Courtesy of Souren 72 (in London)

I attended a ten-day meditation retreat in Woori Yallock (which is 16 kilometres from Healesville) from the 6th December until the 17th December 2017.

This blog post will give you a run-down of the retreat and discuss the benefits and challenges, as well as who the retreat is suitable for.

The First Night

I registered on the evening prior to the start of the retreat and spoke to the other guests until we had our group meditation sitting at 8.00 that night. At the sitting, I struggled to sit on the mat and cushion without back support. It was a guided meditation, and listened to instructions about ‘concentrating the mind’. We later watched a DVD about the upcoming meditation retreat by S.N Goenka who was an expert in this particular meditation technique known as Vipassana.

Vipassana is about ‘seeing things as they really are.’ The point of this type of meditation retreat is to help you develop greater awareness and concentration, which is then used to explore your own mental and physical nature. The meditation practice aims to instil insight and detachment so that you can liberate yourself from misery such as anger, greed, and fear.

Vipassana helps you to develop positive qualities of pure love, compassion, joy, composure, and calm (having equanimity or a balanced mind), giving you the mental training of deep, practical value in your daily life.

The Next Nine Days

Over the next nine days, we meditated either in the Group Meditation Hall or in our rooms from 4.30am (the bell rang at 4.00am) until 9.00pm (9.30pm lights out). I could never sleep at 9.30pm even if I was mentally tired. I wasn’t that physically tired in spite of walking the grounds along the walking tracks, browsing the vivid colours of an array of flowers, viewing towering trees and the distant landscapes. The hilly terrain, crevices, and soil-filled paths made for the temporary environment of my walking exercise.

The Centre held showering and toilet facilities, laundry facilities (hand-washing only), a dining room for breakfast, lunch, and tea (tea consisting of two pieces of fruit), drinking facilities, and a small bedroom (containing a bed, clothes hooks, two coat-hangers, and a small bedside table).

We had time for rest and meal-times but other times were devoted to meditation either in the Meditation Hall or in our rooms.

Males were separated from females and had their own guest rooms on the other side of the property.

Challenges

  • Waking up at 4.00am for our 4.30am – 6.30am meditation in the Group Meditation Hall.
  • Missing my family like crazy, thus wanting to leave after four days. I couldn’t contact them for that period of time.
  • Negative emotional reactions to the intense meditation practice.
  • Bodily pain from many hours of sitting (1-2 hours of meditation or more, but with breaks).
  • Difficulty focusing on meditation in the Meditation Hall when others were sick with colds, sniffing, sneezing, and blowing their noses.
  • Having nothing much to do outside meditation times as you couldn’t use technology or do any writing.
  • Noble Silence – a rule that we couldn’t talk to other residents including lack of eye contact or gestures.
  • Feeling cut off from my life and wondering how my family was doing while I was apart from them.
  • Attempting to sleep at 9.30pm when I wasn’t physically tired.
  • Sitting through a two-hour guided meditation technique with no break and causing an emotional and physical reaction in me.
  • Challenges of eating a vegetarian meal daily when I enjoy meat.
  • Managing the insects and bugs and trying not to squash these creepy-crawlies.

Benefits

  • Being able to talk on the 10th day (the last day of the course and leaving on the 11th day).
  • Learning a new meditation technique that works with the pain and memories of the past, and helping people to react less to stressors or the environment.
  • Debriefing with other residents and learning from those who had completed previous retreats.
  • Feeling more relaxed and de-stressed, and having the respite from daily life tasks.
  • Having time to rest in my room.
  • Being in a quiet and peaceful environment with silence and a tranquil scenery.
  • Having the opportunity to ask the assistant teacher questions about the meditation process between 12.00pm and 1.00pm daily.
  • The ability to have a mental silence that created no distractions to the meditative process.
  • The ability to be mindful of daily tasks at the Centre, including walking and eating meals.

Suitable For Who?

This meditation treat is not for the faint-hearted as it requires a disciplined mind, mental and physical resilience, tenacity or determination, the ability to believe that the technique has a greater spiritual purpose, the will to see the retreat through to the end, and a strong belief in yourself. If you are interested in reading more about this retreat, check out this link: http://www.aloka.dhamma.org/

To conclude, I feel as though I have achieved something amazing by completing the 10-day retreat. It certainly wasn’t a fun experience, but it was a challenging and growing experience that has played a huge part in my ongoing spiritual journey. I continue to practice Vissipana meditation one hour every morning so that I can learn to better manage my life and stressors. I am grateful for the experience as I now feel more relaxed and slightly less reactive to events or stressors.

In my next blog post, I will talk about the health benefits of this meditation technique which form the foundation of Buddhist principles.