtedly the Dhamma discourse in the evening. Goenka explained some of the theory behind the technique, why it will benefit us, what to expect in the future, and most importantly assured us that our struggles are completely normal and to be expected. His charismatic and funny nature really loosened things up quite a bit. The talk brightened my mood and motivated me for the next day.

In the aftermath, the first day was definitely the hardest for me.

Days 2-4: Slight Improvements, Flow, and Strong Determination

On days 2-4, things slowly improved. I was much better at dealing with pain, discomfort, and restlessness. I could now easily sit in a posture for 10-15 minutes, which allowed me to practice a lot more calmly and with more concentration.

During group meditations, I sometimes took a minute or two to look at my fellow meditators. This was helpful because it made me realize that they were struggling just as much as I was. Some of them were looking around as well, some were sitting with their heads in hands, some were scratching their heads, some were obviously taking a break, and one even had to be woken up by the course manager because his snoring disturbed us other meditators.

Phew, so I really wasn’t the only guy going through living hell here. My fellow meditators were struggling just as much, some seemingly even more than I was. This sense of common humanity and not being alone in my despair helped me a lot.

On day 2, I had my first “positive” meditation session (I put positive in quotation marks because theoretically you’re not supposed to judge your meditations). Concentration was somewhat effortless and I felt emerged in the practice. I wasn’t constantly lost in thought, complaining to myself, wondering when it would be over, or anxiously waiting for the gong that would end the session.

It was almost like a kind of flow experience. The nagging voice in my head had subsided and I was so fully in the moment that the perception of time somehow escaped my consciousness. I was just sitting there, paying attention to my breath as time flew by until the gong went off, signaling the end of the meditation.

This experience boosted my mood and optimism dramatically. I expected to have more and more of these pleasant meditations as time went on. In the aftermath, I turned out to be wrong. The vast majority of my sessions from day 2 forward were a struggle. Looking back at the full ten days, I don’t think I’ve had another meditation that was nearly as pleasant as this one.

While things improved compared to day 1, except for that one bright session, days 2-4 were still incredibly nerve-wrecking, hard, and challenging. Over and over again I got pushed to the limit of my abilities, wondering how much longer I could take this. It was a constant battle.

In the afternoon of day 4, just when things had started to get a little easier, we got introduced to two new practices, one of which added an additional element of difficulty.

First, we were taught how to practice Vipassana meditation. You see, during the first three and a half days, we only practiced Anapana, a breath awareness meditation to prepare our minds and bodies for the real deal. I enjoyed learning about the actual Vipassana technique and was looking forward to practicing.

Second, we got introduced to the practice of adhitthana or strong determination sittings: sitting for one hour with strong determination not to change posture or open the eyes. In other words, we were not allowed to change posture or open our eyes for an entire hour. From now on going forward, the three one-hour group meditations were all to be practiced with strong determination.

The evening of day 4 gave me the first taste of adhitthana. Frankly, it was brutal. After about thirty minutes, the pain really started getting to me. My upper back and neck were just killing me. To say that I was shaking and trembling would be an understatement.

Even worse, the longer I sat through the pain, the more agitated and angry and pissed off my mind got: “What is this nonsense?! This is impossible. They just want to torture us! There’s no way in hell the sixty minutes aren’t over yet. OMG! I can’t take this anymore. Fucking Goenka. This torture should be forbidden!”

After around forty-five minutes, the pain and restlessness became unbearable and I gave up. Crap. This wasn’t a good feeling.

Luckily, I was well-prepared for dealing with such setbacks. Instead of beating myself up or drowning myself in shame or guilt, I chose to treat myself with warmth, understanding, and compassion. I consoled myself, picked myself back up, and resolved to do better tomorrow.

Self-compassion – once more! – saved my ass and quickly got me back on track.

Days 5-9: Achieving Proficiency, The Miracle of Equanimity, and Fighting With Boredom

Days 5-9 were kind of like the heart of the practice. We kept struggling through our meditations (especially the adhittana sittings) with the main aim of getting better at a particular skill called equanimity.

Equanimity is the art of non-reactivity, of non-resistance, of staying calm and optimistic in the face of painful and difficult situations.

You see, we live in a universe of constant change. Sometimes it’s hot, sometimes it’s cold. Sometimes it’s sunny, sometimes it rains. Sometimes you’re happy, sometimes you’re sad. It’s a never-ending cycle. And while there will be many good times in your life, there will inevitably be some difficulties as well. Even if life goes seemingly perfectly, sooner or later you’ll experience the death of a loved one, health issues, old age, or death. No life is without misery.

