Vipassana; 10 Days of Silent Meditation

‘Vipassana is a voluntary prison in which you perform open brain surgery on yourself, with no anaesthetic, for 10 days’ — the welcoming words of S.N Goenka on day one.

Image courtesy of DALL-E.

What you’re getting into

Many refer to Vipassana as a ‘retreat’. I did too before I did it. I don’t anymore.

What is Vipassana?

Vipassana means ‘to see things as they really are’. It is one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation, taught more than 2500 years ago as a universal remedy for universal ills — an Art of Living.

Be absolutely aware,

and do absolutely nothing about it.

To achieve this state of total presence you’re to follow a set of rules and a rigorous schedule.

The 5 Precepts

Abstain from;

  1. Killing any being
  2. Stealing
  3. Sexual misconduct
  4. Wrong speech
  5. Intoxicants

Universal Daily Schedule

The schedule is the same all over the world and the times are enforced by the ringing of bells. They’re so annoying you’ll start waking up before 4am just to cover your ears. Volunteers will come and fetch you if you oversleep.

Day 0

The beginning was the hardest for me. I was finding every possible reason to tell the taxi to stop and head back. Arriving, being shown to my (prison) cell, and giving up valuables was uncomfortable. But it gets easier.

Days 1–4 — Anapana Meditation

For the first three and a half days you learn the prequel to Vipassana meditation, called Anapana.

Days 4–9 — Vipassana Meditation

After three and half days, you begin to learn the Vipassana technique. And after close to 50 hours watching the air enter your nostrils, it couldn’t come soon enough.

Day 10 — Metta & Learning how to speak again

Metta is a meditation of gratitude to direct well wishes to all beings in the world. You learn this just before the much-anticipated breaking of the vow of silence.

Two Key Takeaways

You are not your inner voice

This was the first time I was able to experience my self and my thinking mind as separate entities for an extended period without the influence of intoxicants or medicines. It’s the kind of experience that I’d wish for everyone on earth to have, because it’s so liberating, and because the realization can have profound consequences on the trajectory of your life and those around you.

You need to experience the extremes to know where the middle is

Just as someone who grows up in mid-Siberia might think that 5 degrees celsius is the definition of ‘hot’, if we don’t break out of our daily patterns of thinking and doing, we too can lose track of the balance point. This has definitely been true for me. I’ve been focused on building organizations for over 5 years and Vipassana showed me that I had a completely warped idea of what ‘relaxed’ is.

Location & Cost

There are centres all over the world, and they’re all free. Vipassana is 100% donation-based. The official website for all centres across the globe:

Tips & Notes

  • Even if you become a little disillusioned by what S.N Goenka says, give the practice a fair trial. The practice is the practice, with or without your belief in reincarnation — and the practice brings benefits.
  • At some point — either before, at the beginning, or mid-way through, your inner voice is going to jump in and find a thousand reasons why this is stupid, useless, and why you should pack your bags and leave. Push back from a place of positivity by recognising the opportunity in what you’re doing. Finally; total peace and quiet. Finally; no notifications. Finally; no responsibilities, nothing on my shoulders. And in a few days that will all be back — so embrace the moment.
  • Choose a centre close to nature and far from urban life. Nature will be all you’ve got for a few days. It can make the low-points more bearable.
  • Once you’ve completed a 10 Day Course, you become an ‘Old Student’, and are eligible for 3 day courses, too.
  • Practice meditating in the sitting position in the weeks before. It’s true that the pain wears off after a few days, but you might as well get a head start.

Wrapping up

This was the first time I didn’t speak for 10 days in 24 years, and I’d do it again. Was it life-changing?



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Max Thake

Building the Web3 machine economy — and writing about it too. | peaq co-founder |