10 Day Silent Meditation Retreat - 10 Tips!
During our time in Japan, we attended a 10 day silent meditation retreat to learn Vipassana meditation. Prior to attending the retreat, we intentionally did not do much research because we didn’t want to have preconceived notions of what to expect. While this was good for us, there were some things we learned that might have been helpful to know in advance.
1. Wear Comfy Clothes
Your jeans that have a little bit of stretch in them will not be comfortable enough! You will be sitting cross-legged or kneeling for 10+ hours per day, so loose fitting pants are an absolute necessity. You can’t expose your knees, so shorts are out. Plus, they specifically ask women to not wear yoga pants or anything else tight fitting unless worn underneath a long skirt. Loose fitting exercise pants…even sweat pants (which is what Pete wore)…work great. Rachel’s pants had a bit of stretch to them, which was nice.
2. Physical Pain
We did not expect the discomfort that we experienced. Ironically, learning how to deal with not avoiding discomfort is part of the meditation practice, but for newbies like us it was still a challenge. Pete had three knots in his back that we there all day, every day, for the 10 days. Rachel’s hip was particularly bothersome for her. Walking and stretching in between sessions is helpful and we both found that after 3 or 4 days our bodies started getting more used to it…however, it was still quite uncomfortable.
3. Two Meals Per Day + Fruit Snack
You will eat breakfast at 6:30 am and lunch at 11:00 am. After that you do not get another full meal until 6:30 am the following day. At 5:00 pm, new students (like we were) are able to get a snack of fruit and tea. When we first heard about the limited meals we were a bit concerned. However, it was ample for both of us. Remember, you are sitting, not moving, for 10+ hours per day and they ask you not to do any exercise during break times. You’re not exactly burning a lot of calories!
4. No Instruction on Meditation Posture, Seating Options
We had no previous meditation experience and thought there would be some instruction on how to sit, ways to position your cushions or pillows, and other tips on proper posture. There is none. We learned by watching the people around us…many of whom you could tell were experienced meditators. After meditating for 100+ hours over the course you will certainly learn how to sit! However, along with the physical pain tip above, we suggest testing out some seating options ahead of time so that you have some idea of where to begin. Having to figure that out added another level of complexity while also learning the Vipassana meditation method.
5. No Orientation
Similar to number 4, there is no real orientation of what the 10 days will be like, what to expect, etc. You pretty much arrive, check-in, have a meal, noble silence starts, and you start learning to meditate. Ready-Set-Go. There is a daily schedule posted and since the days are all identical (except for a few near the end) you quickly learn the routine and process. Just don’t expect a welcome orientation or anything like that!
6. Don’t Talk Before Noble Silence Begins
We met several people on the bus that were also attending the silent meditation retreat. As one expects, there was a lot of chatter (where are you from, have you done this before, what do you expect, etc.) on the bus and for the few hours after we arrived before noble silence began. We suggest not talking to anyone. Even though it’s only a few hours, you start getting to know people, you develop opinions about people, etc. This makes it more difficult to completely ignore them (including no eye contact or physical communication) when noble silence begins because you “know them”. You’re better off sticking to yourself and begin noble silence on your own right when you arrive. There’s truly no benefit in talking to people before it begins. Day 10, when noble silence is lifted, is a terrific time and opportunity to talk.
7. Give Yourself Some “Normalcy”
Living like a monk and nun for 10 days during a silent meditation retreat is quite different than day-to-day life! Learning to meditate is very physically and mentally challenging. In addition, because the schedule is the same each day it can quickly become like “Groundhog Day”. We both found that having a regular routine to do things like showering, shaving and washing clothes added a bit of normalcy to the day.
8. Do Not Expect an Epiphany
You are not going to become enlightened and will unlikely have a major epiphany while at a 10 day silent meditation retreat to learn Vipassana meditation. The retreat will teach you a simple (yet challenging) meditation practice that you will need to continue once you leave the retreat to reap the benefits. If you go into the retreat “craving” (using the term we learned at the retreat!) a major epiphany or breakthrough you are setting yourself up for disappointment. This meditation practice is not a sprint, it is a marathon, so being patient and not expecting too much will be helpful.
9. It’s Not Psychotherapy
You are not focusing on deep rooted issues or analyzing your problems during the retreat. You may learn that you have some unhealthy thought patterns or memories/feelings that keep cropping up. However, the purpose of the retreat is to learn how to observe these (just like you would a physical sensation), but not react to them with aversion or craving. If you have mental health issues this type of retreat may be quite challenging, which is why they ask about this on the application form. Just know that the meditation practice you will be taught is about mind/body connection and learning to observe physical sensation with a balanced and equanimous mind.
10. Transition Time
The next morning after departing the retreat we flew to South Korea. In hindsight, we should have given ourselves several non-travel days in Japan to process what we learned and get used to being around a lot of people again. After leaving the retreat, we recommend going to a place for 2 or 3 days where you can relax, practice meditation, and ease back into the normal world. Otherwise, it’s a bit of a jarring re-entry!
We hope these tips help you if you are considering attending a 10 day silent meditation retreat to learn Vipassana meditation. It is a challenging, but rewarding experience. If you have any specific questions, feel free to post below or contact us directly.
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