Vipassana: Lessons from a 10-day silent meditation retreat after a year

Jay Shah
Jay Shah
Jun 10 · 4 min read

Doing Vipassana at a young age, unlike most of the people who do in their late 30’s and 40’s came with lots of advantages and surprising realizations about myself and how I had uncovered some deep patterns that begged for my breaking.

I wrote about my immediate experience of doing it during one of the summers here. For me, that Vipassana held the transitional space between a poorly planned 3-day solo-bike trip and moving abroad for a significant amount of the rest of my life.

It has been hard to practice it daily with the academics, grades, part-time jobs and also searching for other opportunities but every once in a while I find myself motivated enough to practice and here’s what I have learned so far.

  • It’s all in your head

The mind replays the same stories over and over again, day after day, year after year that are impersonal, repetitive, and interchangeable. It’s when we get caught up in these stories that suffering occurs.

I’m not sure if the mind really is the source of all suffering. But I have gained a new understanding of just how important learning to control the mind is.

  • Introspection is like Lantern

It might provide light, but it doesn’t guarantee seeing. To know yourself is to accept yourself and acceptance is embracing every part of yourself, not just the nice ones.

We don’t know ourselves. At least not as well as we think we do. And the “key to happiness” is not in “figuring out what we want” or holding out for some abstract “someday” when we’ll have it. It’s in admitting that the whole thing is inherently meaningless. So we might as well just enjoy, and be at peace.

- Petter Johansson

  • Anxiety is just another sensation

Observing your sensations is like the technique that sweeps your subconscious mind to eliminate the dust that has accumulated by feeling the sensations on your body and not reacting to them.

It’s just like the itching sensations and you don’t scratch the itch for some time, the itch will go. Because the “sensation” of itching is temporary, just like that observe all sensations on the body and they will go away.

  • Our assumptions and reactions to them complicate our lives

In that strangled silence, my brain had lost perspective. And I realized, maybe, often, anger or fears are reactions to a reality we have created in our own minds.

But what we see, hear and feel is not objective. It is colored by what we have known, and the grudges we hold without even realizing them.

“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” — Epictetus
What happens to us is an objective reality, how we respond is a subjective choice.

  • A mental Detox

Prior to the Vipassana, I had very strong opinions about relationships, about routine and contentedness, about personal freedoms and morality. Day 11, I felt kind of detached from so many of these perspectives I’d built my identity upon but it didn’t feel like a loss. It felt like the beginning of new education.

I seemed to have better clarity and perspective to challenge my opinions on modern relationships. And I felt inspired by the subtleties that live within that same cup of green tea we taste every morning, the smile we share from neighboring porches, the frustrations and grudges, and the range experiences that make us human.

  • Give serendipity a chance

Serendipity: Look for something & find something else and you realize that what you found is more suited to your needs than what you were looking for in the first place — Lawrence Block

I went there to push my personal limits, I had no idea that I was opening some amazing doors to learning about a great technique about meditation. Only when you expose yourself to paths less traveled, even if it ends up being for the wrong reasons, you end up learning so much!

  • Self-sufficiency is the greatest of all wealth.”
    — Epicurus

Being your own man, being self-contained, having fewer needs, and better, resilient skills that allow you to thrive in any and all situations. That is real wealth and freedom.

“No one saves us but ourselves / No one can and no one may.” — Buddha
No one can blow our nose for us.

  • Don’t always feed your cravings

Sources that feed the craving for intensity — we underestimate the power of what we passively consume, and how it affects our perceptions and desires.

To be honest I still find it hard to make time to meditate and often it is hard to quieten the mind to have a quality meditation session. But the more I learn about myself the more I realise the benefits it gives me, providing the motivation for ongoing practise.

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