(This 3000-word article is a brief summary of my 10-day Vipassanā experience. An experience like this is hard to put into words but I hope it gives you an idea what it’s about and inspires you to consider trying it yourself)
Ever since I heard about Vipassanā meditation from Tim Ferriss (I think he mentioned it in his book or on his blog) I knew I had to try it out. Ten days of silence seemed like such a massive personal challenge, not to mention the fact that I’d also be giving up writing, reading, and all electronics. Plus, I’d be meditating for more than 10-hours per day!
Extreme? yup. Count me in.
Unfortunately, there weren’t any Vipassanā centres close to me and even though I had spent 6-8 months each year traveling through many countries that had them, the last thing I wanted to with limited time in an exotic country was spend 10 days in confinement.
Luckily, a centre opened up just a 3-hour’s drive from my home city of Calgary, Alberta. This helped me finally take the plunge. On June 30th, 2016, I drove to Youngstown, Alberta and started my path to enlightenment.
I arrived around 4 PM, filled out the required forms , and then found my room. After unloading my stuff and eating some delicious soup they had prepared for us, I tried to meet as many people as I could. After all, I had just one hour before the official course began and communication was no longer allowed.
I didn’t get a chance to meet everyone at the start but I did meet a couple of guys, including a carpenter/musician and a young guy getting into digital marketing. I was actually surprised that some of the students were 20 years old or younger. Something like this wouldn’t have even been on my radar at that age. Unlike me, many of the people I met had some prior experience with meditation, although many of them were new to Vipassanā. I also met a guy who had been doing Vipassanā for 30 years and another guy who was here for his third course. They told me it had changed their life, which calmed my nerves and made me feel like I had made a good decision to attend. When they found out that it was my first time meditating, they were surprised but never once tried to discourage me. They just told me that it is a wonderful experience and that I was basically jumping in at the deep end. They didn’t know that I write for a blog called Live Limitless and that jumping in at the deep end is just what I do.
I made a couple of last-minute phone calls to my wife and parents and told them that the next call they’d recieve from me would be on the morning of July 10th. I then handed my phone to the management, made my bed, sorted my room out, and then proceeded to the main hall for the beginning of Dhamma.
Noble silence begins.
Over the next 10 days, I challenged myself on so many levels. I learned how to be more present and to appreciate life more. I learned to be even more determined and to realize that everything in life is impermanent. Life is constantly changing. Nature is constantly changing. I also learned how to focus my mind and how to catch myself when I was beginning to avert or crave sensations. After all, the most important aspect of Vipassanā meditation is learning that all misery comes from aversion and craving. Thus, throughout the many sensations felt during meditation, you must simply observe. If the sensation is unpleasant, you just observe it rather than run away from it. If the sensation is pleasurable, you simply observe it and don’t become attached to it or crave it. You bring yourself into the present and as you get better at it, you rid your life of misery. How does that sound? It’s certainly something everyone would benefit from.
A 10-day course is simply an introduction. We were reminded that we should not expect to be as enlightened as Buddha in such a short time. To continue on the path, we must incorporate it into our daily lives. Overall, it was a wonderful experience, which I’ll try my best to summarize in greater detail below.
My Experience: 10 Days of Vipassanā Meditation
I thought day 1 and 2 would be quite difficult but since it was still new and fresh, it didn’t bother me too much. That came after day 3, which I’ll talk about below. The first couple of days were an introduction to Annapurna meditation, which is to focus on the breath. We were taught to focus our attention on feeling our breath on the inside of our nose. This is both easy and difficult. The concept is simple but trying to focus the mind can be very hard. Usually, I would do it for a minute before my mind would wander. Then I’d bring it back and focus on my breath again. Then the mind would win again. Then I’d bring it back to focus. This is how each meditation session would go. Slowly I got better, though I could never do it for a full hour with 100% focus, which I learned was quite normal. Since there wasn’t much to do besides meditate, I would use all my free time (there’s not a lot) to either nap (after all, we woke up at 4 AM every day) or walk around the common grounds. We weren’t allowed to run or exercise (it seemed odd at first but I realized the importance as I progressed) so I would walk around in circles, paying attention to the sound of the leaves or the songs of the birds. It all felt very calming.