Equanimity is about realizing that everything is always changing. Instead of resisting and struggling with painful situations, equanimity teaches us to stay calm and realize, “this, too, will pass.” No matter how hopeless or miserable life seems at any one moment, things will get better again. That realization can be a source of incredible strength and optimism.

Vipassana sittings – especially the strong determination sittings – help you learn to stay equanimous even in severe pain. You are going through this torture as a training to deal with painful and difficult situations in life where you can’t do anything, but have to face it.

Once I understood this theory, the adhittana sittings became quite easy. In fact, on days five to ten, I was able to successfully sit through all of them except one.

The key for me was to stay equanimous to both the pain and my thoughts during the meditation. Instead of fighting with myself, resisting the pain, and getting angry at whatever thoughts my mind was producing, I just kept reminding myself to stay detached and non-reactive to whatever was happening. I kept telling myself, “this, too, will pass.” No matter how excruciating the pain felt, I just kept bringing my attention back to the meditation. No matter what excuse my mind was trying to convince me of, I just kept bringing my attention back to the meditation.

No matter what, I just kept bringing my attention back to the meditation, while staying as equanimous, accepting, and non-reactive as possible.

Then, I made a great discovery. The more equanimous I stayed, the weaker the pain became. I don’t know if the pain actually got weaker or if I was just less bothered by it. Whatever the case, this shit worked.

On days 6 to 10, the adhitthana sittings really weren’t a big deal anymore. I just did what I was supposed to do while staying calm and non-reactive for the entire sixty minutes. No more agitation. No more anger. No more aggression. No more anxiously waiting for the gong. Just going through the motions with acceptance and equanimity.

It was a remarkable progress from getting agitated and having to change posture every few minutes on day 1 to being able to sit peacefully in the same posture for sixty minutes after day 5.

With that being said, there was one thing that was bothering me on the last days of my retreat: boredom. After six or seven days of meditating 10 hours daily, my motivation really took a hit and never recovered until the end. It was just always the same thing, over and over (and over!) again. Sit down. Move your attention throughout the body. Bring back attention if your mind has wandered. Stay equanimous. Repeat.

This was unfortunate and somewhat annoying, but what can be done? I just accepted the fact that I was bored and kept doing my best anyway. My practice suffered a bit and was lacking the vigor and diligence I brought forth on the first six to seven days. I even skipped some meditation time and went for walks instead. Again, I just did the best I could under the circumstances.

And then, finally, day 10 arrived…

Day 10: From Noble Silence to Noble Chattering

In the aftermath, day 10 was one of the highlights of my retreat. After the strong determination sitting from 8-9am, the noble silence got lifted and we were finally able to talk to each other.

The discussions were incredibly interesting and animated. Everyone was uplifted, positive, and in a great mood. In the beginning, it was all about sharing one’s experiences and struggles before the topics changed to real life matters such as entrepreneurship, politics, spirituality, and so on.

The whole day was one fascinating discussion, only interrupted by the remaining two adhitthana sittings of the day. Most of us just skipped the other meditation sessions. According to the teachers, this was okay because the chattering and meditating didn’t go well together anyway. Instead of the usual ten hours of meditation, day 10 was reduced to approximately five hours (the two morning hours + the three strong determination group sittings).

I was really surprised to meet so many successful, driven, and like-minded people at the retreat. The average meditator wasn’t removed from the world, spaced out, woo-woo, or otherwise weird. Instead, the average person I met was very much like me: interested in the world, open, tolerant, committed to personal growth, and determined to explore his or her full potential.

I am definitely going to stay in contact with a few of the people I met there. In fact, I am just about to go for a workout session with one of them – turns out this guy is just as fanatical about his health as I am.

Apart from making new friends, day 10 tackled some organizational stuff: rides home, donations, future retreats, volunteering, info about day 11, and so on. As a nice surprise, we also got dinner for the first time in ten days.

Day 11: Back to the Real World

We woke up at 4am one last time. Instead of the usual two-hour meditation, however, we listened to a final talk and some chanting by S N Goenka. Afterwards, breakfast was served and the cleaning of the house got organized (you can decide whether you want to stay for another thirty to sixty minutes to help clean everything).

