From the 2nd May until the 7th May I did a Vipassana & Silence Retreat. On this intense experience I want to write a series here on this blog. At the retreat I wrote a diary every day, which was very helpful for processing the impressions and the intense meditation experiences I made.
I want to start today with a general blog post on Vipassana, what is it all about, the Benediktushof where I took the retreat and what you can expect when you are interested in doing such a retreat.
Vipassana means “insight” into the three characteristics of existence from Buddhism: impermanence (anicca), suffering (dukkha) and non-self (anatta).
This practice path is called “Vipassana meditation.” The Vipassana practice is basically not bound to any religious affiliation. The essential part is the practice of mindfulness. Vipassana meditation is often called “mindfulness meditation” instead of insight meditation.
Vipassana meditation is one of the oldest meditation techniques and was rediscovered and taught by Gotama, the Buddha, over 2500 years ago. From the time of the Buddha to the present day, Vipassana has been passed on through an unbroken chain of teachers.
In my retreat, the object of vipassana meditation was the breath. We meditated with open eyes, the gaze is directed slightly downward and not too focused. In between the vipassana meditation sessions we also practiced mindful walking, metta meditation and vedananupassana meditation.
The 6 days were structured as followed:
06:20 Morning Meditation: 2 x 30-35 min Vipassana
08:00 Cooperation like gardening, sewing or table service
09:15 3 x 30-35min Vipassana and 2 x mindful walking, litte break
12:30 Silent time or own practice, walks etc. or individual appointments
15:45 3 x 30min-35min Vipassana or 2 x 30min-35min Vipassana and 1x 50min Vedananupassana, 1 x mindful walking
19:20 1 x 30-35min Vipassana, lectures on Buddhism, meditation and psychology, Metta meditation to end the day
21:00 Night’s rest or own practice
I did the retreat at Benediktushof, a center for mindfulness and meditation. It is in a small village near Würzburg and was founded in 2003 by Willigis Jäger, a Benedictine monk and Zen Master, who died last year in March. The approach of Willigis and Benediktushof is inter-religious and wants to focus on the practice of mindfulness and being here together. At Benediktushof, therefore, very versatile courses can be taken, from Vipassana meditation to more Christian contemplation to Zen to Ayurvedic cleansing. What all courses have in common is that they take place in silence and focus on mindfulness.
For me, that means not speaking for 6 days. Only the teacher gave the instructions, of course. Meals were also taken in silence.
If you are interested in a vipassana retreat, you will find many 10-day retreats on the internet, some with extremely strict rules and procedures. I was put off by the fact that I had to start meditating at 4 a.m., not be allowed to do yoga, read or write. This was not the case at Benediktushof. The teacher encouraged us to avoid as many distractions as possible, but no one was forced. Long walks, jogging or yoga, reading or writing a diary were allowed.
On such a Vipassana retreat you will have very intense meditation experiences and you will also encounter resistance. Also physically the sitting is very exhausting. You should be prepared for that and from my point of view you should only do such a retreat if you are currently in good health, physically and mentally.
Such a vipassana retreat gives you impressions in meditation experiences that you will probably only reach in such an intensive practice. I was deeply fascinated by them as i did them for the first time.
These are also called stages of absorption or jhana. Our teacher described the first four to us because they can be put into words, the other four can only be experienced and can hardly be described in words. I personally found it very difficult even to put my experiences in stages 1 and 2 into words.
But all this should not frighten you. However, you have to be aware of all that when you go for such a course and also that existential questions can come up like who am i, what am i and does it all still make sense. Your consciousness is greatly expanded.
I am incredibly grateful that i was able to have this experience. It will definitely change my life now. If you are ready for this, such a retreat is an incredibly valuable gift.
In my next blogpost i will write down excerpts from my diary.