Back in March I wrote about a silent at-home retreat that I did one weekend for 24 hours. I gave a detailed post-retreat report here. My focus that time was more on silence than on meditation, even though yes, it included some meditation.
When I re-read the report, I see that it also involved a lot of other things: reading, journalling, colouring, running, cooking, a leisurely morning without an alarm clock. I wanted to unplug and enjoy some silence. It was a great antidote to my normally over-scheduled days, but I sure did keep myself busy.
Tomorrow I am going on a ten-day meditation course at the Ontario Vipassana Centre. It will be my first time at the Centre and my first time in a meditation setting for that length of time. The Centre is dedicated to teaching Vipassana meditation, as taught by S.N Goenka in the tradition of Sayagi U Ba Khin. According to the website, “Vipassana is one of India’s oldest techniques of meditation, first taught 2,500 years ago. It is a practical method of self-awareness that allows one to face the tensions and problems of daily life in a calm and balanced way.” Some of you may know it as “insight meditation.”
The course will be taken in noble silence. “Noble Silence means silence of body, speech, and mind. Any form of communication with fellow students, whether by gestures, sign language, written notes, etc., is prohibited.” In addition to noble silence, there will be no opportunity for the sorts past-times I engaged in on my at-home retreat. Students may not read, write, listen to music, or engage in physical exercise other than walking.
Each day consists of about ten hours of meditation, with wake-up at 4 a.m. and the last session ending at 9 p.m. It includes regular breaks and rest periods. For the first three and a half days we will practice Anapana, a form of meditation that focuses on the breath. After that, we will practice Vipassana, “the meditation of mental purification through insight.” I’m not entirely sure what that means, but it’s a course, so I am sure I will learn (or at least be introduced to it in some manner).
I have no idea what ten hours a day of meditation feels like. It will no doubt be a challenging experience and I’m going into it feeling excited and curious. This will be the first time in over a decade that I have turned off my phone for ten days in a row. Totally off.
I also feel super fortunate. You have to apply for these courses and there is a long waitlist (especially for these prime summer courses). The course is offered at no cost, on a strictly voluntary donation basis whereby each student gets to decide at the end of the course how much they wish to donate. Only students who have completed one full ten day course are permitted to donate.
If you’ve had experience with organized meditation courses, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.