Many people sign up to a vipassana meditation course and do not know what is involved. That is exactly what I did! I knew you sit quietly, crossed legged, and listen to your breathing. I thought that was all. But no, there is so much more to it than that.
Before I began my course, my mind was working over time, it had no off button. It was like there were millions of balls bouncing around in my head 24/7. I needed to do something about it, as It was getting me frustrated and angry easily. It wasn’t fair on my boyfriend, family, friends and strangers. So a 6 day meditation course is what I signed up for. All the temples that offer Vipassana meditation courses have certain guidelines that you must adhere to. The most common ones are:
- No talking – except to your teacher, and staff if it is an emergency
- No eating after midday.
- No smoking or drinking alcohol while you are in the retreat.
- No reading, writing, listening to music, dancing, singing, using your phone or emails.
- Be respectful to all in the temple, living there and visiting. I read this off several websites online
- You cannot kill any living being – This includes mosquitos and cockroaches
At first I thought, “No way, I can not do this”. No talking, no food after noon and no reading or writing. Thank goodness I’m not a smoker because I think that would be a hard one if you are one. Jazza suggested we go visit some temples to have a chat to the monks about meditation. So we went around to a few wats (temples) to check out their retreats and get a feel for the place. We did go to some of the more famous ones that had been recommended by friends, but I didn’t feel these particular ones were for me. Some centres have over 100 students and some are smaller with about 20 students. I like the small ones and the centre I eventually chose only had 21 students at the time when I was there. Most payments are by donation, but one that I did go too was 220 baht ($7) a day. In the centres you have your own room with shared bathroom, in either the male or female buildings. You are fed 2 vegetarian meals a day, breakfast and lunch. When I finally visited Wat Phradhat Doi Suthep, home of the International Buddhism Centre in Chiang Mai I knew this was the place for me.
To reach the office at the top the temple, you must climb 306 steps. It is busy up there with tourists but where the monastery is located is away from all the hustle and bustle. I was surprised how quiet it is down the hill in the jungle, just 5 minutes away from the temple. All you hear is birds, crickets, and occasionally some dogs barking. There are many monks, novices, nuns and other people staying at the monastery. So when you go for a walk you may pass some; be polite and respectful. It is a beautiful place and so peaceful to walk around. The view at night from the temple is just magical. When I first entered they sat me down and gave me a run through of the programme. After this I understood why it is important you do not talk, read, write, listen because these all distract your mind and that is not what you need during the retreat.
What you need to bring
- Photocopy of your passport
- Two sets of loose, modest, non-transparent white clothing
- Alarm clock and countdown timer
- Personal items (soap, shampoo, towel, laundry powder, toothbrush, toothpaste, toilet paper, etc)
I know with some centres you need to bring passport photos as well. There is a temple store at most places which usually sells chips (crisps), ice cream, chocolate, soft drink, juice, milk, toiletry accessories, and white clothes if you don’t have any. Most will close at 12pm as you aren’t allowed to eat after then.
Recommendation for things I wish I had when I was there
Tea bags – Afternoon you can not eat but you can still drink as much as you like. There was filtered hot water in machines around the place. Would have been great but I just didn’t have tea bags.
Laundry powder – You can only wear white and white gets dirty quickly. You are able to hand wash your clothes as you need. There are buckets and hangers provided.
Water bottle– If you are like me and hate reusing plastic bottles get yourself a stainless steel water bottle. The do give you a cup if you forget and there is a mini store to buy a bottle. There is water supplied everywhere.
Flip flops– I had sandals and they got annoying after a while. Flip flops you can easily put on and take off; you are going to be doing a lot of that.
Coffee – If you love your coffee in the morning maybe bring some of those coffee packet mixes (coffee and milk powder, even sugar too if you want). No coffee is served here. I do love my caffeine and I did miss it, but it has also been great having a break from it.
About The Vipassana Meditation Course
Teacher and Staff
The teachers and staff are very understanding and know that it is hard for everyone at the beginning of their time. They guide you in your practice with the positioning and ways to help clear the mind. Every morning there were Dhamma talks. It changes everyday and a new topic is discussed. It was very interesting and helpful listening to the Monk (our teacher) talk about his experiences, advice and Buddhist teachings and stories. It really made you walk away and think about what had just been said.
Once you understand meditation you can meditate where ever and whenever you like. It is not a chore, it is a way to clear your mind. It helps control frustration, anger, sadness, guilt and doubt.
5am- Wake up
5:30- Dhamma Talk
8am- Meditation (individual)
12pm- Meditation (individual)
2pm- Report to teacher for discussion on your mediation
3pm- Meditation (individual)
6pm- Evening Chanting
7pm- Meditation (individual)
I am not going to write about what I felt inside, as everyone walks away with different experiences. I will say for me, it wasn’t easy those first 4 days and on day 5 that was the turning point for me and it all came together. I was thinking about leaving on day 4 but I pushed through it and I am so happy I stayed and finished my time off. You do walk out as a completely different person compared to how you entered. I take my hat to those who have done a 21 or 26 day course. I did meet a lady in the centre who was doing a 80 day program. I did chat to her at the end a little (when I was finished and she had time out so we both were allowed to talk) and she said for her there was some positive times and negative times meditating for such a long period. Sometimes she would feel tired, could not concentrate but she said that it’s ok, just have some time-out and take it easy. Start fresh tomorrow and it will be different. She said meditating is very powerful but magical at the same time. And she is right.
More Information About What Meditation Is
Meditation is the concept of Mental Development.
There are two types of meditation;
Tranquil or Samātha Meditation Which develops concentration on one object to help calm the mind.
Insight or Vipassana Meditation Which develops self- understanding through Mindfulness Training.
A bit about Vipassana Meditation
The type of mediation I did was Vispassana Meditation. Vipassana means to see clearly. “Vi” means clearly and “Passana” means to see.
There are three things to see clearly;
That, inside ourselves and in the whole world around us, things are uncertain (anicca).
That, inside ourselves and in the world around us, things are unsatisfying (dukkha)
That, inside ourselves and in the whole world around us, things are uncontrollable (anatta)
The goals of meditation are;
Purification of the mind
Passing beyond sorrow and lamentation
Release from bodily and mental pain
Seeing the truth of life and ending all suffering.
The methods of practice leading to all of these goals is Vipassana meditation in line with the Four Foundations of Mindfulness. Mindfulness means to “remember” or “remind” oneself about the present moment. The Four Foundation of Mindfulness are a device that stops evil, stops bad deeds, stops defilement.
The Four Foundation of Mindfulness are;
Body; Prostrating mindfully, walking mindfully, sitting mindfully.
Feelings; Noting aches, pains or soreness, as well as happy and neutral feelings.
Mind; Noting thoughts about past and future, both good and bad thoughts.
Dhammas; Noting the five hindrances- liking, disliking, drowsiness, distraction and doubt.
If you are interested in doing this mediation course, check out their website for more information. I visited this place on my own and was not sponsored. I really enjoyed my time here and all my opinions are sincere.
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