In October 2014, I joined about 50 other people in the desert outside Joshua Tree National Park to sit in silent meditation without talking or even making eye contact for 10 full days. It was an offering of the 10-day Vipassana Silent Meditation Retreat at one of the worldwide Vipassana Centre locations. After the 10 days, I felt like I could do anything.
I walked away with with more patience, peace, and equanimity. A lot of things that used to be difficult seem a lot easier:
waiting in line
The 10 days of the retreat were not easy. Meditating from 4:00am to 9:00pm (with some breaks), no books, no journal, no cell-phone, no contact with the outside world, no talking. It felt like a huge accomplishment- the equivalent of summiting a challenging mountain peak.
Strong anxieties and disruptive habits came to the surface of my mind. All I could do was sit through the discomfort that was arising. I couldn’t react to the anxiety by googling solutions or distracting myself. I’ll admit, I did react to the anxiety at first- I had the chance to talk to my teacher and the course manager about it- which just made the anxiety worse. Eventually, there was nothing more I could do but just sit with it. My mind started to settle.
As I kept choosing to settle back into the meditation rather than give energy to the anxiety, my brain starting strengthening the pathway or neurological network for calm and weakening the one for anxiety.
When the brain practices something, neurons fire signals to each other and create networks to store the new information. The more they fire, the stronger the networks get and the easier they are to travel. If a neurological network is not reinforced by being practiced, it starts to weaken. The neurons start to release their bonds with each other.
It’s like when a path gets tread through the forest. The more times it is walked, the wider and easier it gets to follow. Soon, it is the easiest and fastest path so it is the most traveled. The old path, “anxiety” does not get used as much, so it starts to grow over.
Practising settling my mind for 11 hours a day for 10 days is akin to a training boot camp and is very beneficial. However, if you can’t make that kind of commitment, meditation once a day or in a once-a-week class is good to start to weakening the monkey business that is usually going on in the mind and start building a neurological network for peace, equanimity and calm. Start anywhere with any meditation practice.
I have now done 4-5 of these types of intensive retreats ranging from 5 to 90 days long in yoga, meditation and other practices.
I have always walked away with a little more peace and better skills for handling the challenges of everyday life and the habitual patterns in my mind. I think it’s a really effective way to develop some important skills including peace, patience, mindfulness, equanimity, ease, compassion, and calm.
Check it out:
Click on “search” and enter your province or state to find the next course available to apply to in your area. Vipassana Retreats are FREE, but you will be asked to give a donation at the end of the course.
I am not affiliated with the Vipassana organization.
This is a very simplified explanation and certainly not intended to be a complete teaching on the practice. I am not a Vipassana Instructor.
This is not intended to be taken as medical advice.