10 learnings from my 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat

meditating in silence
No iPhone for ten days.

That was enough to scare me.
Add this: no talking, no reading, no writing, no snacking, no exercising, no physical or eye contact with anyone around, no sex … and I freaked out. Just enough to be attracted to the idea of conquering this fear and book a Vipassana meditation retreat in Belgium. So I went, and in this post I’ll share some of my insights with you, but first want to explain a little about the meditation technique and philosophy itself.

Vipassana meditation is one of the techniques that the Buddha Godhama Siddhartha left for the world to achieve Enlightenment. The core teaching of this tradition is observing bodily sensations and remaining equanimous (i.e. with an even mind) towards every experience. The way Buddha’s enlightenment is understood in the Vipassana tradition is that Buddha found the truth by careful self-inquiry. He experienced liberation from his cravings and aversions and realized that desire is the cause of all suffering. Considering the natural law that everything is constantly changing, nothing stands still (“Anica”), it makes no sense to cling to things that pass away, have an aversion towards anything, or be somehow dependent on any type of craving.

Because you can be happy by just being you.

By now I know that the path to Enlightenment is a long path. But it feels great that taking this step on the path gave me a clear idea of how to get ’till the end. I simply feel the energy has started to flow in the right direction, and things appear to fall into place. I feel I opened up to the world and became aware of my constant identification with my body, and my thoughts. I’m so much more than that, what a relief to find that out.

These ten days were not easy. But my clear-headedness and insights were worth the trip. Since this was all about opening up I want to share ten of my personal insights here with you. They might or might not be applicable to yourself. Anyhow, I hope to inspire you to find out for yourself what Vipassana can do for you by booking your personal journey now.

1. Don’t rush, keep an eye on the long term

When I managed to clear my mind after a couple of days of total mental chaos, I suddenly saw the bigger picture. I recognized clear patterns in my life, realised my mind is conditioned to react quickly and work efficiently. Now I know this need for rush is just an illusion. Chewing on a certain topic with a clear mind and place it in the big picture of things I want to do in life brought me much greater rewards. Meditation, although it takes a chunk out of my day, has appeared to be a very efficient technique to save a lot of wasted thinking time.

2. Discipline is not about imposing barriers, it’s about becoming free from mind-imposed barriers

As explained in my earlier post on discipline, I tend to overshoot when it comes to discipline. During Vipassana you’re asked to sit still for the entire hour during four daily group meditation sessions. It was until I had shaky legs and shoots of pain in head and body that I remembered I can be a little gentle to myself every now and then. So after every hour of sitting still I went for a hour of flat meditation (yes, in bed) or a walk in the park. People find the Vipassana philosophy very strict and rigid. Getting up at 4 A.M. in the morning and meditating for ten hours a day is quite a thing indeed. Yet, when I realised my mind was constantly making excuses for escaping from all the rules, and when I managed to let go of those excuses and just go with the flow, it was so liberating! It is not about imposing this or that on yourself, it’s about becoming free from a mind that doesn’t want to be in the moment.

3. Silence is simple, actually, it’s great!

I’ve always had reliable access to the medium of speech, in conversation and in public. However, in the past few months I realised that people often feel comfortable enough with me to release all their built up speaking energy. I sometimes end up in notorious monologues of people’s thoughts, fears and complaints, and now realise I have to install some barriers here and pick my conversation partners really well. It was actually great to cut off the chatter for a while.

4. The unbelievable connection between mind & matter

I’ve always known that stress sours my body. But this techniques takes the incredible connection of mind & matter to the next level. I learned that by observing my bodily sensations I could really release all kinds of tensions. I could sit and feel tension being released from my shoulder, sometimes accompanied with incredibly deep emotions or long-forgotten memories. I’ve been sitting in great pain, bursting in tears in the midst of a group meditation and feel incredibly relieved afterwards, physically and mentally. Meditation as a massaging technique, how cool is that?!

5. I can accept my versatility, but need to choose wisely

I swing and space around, also when I don’t have anything on my mind. Today this thing is totally it, tomorrow I’m bored and want to move on. I’ve always had a short attention span. To the outside world I might appear fearful of committing myself, but with a clear mind I found out that only by accepting my versatility I can get rid of the tons of energy I have. I’ll always have to take up multiple challenges at the same time and spread my energy to let the life force energy flow. However, I have to keep an eye on the big picture and be picky on the challenges I take up in my enthusiasm. During the retreat I learned I have to take more time before making any decision.

6. I am both ying & yang, duality is an illusion

Relating to my versatile nature I’ve always had many definitions of who is me. I am the ambitious business chick, and the fluffy yogi; I am the nerd who wants to live a solitary life in the midst of nature, and the do-gooder who wants to liberate the world; I am the dreamy girl, and the power woman etc.. I sometimes end up in small identity crises when I think it might not be okay to swing from one end of the spectrum to the other. However, during the Vipassana trip I found out that this duality is simply my illusion. As things are constantly changing and I’m remembering more and more who I am, I realise that all these different “me’s” just add to the experience of who I am, and that is a great gift.

7. I’m more fearful than I thought, take more chill’s

From the outside I look totally relaxed. I get to hear I’m a “constant stoner”, but by turning inwards I realised I just soak up the stress I have and lock them in my nerves. I found out by observing my bodily sensations that panic and nervousness are my primal responses towards external situations in daily life, not the least because I go for adventure rather than comfort. Just becoming aware of my nerves when I encounter them – sometimes undeniably unexpectedly, is step one. Taking a rest and chill down is the second. Nerves will fade away, and help me to become aware of and conquer my fears.

8. I’m so much more than my thoughts

As soon as I managed to quiet my mind (a bit), I found that there is actually no need to “think things through”; fantastic ideas will simply pop up. I’ve always known I’m not a rational but emotional person. Yet I make attempts every now and then to rationalize a decision making process. I can just stop doing so. Now I can truly trust it – truth comes with clarity, by itself.

9. Even being alone I’m not alone – I’m everything and everybody

As an only child I’m used to being alone, so I expected to be okay with being silent and alone, and I was. I need silence and aloneness to complete the first step in the process of remembering who I truly am. The next step however, is about recognizing that we’re all parts of the same Wholeness. It’s only when I realized this that I recognized my responsibility to not only myself to take more steps on this journey, it’s a responsibility towards everyone.

10. Lead by example by just living the Way

Lastly, I realised that when I want to lead by example I first have to first find my true purpose. I have to be clear on my personal values and ethics before I can apply this to any business, system or path. Therefore I have to set out on this eat-pray-love year to find out – oh what a punishment… Read my post about my my goals for the warrior program here and you might understand me better.

Altogether this has been a tough but definitely worthwhile experience. Although being back in the hustle bustle is not easy now, I am very grateful I went. Thanks to the people around me who inspired me to do this and make Vipassana meditation part of my life.

Now I obviously hope to have inspired you a bit too. Go for it!!

As a bonus, on the tenth day, when noble silence became noble chatter, I met amazing people. On the picture you can see my roomies, don’t we all glow?!

roomies vipassana

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