Getting Uncomfortable

Getting Uncomfortable

My 10-Day Silent Meditation Retreat Experience

In June of 2018 I quit my job as an Art Director of Brand Marketing at Medallia to take some time to reflect, work on myself, and experience new things. I decided the first step would be a 10-day Vipassana Silent Meditation Retreat in Merritt, British Columbia.

What is Vipassana meditation? Practiced in the branch of Theraväda Buddhism, it is taught as the original technique of meditation by the Buddha to work towards Enlightenment. It’s a type of meditation that focuses on observing bodily sensations with equanimity to understand the relationship of mind and body and the impermanent nature of reality.

In practice, it’s 10 days far from civilization and living in fairly spartan quarters. There is no communication, physical contact, killing (including eating meat), phones, reading, writing, or exercise. These restrictions encourage a quiet stillness in the mind. For me, it was an intense journey of emotional highs and lows, giving me a unique perspective to see myself and others.

To shed a little light into how that rollercoaster went, here’s a chart with highlights, my key takeaways & tips, and if I’d recommend the course to others.


Takeaways & Tips

  • We don’t have many moments in adult life with so much uncertainty where you just have to come in with a beginners mindset and your own determination. It felt like moving into the college dorms or starting a first job and was refreshing.
  • The course was more challenging than expected. I was challenged in unexpected ways. I didn’t mind the silence or the early mornings, but found the sense of isolation and simply sitting for long periods of time incredibly difficult.
  • Vipassana is a technique based on spiritual and religious practices. Despite the claims of being non-sectarian and universal, it does come wrapped in a package of mysticism and morality.
  • The course attracted attendees from a wide variety of backgrounds and locales. It was cool to see so many different people working towards a common goal of self understanding and mindfulness.
  • It is painful to sit still for extended periods of time. It took me till day 7 to be able to not change my position during the hour-long “sittings of strong determination,” even with plenty of cushions and support. This was my final set up:
  • The human mind is great at feeling the general time of day, and terrible at actually keeping time. With my eyes closed and no alerts, an hour can feel like moments or ages.
  • Boredom is an entirely different experience without a phone, books, talking, or exercise. I ended up enjoying things I used to do as a kid outdoors: balancing on rocks and stumps, observing bugs and plants, catching the white fluffs from a tree on a windy day. It was really pleasant, playing for it’s own sake.
  • We all create images of others with whatever incomplete information we have. I didn’t realize this until the day we ended the silence and stone-faced acquaintances became warm friends. Many of the other students that had seemed so stoic had faced internal struggles greater than my own. We shared in the experience and the camaraderie felt with basically strangers was remarkable.
  • By the course end, everyone I talked to did feel more mindful, more aware of themselves, and more balanced. I felt more compassionate, which in itself might be worth it. Except towards mosquitos. I want all mosquitos to die.

Likelihood to Recommend?

Looking back, the “difficult but life-changing” review from co-workers that had taken a course was both accurate, but also not technically a recommendation. On that point, I do think it’s not for everyone. Ask yourself, what are you looking for? A break from work/reality/your phone/the craziness of life? There are easier, less trying ways of getting this. An introduction and lesson in meditation? There are simpler techniques that might be more suited towards your goals. But a deeper, more mindful understanding of yourself? For that, there’s nothing like a Vipassana retreat.