I wrote this article when I just returned from a week of silent meditation (Vipassana) retreat spent in a Buddhist monastery in Koh Samui, Thailand in 2019.
At first, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to write on the subject, but it now seems obvious to me (#theworldneedstoknow).
Like others surely, I did some preliminary research on this type of meditation retreat to know the feelings of the participants and to know if it was not too difficult.
Because yes, the idea of spending a week away from the world having no distractions and nothing else to do but be with me, myself, and I scared me a bit.
I had read a few articles on the Vipassana experience, but because every retreat is unique, I also wanted to write about mine, focusing on the day by day feelings.
In a second article, I reflect on the “after” experience of the silent retreat, that I particularly wanted to share as I didn’t find any resources about this aspect back then.
Why did I decide to go on a meditation retreat?
Setting aside the hope of reaching a spiritual awakening and enlightenment (wink wink), I wanted to live a unique experience and test my own limits.
I was curious to find out what was hiding behind my ego. The cherry on the cake was that the center I spotted offered an introduction to Buddhism and Budda teachings, a philosophy that has always attracted me, but which I never took the time to really take an interest in.
I can’t really say that I was a meditator. Like many, I started on my own, listening to guided meditations until I met my lovely Sahaja yoga meditation group. There is so much kindness in this group that I can easily speak of therapeutic benefits.
I wasn’t too familiar with retreats either. I did a yoga retreat for a week, two years before, what happened to be amazing.
So I admit that I was hoping to feel as calm and confident after that new meditation retreat experience.
Spoiler alertit did more than that.
The meditation retreat program
I would like first to give you a picture of what the retreat consists of.
It takes place over a week, in a secluded place, with a tight schedule and about six hours of daily meditation.
The classes are held by experienced meditators who teach meditation techniques, breathing techniques, and Buddhist philosophy.
Did I tell you I wanted to challenge myself? You will surely understand why by reading the program below (and, no, I’m not a masochist, but thanks for worrying about me).
- 4:30 am: wake up time at the sound of the bell
- 5 am: lecture given by the main speaker
- 5:15 am: seated meditation
- 5:45 am: yoga
- 7 am: seated meditation
- 7:30 am: breakfast (+ chore + free time)
- 9:30 am: talk about Buddhism
- 10:30 am: walking meditation
- 11 am: seated meditation
- 11:30 am: lunch (+ chore + free time)
- 2 pm: teaching on meditation and seated meditation
- 3 pm: walking meditation
- 3.30 pm: seated meditation
- 4 pm: walking meditation
- 4.30 pm: chanting and loving-kindness meditation
- 5.30 pm: tea (+ bananas + free time)
- 7 pm: seated meditation
- 7:30 pm: walking meditation in a group
- 8 pm: seated meditation
- 8:30 pm: bedtime
- 9 pm: lights off
On top of that, we were asked to not bring any distractions such as books and notebooks, and leave laptops and smartphones to the administration upon arrival.
I admit that I transgressed the rule a little and kept a notebook to keep notes of everything I could feel during the experience.
These notes are the ones you’re about to read in my day by day experience I report in this article.
In the same vein, the comfort was kept to its bare minimum, woman and men were separated and we slept in a dormitory.
My Vipassana experience day after day
- Arrival at the center. I couldn’t sleep the night before. I thought about not going 15 times.
- The center is perched on a hill, the climb is steep. Running away would be risky.
- I understand that I will indeed sleep on a wooden bed with … a wooden pillow.
- The hall is noisy and I wonder how all these people are going to remain quiet for so long.
- I overhear some conversations: everyone is traveling, in short nothing very new or exciting.
- At my table, a girl breaks the silence and the conversation slips to our respective motivations and … yes, yes you also have it … our traveling experience 😉
- Site visit and welcoming speech. I don’t get everything, our guide has a strong Japanese accent.
- I smile at the thought of not having to talk to all these strangers without being socially awkward.
- Total depression
- I feel super lonely
- My mental goes in every possible direction
- The coffee from the dining room has disappeared, big disappointment
- A mad desire to go back to the outside world
- Wayyy too much time spent on thinking about my relationship
- Severe migraine (zero nicotine-caffeine-sugar day)
- Backache, difficulty to find a comfortable meditation posture
- I spent my morning full of fears about the future
- Empty bed. Someone from my dorm left the center. It boosts my stupid ego
- My meditation neighbors haven’t attended the class. How many people have already left?
