Insights From a 10 Day Vipassana Retreat

I recently completed my 10 day Vipassana retreat, and am feeling full of peace and gratitude. It was one of the most challenging things I have ever done, and also one of the most rewarding. I realized so many things about myself, and about the nature of life. I realized a lot of my thought patterns and what emotions they were rooted in. I realized a lot of the fears and egocentric motives that I still have. I realized that real wisdom comes from personal experience, and that intellectual knowledge can actually get in the way of developing one’s own wisdom.

Some days I would have incredible states of being, of peace, of presence, of bliss, of inner knowing and insight that put me deeply in touch with the nature of things. Other days my ego was resisting strongly, and I would struggle to sit through a meditation, or would feel like I’m in prison and just wanted to escape. I continually learned the art of surrendering to what is, and not resisting what arises in this moment, knowing fully well that it is impermanent and will pass just as it has arisen.

Vipassana means to see things as they really are. It is a technique of meditation that was taught by the Buddha over 2,500 years ago. According to the Dhamma website: “Vipassana is a way of self-transformation through self-observation. It focuses on the deep interconnection between mind and body, which can be experienced directly by disciplined attention to the physical sensations that form the life of the body, and that continuously interconnect and condition the life of the mind. It is this observation-based, self-exploratory journey to the common root of mind and body that dissolves mental impurity, resulting in a balanced mind full of love and compassion.”

Suffering is caused by ignorance of the true nature of things. Everything is changing and impermanent, yet we insist on it being static and permanent. We have a mind-made sense of self that we are attached to which really has no substantial reality. Through mediation we come to understand the nature of things, and we become free from our mental delusions and ignorance.

Whenever we experience a sensation there are four things that happen. First, there is the cognition of the sensation. Second, there is the recognition of the sensation. Third, there is the feeling of sensation. Fourth, there is the reaction to the sensation. For example, say I feel a pain in my leg. First the mind cognizes the pain, then it recognizes the pain, then it decides whether it feels good or bad, and then reacts accordingly. If something feels good, we like it, and then we crave for it to stay there, and we develop attachment to the sensation. If something feels bad, we dislike it, and then we develop aversion towards it, which leads to irritation and frustration. The nature of sensations is that they are arising and passing. It may arise for some time, but ultimately, it passes, coming from nothing, returning to nothing. Developing craving or aversion towards a sensation leads to misery, and we have layers upon layers of habit patterns that cause us to react to sensations in this way, resulting in misery.

In Vipassana meditation, one observes the body’s sensations as they are with an equanimous mind, and just observes them, without reacting to them, changing the deeper habit pattern of the mind that reacts blindly. So, sitting for 10 hours a day for 10 days, every itch, every pain, we were learning not to react to it, but to look at it calmly and see from our own experience how impermanent the sensations are. Seeing in this way for oneself is really insightful, everything really is just arising and passing, coming and going, and there’s no sense in clinging to anything or trying to change anything. Instead we can just be calm and relax knowing that things are always changing.

As I went deep into this practice over the 10 day retreat, I did see many of my blind habits of reaction, and was able to change many of them simply by observing them and not reacting. As this process continued, deeper and deeper layers of habit patterns emerged, and a lot of my conditioned patterns became very clear to me. As I was able to let them go one by one, I was opening more and more to the simple truth of just being here, in touch with reality as it is. My heart became full of compassion and I realized that the most important thing in this life is love.

Love is what brings freedom, happiness, and joy, to oneself and others, and I feel deeply that all I want to do is share love and help others to be free of their misery. Being of service to those in need is what brings true fulfillment, and it is what the world needs to heal. The state of the world is the way it is today because for centuries human beings have been driven by egocentric motives, obsessed with ourselves and our own happiness, being careless and insensitive to the world around us. This has resulted in society full of greedy people that feel isolated and separate from the world in which they live.

This illusion of separation needs to be realized and overcome, for we are not separate beings. We are all interconnected and interdependent with one another, and realizing this truth will not only fill us with love for all living beings, but it will inspire our actions so that we may devote our lives to serving others and helping to spread joy to those in misery.

The Vipassana retreat really helped me let go of a lot my own self-centered patterns, patterns that were so deep I had no awareness of them until this retreat, and it connected me to the truth of love and the wish to be of service to others however I can. Though it was challenging at times, it was all in all an incredible experience that I am very grateful for, and I recommend it to anyone that feels the call to do it. The retreats are always donation-based, and there are centers all around the world. You can go to dhamma.org for more info.

May all beings be happy,
May all beings be peaceful,
May all beings be liberated!