Day 3 and 4
During day 3 and 4, we learned to focus deeper. Rather than focusing on the entire nose area, we were now told to focus only on the little area between the nose and the upper lip. There are two reasons for this. First, it calms the mind. Whenever the mind is not calm or the heartbeat is too fast (this happens to me often), Annapurna meditation is the best way to calm your mind and body. The mornings are usually when my heartbeat would be beating slightly too fast to focus but after 20-30 minutes of focusing on the breath, it would usually go back to normal. Second, it helps you make your mind sharp. By concentrating on such a small area of the body, your mind becomes better at focusing.
After some practice, I was able to feel the cool air passing over the skin above the upper lip as it entered and exited my nostrils. I was certainly enjoying the process but as someone who is used to being so active, I did start to feel some anxiety for wanting to explore the “outside world”. Walking around the same little path 30-40 times a day was making me want to just run away. I also felt like writing and making use of my off-time. It was so strange for me to literally do nothing except meditate and think. However, by the end of the course, I learned why it was necessary to forgoe all other activities during the mediation course (no phones, no books, no writing, no communication, no exercise, etc). It’s the only way to truly focus on the meditation practice. Even writing would distract the mind.
Day 5 -8
This is when we actually start practicing Vipassanā meditation. Now that we practiced focusing our mind and calming it down with our breath, Vipassanā becomes the next challenge. With Vipassanā, you start by focusing on the top of the head and finding the vibrations that are always happening within the body. Sometimes I could feel some of my hairs actually stand up. Other times, it just felt like a tickling sensation. We’d then scan the body, finding and feeling the sensations happening at all times. Some areas were easy for me, such as my hands and arms but other areas like my back and stomach were difficult to feel. The reason for scanning the body is to feel the sensations. To realize that we are just molecules dancing around. To know that everything is impermanent. To realize (after a lot of practice) that all our miseries in life are caused by aversion and craving. My most powerful Vipassanā meditation session was actually the first one on the evening of day 4 (day 5 actually starts on the evening of day 4) when we were taught the technique. It was incredible. I felt an endless stream of sensations circulating throughout my body from head to toe. It was an otherworldly experience. Ecstatic.
However, I almost left on Day 6. It wasn’t just because of the course. I had developed diarreah. You see, I take pills that slow my acid production in my stomach. Yup, unfortunately my tummy creates too much acid and thus, the pills have to be taken daily. However, since I was going to be eating a vegetarian diet for the whole 10 days, I thought it would be a good time to try not taking the pills and to instead see if a new diet of less acidic foods would help. Unfortunately, this didn’t work and the excess acid wreaked havoc. Once I realized this, I started taking the pills again but it didn’t stop me from feeling like absolute garbage on day 6. Losing all my nutrients made me feel dizzy and nautious. At one point, I actually decided that I was going to leave but thanks to the evening discourse (videos explaining what we had learned that day), I was inspired to stay. It was as if the teacher was speaking to me. He called me out. My mind was winning the battle. How could I let my mind control me? After all, I want to live limitless. I was so inspired that I made the decision to stay the full 10-days no matter what.
I told the manager about my problems and he had the kitchen staff make me a special grilled cheese sandwich, which may have been the best grilled cheese sandwich I have ever had. I went into the last meditation so determined that I actually managed to sit cross-legged without moving for the full hour. I felt so ecstatic once again at what I had accomplished that I walked outside elevated and magically came across a deer that pranced around the field before jumping over the fence ever so gracefully. It’s like it was meant to be. Combined with a beautiful golden sunset, I knew I had made the right decision to stay.
Lesson: don’t play around with medication during the meditation course.
By now, we learned that the course is technically just 9 days. This is because the silence is lifted on day 10 and we are allowed to talk to each other outside of our meditations. We were warned on day 8 that we only had two serious days of practice left. The teacher said that day 10 would be very difficult to concentrate. As usual, he was right. Once we could talk to teach other, my mind was racing. I had been walking, eating, and meditating with this group of guys for over a week and had never even gestured towards one of them. I was eager to know their story and what they felt during the course. I still remember opening my mouth for the first time. It was a little difficult to get a word out. My voice sounded strange to me. Then we all started talking so much. Nine days worth of thoughts in a few hours. When the meditation time came, I found it very difficult to be as calm as I was during the days of silence. I almost broke out laughing when I thought about some of the jokes we had told each other.
