We are an adventurous species. We explore the oceans and skies, our solar system and the smallest sub-atomic particles. Through all of our seeking, we are discovering that the greatest frontier may in fact be the human mind. When we truly learn how to harness and focus our minds, our potential becomes limitless. Buddhists understand this latent power, and the responsibility we have as intelligent creatures to awaken our true potential.
One meditation practice that can help us understand ourselves and tap into our potential is Vipassana. Vipassana is a form of insight meditation, based on the idea of looking inward. The most common way that the Vipassana techniques are transmitted is through a 10 day silent meditation retreat. Retreat participants commit to meditating for several hours a day for 10 days, without speaking, reading, writing, exercising, or engaging in any other activities that might distract the mind.
For most people, the idea of attempting to be completely still and silent for 10 minutes sounds like torture, let alone 10 days. But the thousands of people who have completed Vipassana retreats swear by them as turning points in their lives, a time in which they connected to themselves more deeply than they had thought possible. Here are just a few of the many reasons you may want to consider going on a Vipassana meditation retreat.
Healing the Nervous System
Most of us are so busy and overwhelmed by our modern lives that we are suffering from some degree of chronic stress. This wears on our bodies and minds over time, sapping energy and creativity and making us more susceptible to disease. This is exacerbated by the immense amount of time we spend on computers, smartphones, tablets, or just near electrical wiring and power sources.
Ten days away from all of that can do wonders to balance the nervous system. When we literally unplug from our lives for that long, we get a chance to feel what our own true electromagnetic field feels like. This can improve the functioning of the entire body, especially the endocrine system and the brain.
Focusing the Mind
Vipassana is all about attention. Returning our attention to the present moment and watching what arises in our bodies, minds, and hearts. Engaging in this practice for hours a day trains us to be more present in our lives. It also increases the mind’s ability to concentrate. And when we are truly present, we tap into the “flow” state, that place where creativity lives. We have more access to the fullness of our intelligence, imagination, and intuition when we are present and focused.
The act of sitting with yourself for 10 full days teaches you how to endure when there are no distractions. How to stay engaged in the moment when all you want to do is run away. This training has helped people break food and substance addictions, because it teaches us how to sit through discomfort and boredom.
Then when we are back in our lives and triggered by an unpleasant or uncomfortable circumstance, we have a greater ability to observe it without trying to ignore it or make it go away. The mindfulness generated in Vipassana keeps us from trying to “escape” our lives with an addictive behavior.
Most people react to every little stimulus inside them and in their environments. Have an itch? Scratch It? Feeling a little needy or bored? Eat something. But in Vipassana retreats, we are instructed to remain as still as possible. To allow distractions and mild discomforts to arise with reacting to them. This translates to a greater ability to remain focused and calm through distractions and discomforts in our life. Then we can respond consciously to the experiences of life, rather than reacting.
Discovering that You Can Do Anything
A Vipassana retreat is a special kind of marathon. Instead of pushing your body to its limit, you are harnessing your mind into the moment. But just like a runner has to put one foot in front of the other, again and again, staying in the present moment even as she is aware of the distance, so to with Vipassana we must focus on one breath at a time – for what can feel like an eternity. When you complete the retreat, and realize that you actually are capable of meditating in silence for 10 days, then you will know you can do anything if you are sufficiently committed.
Vipassana is a form of insight meditation, designed to help us more fully experience the present moment. The ultimate goal, like so much of Buddhism, is for us to experience freedom from suffering. There is a little sweet irony in the fact that on the path to this liberation, we tend to suffer a bit in trying to sit with our minds in silence. But when we can remain steady through 10 days of looking within, we are one step closer to experiencing the full beauty and joy of life, and ourselves.