After either breakfast or cleaning, we parted ways and re-entered the world. A quick look at my smartphone re-assured me that this other world was alive and well.

Leaving the retreat center, I started wondering what all the hype about Vipassana courses had been about. There was nothing “spectacular” or “life-changing” about my experience. Yes, I was glad I made it through and I’m sure it was incredibly beneficial to my growth as a person. But I hadn’t experienced anything particularly special. I wasn’t feeling euphoric, ecstatic, or like a changed person.

Instead, I was feeling quite normal (although pleasant) emotions of pride, relief, and positive anticipation. I was incredibly proud because I just made it through ten days of struggle, pain, and hard work. I had showed myself that I had the discipline, strength, and resilience to go through difficult experiences. At the same time, I was feeling relieved that it was over and was looking forward to get back to normal life again.

Departing from the center, I would sum up my thoughts as follows: “It was an incredible experience. I’m so glad I did this. I’m super proud of myself. Now let’s go home. I’m excited - let’s get back to the real world!”

What Have I Learned?

Because this article is already way long, I have written a separate one about four specific lessons I’ve learned on my retreat. You can find it here.

Conclusion: Would I Do it Again? Would I Recommend it to Others?

Would I do it again? Absolutely! My experience was very positive. Not only did I grow a sense of pride and accomplishment in myself, I also learned a lot of other valuable lessons that will benefit me in my growth as a person. On top of that, I met some great people, some of which I am still in contact to this day.

I also enjoyed many other aspects of the retreat. The timetable and rules make a lot of sense in the aftermath – they create a calm and peaceful atmosphere very supportive of meditation. The evening discourses were very informative. Even the food was surprisingly good.

All in all, I am very happy with my Vipassana retreat. Not only would I do it again, I probably will continue to go on retreats in the future.

Would I recommend it to others? Yes, but… While I think a Vipassana retreat would be beneficial for anyone, I believe that timing is important. You do need a certain amount of self-discipline and/or interest in the topic of meditation before going on a retreat. Otherwise you’ll probably leave after a few days.

If you want to take the course, head over to the official website, find the nearest center, and follow the instructions.

And if you have any further questions or want to share your own experiences, please leave a comment below.


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Nils Salzgeber

Nils Salzgeber is an Amazon #1 bestselling author and co-founder of NJlifehacks. He is a productivity and personal transformation specialist who combines personal experience with modern science. He quit university at the age of 21 after successfully making the leap to entrepreneurship. Since then, he has been traveling the world, built several successful online businesses, and published two books.

  • Lionel Jayasinghe says:

    Getaway from hustle bustle, email and text messages and reach the peace

    I was trying to unwind myself and getaway from all stress in the city and in my workplace. I found an ideal place in Kandy Sri Lanka. I drove from Colombo to central hills in Kandy. I managed to reach the location by driving in a mountain about six kilometres from Kandy. As I reached the location, I found that it’s an ideal location to unwind and forget all my connection with the outside world, it was cool and quiet. I handed over my mobile phone laptop, camera and everything to the staff of the centre. They allocated a room for me with minimum facility which I can live. Given me the program for the next ten days to follow with strict disciplinary code to unwind myself and to find all what I need, peace of mind. There were about twenty five participants for the program from every corner of the world. We were allowed to communicate only after ten days at the completion of meditation program (Vippasana). The teacher assigned to us was very kind and matured, knowledgeable to answer our questions. They were very concern about our wellbeing during the stay and they were really kind hatred and excellent human beings

    The centre provided all facilities including meals. All free of charge. I completed the program and it gave me an insight into myself and guidance to understand the reality of the nature. It is an invaluable experience in my life!!

  • Cynthia says:

    This is great! Thanks for sharing. I am going on my 5th or 6th(?) vipassana 10 day course next month in Shelburne, MA. Have no idea what this experience will be like…we’ll see… annica! 🙂

  • Eileen says:

    Thank you for a great article. I’ve applied and hope to be accepted in ID. Everything you mention in your article I anticipate will also be quite a huge challenge for me. I hope I can navigate as well as you did. What kind of cushion/support did you use – I assume you can bring your own. I don’t have a cushion yet, but have always had an issue with sitting cross legged – inherited problem. Can you use a hair dryer after a shower or does that interrupt the ‘quiet’ atmosphere? I don’t need much, but don’ care to have wet hair. Thanks again for your insights.