However, we did learn a couple of new things during the last couple of days. First, we were told to try bringing our Vipassanā meditation into the world and focusing on sensations felt during common activities like eating and walking. In addition, we started practicing Metta, which means love for all beings. For 15 minutes after each meditation, we would just think about people and give love and compassion.
Overall, it was a very deep experience. I find it very difficult to express with words so I hope I was able to paint somewhat of a picture for you. However, don’t take this as gospel. Everyones experience is different in some way. Vipassanā is definitely something I’d recommend to everyone but make sure you read about what it entails on the Dhamma website and make sure you’re up for the challenge.
Top 4 Things I learned from The 10-Day Vipassana course
- Compassion: Throughout the course, we’re taught to be compassionate and to live in the moment. Sitting next to me was a young guy who must have had a cold. During silent times, he was usually snorting or sniffing or blowing his nose. It made it difficult to concentrate. At times, I felt angry that it kept on happening. Every single time. But then I made myself feel compassion rather than anger or annoyance. I made myself think of being in his shoes and how difficult it must be for him to meditate due to this cold. Suddenly my frustration was turned inside out and it didn’t bother me much anymore. I find myself doing this more and more often since leaving the course, which is a good way to live life.
- Determination: My experience was like a rollercoaster ride in some ways. There were days I wanted to leave and days I felt incredible. What’s most important is that I didn’t let my mind win. There were times when it almost did but in the end, I prevailed.
- Equanimity: This is a word you’ll hear a lot through the course. Equanimity means mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper. If you try to hold you’re posture for an hour of meditation, you will likely experience pain. Throughout the course, I developed a lot of equanimity towards discomfort, which helped me become more objective and aware, which helps to change unhelpful thought patterns. I’m certainly not perfect but it’s a skill I’ll carry forward throughout life.
- Impermanence: Nature is always changing. Nothing is permanent. All sensations are temporary. The pain I experienced was often temporary. Likewise, the pleasurable sensations I experienced were also temporary. This is one of the most important aspects of Vipassana because it helps you avoid aversion and craving, which are the sources of all misery. This helps to put a lot of things into perspective.
Why Meditation is Beneficial
Our minds are always active. Always thinking, craving, averting, and telling stories. Sometimes t’s thinking of the past and sometimes it’s thinking of the future. Very rarely, if ever, is it present. It’s these thoughts that make us suffer. We start avoiding unnecessary things. We start craving things. We get addicted. We become regretful or jealous or angry or depressed or anxious. We feel all of these things.
Meditation helps bring us back to the moment. The present. It trains us to control our mind and not to let it bring misery into our lives. Vipassana meditation teaches us…
Is Vipassana for you?
First off, anyone can benefit from meditation. While I did put myself through a 10-day meditation course, I’m still an amateur. In fact, the hardest part will be doing it on a daily basis, which as of now, I have failed.
However, we all struggle in different ways and meditation can help anyone. Vipassana is just one type of meditation but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the best. After all, it’s the original form of meditation taught by Buddha.
No one journey is the same and this is the reason no talking or communication is allowed. If it were, you would start comparing your experience to others, which is not beneficial. Trust me, on day 10, I was already comparing my experience to what others had experience. I’m glad I didn’t know for the first 9 days. For most, it’s a great way to stop cresting unhelpful habits and to eradicate ones that we already have.
Many of us train our bodies by lifting weights or running but how many of us train our minds? Meditation is like weightlifting for our brain. It helps us gain control of our busy mind and also gives us time to reflect. Plus, it’s a good break from our sensory-loaded environment. If you continue the practice, there is no doubt you will become a stronger, happier and more centred person.
Even though I have failed at meditating two hours per day (recommended), I do find myself bringing the lessons learned into my life. For example, I’ll catch myself in a negative thought pattern, observe it, and then get rid of it. In times of aggravation, I’ve made myself become compassionate instead.