- I realize that I needed a good screen detox
- Fatigue, I fell asleep during the morning speech
- My mind no longer goes all over the place. It’s quieter
- Many thoughts, I’m not really yet meditating
- Tears shed during a guided meditation
- I remember that we are insignificant compared to the vastness of the universe
- I already feel better, the day is going by and I am guided by the planning
- Tears shed in the evening, except that this time I can’t name the emotion. Something new
- There is a big spider in the dorm. A courageous girl managed to get it out. Applause
- Intense joy felt during a meditation
- Sense of inner peace
- The cook gave me and my two other chore’s partners 3 chocolates; it feels like Christmas
- I lengthen my breath to increase my focus and it works
- The mind gradually calms down, but it ALWAYS finds something to carry me away
- Some apprehension when thinking of the “after” of the retreat
- Beautiful sunset with coconut palms in the foreground
- Big tears shed in the evening, it feels good
- I am grateful for all the love that I have already received in my life
- A firefly appeared in the meditation hall. A beautiful moment
- Looking at myself with my pocket mirror I find that my skin looks good
- Waking up is very difficult
- The yoga class was difficult because I was still asleep
- I forgive everyone who hurt me from near and far, intentionally or not
- Introduction to the wheel of life according to Buddhism. I don’t understand everything because the man doesn’t speak into the microphone and it’s frustrating
- I think of the next clothes I would like to buy
- 3 guys came to the center on a scooter, obviously lost. Unreal vision and desire to join them
- Someone left a flower in the bathroom, it moves me
- A girl showed me a gecko, a moment of intense sharing
- I still don’t know if I’m staying a few days on Koh Samui after the retreat or if I should go back to my partner and this question obsesses me. Am I ready to go back to my normal life?
- The organizer announced that we have free program today. I’m lost
- My focus has gone, I’m distracted, frustrated, and angry
- I think that I’m weak and that my old me is coming back
- All my anxieties resurface
- Letting go is complicated
- I attempt to speak kindly to myself
- I feel a strong sexual energy
- The longest afternoon of my life. I’m definitely getting nowhere
- There is a new flower in the bathroom. Thank you to whoever put it there
- Last day! The sound of the bell has never put me in such a good mood
- The two meditations went well this morning
- Inspirational messages on the board: don’t compare yourself with others, wisdom is key, and all the answers are within us
- I realize that body/mind health is essential for my own balance
- I decide that meditation and yoga will have a real place in my future daily routine
- A lot of anger coming back about a certain situation and the outcome scares me
- The psalmody contributor shares her meditation experience with us and it motivates me
- Nervous laugh together with another girl while washing my dishes
- The excitement is more intense and you can feel it: laughter bursts everywhere
- The latest piece of advice shared by the staff to continue our mindfulness experience. I feel extremely grateful
- Every participant is invited to share his/her own experience of the retreat. It’s very moving and I promise myself to judge less (and this time, for real)
- I can’t sleep. My mind is having fun with all the new info it has been fed with during the evening
- The end. No official announcement, but discussions resume gradually after the last speech
- A certain nostalgia takes me when I look at the meditation hall for the last time
- I get my belongings back but don’t turn on my phone. I am not ready
- There is too much noise in the refectory
- A French girl comes to me asking if I’m French. Within two minutes, it’s a coup de foudre
- Plans are being formed. I decide to stay in Koh Samui for the night
- I go back down with my new friends. Conversations are going well, especially about digestion 🙂
It’s time for a break
Let’s stop here for now as this article is getting way too long.
You have probably noticed it, but I experienced ups and downs, all kinds of emotions, shallow or deep thoughts. Nevertheless, this experience has been very intense.
Being with oneself isn’t something we aren’t used to, it’s challenging. This is also a unique opportunity to see where we are in our lives and where we want to go next. It’s like pressing pause and observe.
Meditation, just like anything in life, isn’t linear. It goes sometimes with two steps back and one step forward. And what a big step!
As mentioned earlier, the second part about the “after” retreat will shortly follow: how I felt coming back to the outside world, some quotes from participants, and the tools I took home with me.