    • Hi Eileen, I didn’t bring my own cushions. I used the ones they provided – there are lots to choose from and I used 4-6 different cushions at the same time. In the beginning, I had no idea how to sit and had to change my seat every five minutes or so. It might be helpful to look at some classic postures before the retreat. Just so you know different variations you can try out. After a few days, you’ll have your go-to postures, and eventually you’ll be able to sit in them for the full 60 minutes.

      And you don’t need to sit cross-legged, either. I often used a position they call “Seiza,” sometimes with lots of pillows and other times with only one or two pillows. Again, you can rotate through different variations of this posture. And if you’re really struggling with this, you always have the opportunity to ask the retreat manager.

      Can you use a hair dryer? I’m not 100% sure, but I think people used it on my retreat. I’m pretty sure you can use it.

      Best of luck for your retreat! 🙂

  • Victoria says:

    Thanks so much for this. Doing my first one in October. So excited and terrified all at once! Will be very challenging but am looking forward. My IG is @vickyt – nice to digitally meet/come across your page! Xxxx

  • Isabelle says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience and making me laugh!! I have been through a lot of stress at work recently and I am also dealing with the losses of my mother and mother in law. My acupuncturist recommended me a 10 days vipassana retreat. The retreat is in a week so I am not sure if I am ready and strong enough for it at this moment. I am still grieving and dealing with all sort of emotions… However, reading about your experience is very helpful. It is good to know that many people who go to those retreats are absolutely beginners. I have never meditated before. My therapy is hiking in the mountains where I too end up talking to myself a lot. The only thing that concerns me is back pain issues and restless legs… I suffer from those greatly!! I will decide if I will do this session or maybe wait a little and prepare myself for December. It sounds very interesting and challenging.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Isabelle! Sorry to hear about losing your mother and mother in law – wish you all the strengths you need to get through this. I have massive respect for anyone going into a retreat without any prior meditation experience. If you decide to go this upcoming week, my best piece of advice would be: lots of self-compassion and don’t take your mind too seriously. (You may also want to read my articles on preparing for a retreat and “surviving” the retreat.)

      Let us know how it went, and best of luck! 🙂

  • Peter Decker says:

    Nice article! You should also have a look at Zen Sesshins – just did one to prepare for my upcoming vipassana! By the way: Which center did you go to?

  • Nice read! I recently did my first retreat and I was a bit blown away by the experiences. Vivid and symbolic dreams, psychedelic experience, reorganization of past memories as well as ideas for future… However it seems I was far weaker in pain handling than you. Good job! Did you meditate with your back supported prior to Vipassana?

    • Oh, wow, sounds like you’ve had some incredible experiences! I’ve had no such thing, lol.

      As far as I remember, I switched between back-supported meditating and non-supported meditating prior to the retreat. When I had the energy/motivation then I did without back support. When I lacked energy/motivation I used back support.

  • Laura Warren says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience. I am attending a course next week and am very excited/nervous. It sounds very strict – do they go through your bags when you arrive?

    • It sounds more strict than it really is. At least that’s how I’ve experienced it. They did NOT go through my bags or anyone else’s bags as far as I know.

      And by the way, there were quite a few people who didn’t follow the rules strictly. One guy was reading a book in my dorm. Another was writing things down. And I’m sure there were people who used narcotics or sleeping pills or whatever. And none of them got into trouble.

      Best of luck! 🙂

  • Viviane says:

    Thanks a lot for sharing your experience, Nils! In many ways I felt the same as you in my first retreat that I attended last month. I have found a lot of testimonies about vipassana retreats, but almost none comments about how it was after that. In the beggining, I even had a lil “panic” feeling before sitting to meditate, as if it was going to be hard or I wouldn’t be able to concentrate. Also, 2 times per day were impossible in the first weeks. Not mentioning all the feelings while coming back to “reality”, being more sensitive and calmer at the same time. Now I am finally finding my concentration back and being able to meditate 2 times per day, but still not the same as in the retreat, what I guess it is normal. I am just not judging that anymore. How is your “after life” with meditation?
    Thanks a lot for your inspiring words. Be happy!
    Vivi

    • Hi Vivi, thanks for sharing your experience. The time after my first retreat was very stressful. I sold many of my personal belongings and moved to Egypt for six months. And because everything was so hectic and stressful, I wasn’t able to keep up a daily meditation practice. Let alone 2x per day for an hour each.

