Vipassana retreats are popping up all over the world, including seven centres in Australia, offering soul-seekers a chance to luxuriate in silence.
Health benefits and stress reduction as a result of meditation are widely known and experienced by many. The 10-day silent retreat teaches the Vipassana meditation technique, with the aim of participants continuing to use the technique in everyday life.
During a retreat the seeker will often take classes, do yoga, spend time in nature, meditate and then meditate some more. There are no phones, internet, speaking or external communication of any kind for 10 days.
“At first I thought it would be too hard because every time I tried to meditate my mind got louder,” says Medibank member Paul. “Although it did relax me, it also frustrated me because I thought I wasn't doing it right.
“Without the distraction of conversation, you are forced to examine the internal babble of your mind. It can be very confronting. There were challenges during the course, like sitting in the same position for an hour without moving, but I found that with time it happened with much less effort.
“It has definitely benefited my health. I'm much more relaxed when I take the time to meditate regularly. One thing I have taken away from the retreat is that everything is impermanent.”
The course is available to anyone who wants to work on cleaning their mind. It is not aligned with any particular religion or sectarian belief system. It is open to everyone and is offered free – any donation, monetary or otherwise, is your contribution to giving others the opportunity to learn Vipassana.
“I am incredibly grateful that I had the opportunity to do the course. I don't think I'll sit another course, but I will probably serve at one, or attend a working bee at a center,” Paul says.
Medibank member Rachel was going through a time of change in her life after a relationship ended, and had found meditation useful in dealing with anxiety and processing emotions.
“A friend, a stand up comedian, talks about going on a silent retreat in his routine – some pretty funny stuff does happen on retreat! I gave him a call and we met up for a more serious chat about his experience, and the benefits he gained from it, as well as how awful it was at times too,” she says.
“The most difficult things can be broken down into 'the physical' and 'the psychological'. Physically it is quite difficult to sit down in meditation posture for so many hours a day. I got legs cramps and a sore back, but that was nothing compared to the psychological challenge.
“Psychologically, you are living in an environment without distraction, so you really are left with your own thoughts. This is great, and part of the joy and benefit of meditation for me is this deep internal processing of thoughts, but it can also be a real challenge. It can be boring, it can be frustrating and you will howl with both sorrow and joy.”
Rachel felt the retreat ultimately benefited her psychological health immensely.
“I felt more calm and more conscious when it was over. I learnt a lot about myself.”
Learn more about residential meditation courses in Australia at dhamma.org.au