The Leadup To The Course
You know when you kinda haphazardly get yourself mixed in with something and when the time comes to do that thing you find yourself in a state of minor panic? That’s where I was on August 27th when I was preparing to leave Denver for a 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat in south-eastern Colorado.
I had read the guide and all the provided information; I had checked and double-checked to make sure I had all of my belongings and affairs in order; I had watched and read other peoples accounts of their experiences. I was ready…and I was terrified. I had signed up for the waitlist (yes, there’s a waitlist) almost three months prior, so when I received an email stating that I had been accepted, my stomach hit the floor.
Whether you’re thinking about participating in a retreat, or you’re curious to know just what the hell I’m talking about, let me lay out my experience for you to help you determine whether ten days of voluntary meditative seclusion is something that’s in your best interests.
(Spoiler: It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done)
What Is Vipassana?
Vipassana is the style of meditation that Gautama Buddha allegedly used to find transcendence from worldly suffering. That being said, it is also a very approachable method of meditation that can be used by any person of any belief system without conflict with their religion.
In a nutshell, Vipassana is a body scanning technique in which the meditator focuses all of her attention on remaining completely still while focusing on the sensations throughout the body in order to gain a “higher” sense of awareness of their body and the environment around them.
Think that sounds easy? Try to sit completely still on the floor or in a chair for fifteen minutes.
Okay, you could do it? Now try for an entire hour. Then try it for four to six hours a day— for ten days.
This is only a rudimentary explanation as to what you can expect to experience at a retreat but read on to get a better idea of how it goes.
The Road To Dhamma.
As I have mentioned before, I am not religious. In fact, I find a lot more in common with the Terrence McKennas, Richard Dawkinses and Sam Harrises of the world than any religious sect or denomination. The way I discovered Vipassana was through a paper that Sam Harris wrote about the importance of the psychedelic experience and how meditation and psychotropic drugs correlate with one another. That paper can be found here in podcast form.
At least since my teenage years, I have always had a fascination with the subconscious, the effects of psychedelics and the nature of the mind. In recent years that appeal has been funneled down to an exploration of the principles of yoga and eastern philosophy as it applies to meditation. Combined with the more recent discovery of the work of both Harris and Tara Brach, my interests had increased to the point where I made the decision to look into a deeper method of practice.
Dhamma.org is an organization which is fully devoted to spreading the benefits of Vipassana around the world. A simple Google search will more than likely bring their website up immediately should you decide to search for it as I did. The website itself is definitely a no-frills affair, and the email correspondence I received was more on par with something you might get from the IRS than from a ‘retreat.’
Regardless, I had done some research, and these guys were repeatedly cited as the gold standard for this type of activity. I signed up for the waitlist, and eight days before the start date I was accepted. Having just left my job to work on this blog it felt like a sign; I had to go.
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