      Since then, I’ve again started a daily practice. Usually, it’s just once a day for 20 minutes. Occasionally it’s twice a day. And sometimes I miss a day. Which is normal, I guess. The good thing is that I can get back a decent amount of concentration and mindfulness fairly quickly. So even if I miss a day or so I can still meditate with a certain amount of concentration and mindfulness. And that’s, I think, to do with the retreat.

      One thing I definitely noticed directly after the retreat was that my concentration was way sharper. For example, writing articles was easier because I could get absorbed in the process and wasn’t so easily distracted. I also felt calmer after the retreat and somewhat more balanced. Those were the major changes I experienced.

      And that increase in concentration which then lead to an increase in productivity is a big reason why I want to go on retreat again. If everything goes well, that will be sooner rather than later.

      Be happy!

      -Nils

  • ilyas says:

    Hey Nills thank you for the very in-depth article, I enjoyed reading it very much. I’m going to my first retreat in december in Canada. I’m a bit worried about the cold but it’s okay I guess. Your story was very insightful ! I’d love to ask you some questions though if you don’t mind me asking. You say you’re a recovering procrastinator, and I relate to that very much. I have some level of control over most of my flaws, however procrastination is my biggest problem which just don’t want to go away, (especially a resolution for waking up early that I just can’t keep sadly). Did you feel the retreat was beneficial in that regard of fighting procrastination and having some mastery over your habits ? Also the vipassana meditation (observing and scanning the body) is a bit different of the one I’d like to master which is passive observation of thoughts, holding a single train of thought in mind and not being distracted away from it and finally achieving quietness of the mind, a state where no thought arises (or let’s say you successfully ignore them and do not let them reach consciousness). Do you feel the way the retreat is designed can help for such a type of meditation (after the retreat of course) ?
    Thank you again for sharing your experience, and wish you the best in life and for you to reach your greatest potential.

    ilyas

    • Hey Ilyas, let me answer those questions for you…

      – I couldn’t say that the retreat helped me in regards to procrastination. However, in general, meditation is one of the best things you can do to overcome procrastination in the long run. There’s no doubt about that. Meditation is perhaps the best way to increase awareness, improve emotion regulation, improve impulse control, reduce impulsiveness, and so on. Basically, meditation improves a bunch of skills related to procrastination. Since the retreat is ten days of meditation it will definitely help you in battling procrastination.

      – The retreat will definitely help you in the type of skill you described. In fact, it’s essentially what you do during vipassana meditation. You will naturally observe thoughts and feelings during vipassana, and you will get better at that over the course of the ten days and beyond.

      Hope that helps, and I wish you all the best for your retreat! 🙂

      Take care,
      Nils

  • Avuldar says:

    Osho advised that doing vipassana for more than two hours makes one crazy. Vipassana should be done only in the morning. If it’s done in the evenings, it brings sleeping disorders because it brings such an awareness that one would not get a wink.

  • t k bageshwar says:

    The first step in Vipassana is always cautious and shaky. The experience , if you stay put for complete course ,is very enlightening, unique and transforming to individuals.
    I would request a reading of
    http://www.buddhanet.net/pdf_file/noble8path6.pdf
    till end to understand the underlying science behind the Vipassana technique. thank you,
    with metta

  • Kala says:

    Thank you so much dear Nils, for an excellent and insightful experience of the Vipassana course. I truly relived my first course days. You have captured the essence of the course about equanimity and awareness, beautifully well. Compared to your extensive preparation, mine was hilariously poor – I simply tried to sit cross-legged for 30 minutes to watch television each day, for one month prior to the course.

    I did my first course in May’18 and since then have served in three courses for full ten days. The takeaway as a ‘Dhamma Sewak’ is manifold and the immense gratification has made me more humble. My ego and desire for flattery have drastically reduced, making me a greater emotionally-stable person. The technique gets established well since I got to meditate about 4-5 hours each day. I would certainly encourage you to serve and reap the benefits.

    The best part of your article is the lessons which are very relatable for a layperson. I have shared this post with many friends – it is a very encouraging read for fence sitters.

    Regards and Metta, Kala

    • Thanks for the kind words, Kala. I certainly intend to serve on a course in the future – your recommendation adds to a pile of others I’ve heard thus far. And wow, meditating for 4-5 hours each day is just great. Can’t imagine how that changes your perception and experiencing of life, but it must be quite profound. Thanks for sharing the article around. Be happy.

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