Cost of the course
Actually, the cost of the course is one of the things that makes it so special. It’s free. Absolutely free. All your lodging and meals are paid for by donations from past students. How incredible is that? At the end of the course, they’ll tell you how to donate, which you can do in-person or later via the internet or mail. You can even set up monthly payments. However, it is not expected and is definitely not forced on you. If you got a lot out of the course, the idea is that you sponsor another student with your donations. It’s truly incredible how big the organization is getting just from 100% donations and the good they are doing for the world.
The course is not easy. Here is the schedule, which remains the same at all centres.
4:00am Wakeup Bell
4:30 – 6:30am Meditation
6:30 – 8:00am Breakfast
8:00 – 11:00am Mediation
11:00 – 1:00pm Lunch and teacher interviews
1:00 – 5:00pm Meditation
5:00 – 6:00pm Tea-break
6:00 – 7:00pm Meditation
7:00 – 8:15pm Video teachings with Goenka
8:15 – 9:00pm Meditation
9:30pm Lights out
As you can see, it’s pretty intense but after taking it, I can tell you how crucial it is that all focus is on the course and nothing else. This is the only way to get such a big benefit from 10 days.
Links to other Vipassana articles I’ve found helpful:
Lastly, I wanted to share a couple of links to other articles on meditation. Before making the decision, I did read some articles on other peoples experiences. Some I read after. However, I recommend not reading too many before going. Don’t go in expecting a certain experience. Just let it be. Everyones experience is different.
- Vipassana meditation retreat by Daniel Noll of Uncornered Market
- The unexpected benefits of Vipassana by Jasper Vallance via LinkedIn
- Silence and Spiders by Jodi Ettenburg of Legal Nomads
- How to Meditate by Sam Harris (a Ph.D. in neuroscience)
If your interested in taking the course in Alberta, click here for more information on Dhamma in Youngstown, Alberta.
For more information on the many centres around the world, click here for the main Dhamma Vipassana page.
I hope you found this article entertaining and/or educational. If you did, I’d love if you shared the article and/or commented below.
Have you tried Vipassanā before? Other mediations? What do you think?
Sofia Mora says
Hi Matt, I’m Sofia and I’m from Mexico. Thanks for writing this, I really enjoyed reading your experience.
I’ve already apply to try the 10 days Vipassana meditation. Despite I haven’t been accepted yet, I’m doing my research to know how to get from Calgary’s Airport to Youngstown. Do you have any recommendations? Because I’m a little lost at this point.
That’s awesome. My wife is also from Mexico. Do you live in Calgary or are you flying in just for the Course? I don’t think there would be any transportation that goes there. It’s in the “middle of nowhere”. I think the best bet would be to either rent a car or to contact the Vipassana group and they will try to find you someone who can bring you in their car…..
“Don’t go in expecting a certain experience. Just let it be.” This is great advice – much better to read the articles after rather than before.
Yes, I can agree. I read a bunch but I think you’re better off just going…
Krista Haddad says
Thank you for sharing your experience- I can NOT believe you went not ever mediating prior! I have been doing TM for 1.5 years and it has profoundly changed my life in the best possible way- so I am researching 10 day retreat (also Tim Ferriss fan) and found your blog! It was great, GET back to Daily 20 min sessions!!! It brings you quickly to the person you were created to be!!
Thanks for the kind words Krista. haha, I know. I probably jumped in way over my head. And yes, my biggest issue has not been keeping up with it. I think because they recommend 2 hours per day, it just scared me away but perhaps just 20 minutes is enough to keep some of the benefits…
I have one query.
When is our phone returned. In 10th day or 11th day
I believe it was on the 9th day. I think. It’s been a while, but the night before you go home is when you’re allowed to talk to everyone
Tammy Giesbrecht says
Good morning. I have been thinking about doing this 10-day retreat for a few years now and I am very interested in doing it. Are there retreats in the summertime? I work full-time but I do get my summers free to do these kind of experiences.
For sure. I think summer would be the best as the walks outdoors are good ways to keep sane. It’s tough! If you go to the website you’ll see the dates. a Little tricky now because of Covid but they are still running them in limited numbers