Vipassana Meditation Camp

25 01 2007

Since hearing about, and subsequently learning the bizarre art of Lucid Dreaming, it became apparent to me there were potentially all sorts of things my mind was capable of that that I previously hadn’t considered. In the years since that point, I’d read in many places that to truly control and expand the mind, it is recommended one practices a form of meditation, and thus my casual interest in meditation was born.

Despite an interest, I never really pursued it or knew much about the subject, but while experiencing the Buddhist culture first hand in Thailand I decided it might be an interesting experience to learn a technique a little more fully. So after half an hour on Google, sitting in a Chiang Mai internet café, I found a ten day Vipassana retreat in Hereford.

I can now say, I really had no idea what I was getting myself in to when I enrolled in the course. I thought that I would spent ten days in a zen state, feeling very nice with a big grin on my face and then come back to London a master, feeling refreshed and ready for action.

I arrived on a cold, wet and blustery evening at Dhamma Dipa. There was an immediate separation of guys and girls, we were all assigned a bed and met in the dining room for further instructions. The main rule was we were all to commit to observing noble silence’for the duration of the course, no form of communication between students was allowed, including oral communication, note writing, gestures or eye contact; one was to act as if one was totally alone. Strangely, I didn’t miss talking at all.

Vipassana is the style of meditation that Buddha used to reach enlightenment, and subsequently taught himself. Although named after him, Buddhism wasn’t founded by Buddha, it was created in his honour, however it went against his own person beliefs of not blindly following a faith, or any rites or rituals, but only to believe what you experience first hand – as such, Vipassana has no rites, or rituals, no praying or chanting, no affiliations to any organised religion, just a very pure, basic, universal technique – and that’s it. There were no religious artifacts to be seen anywhere, no candles, pictures of Buddha or any such things anywhere at the camp.

The technique of Vipassana is remarkably simple, in theory, but I found in practice it to be incredibly frustrating. The task is just to sit, eyes closed, and focus on respiration, and then the sensations within the body. Simple. I very quickly found out that this is a surprisingly difficult thing to do. I’d be able to focus for a couple of breaths, then my mind was away, thinking of all manner of unrelated and irrelevant things. So you keep bringing your attention back, and again the mind wanders, and you do this eleven hours a day for ten days straight.

The amount of time you can focus on your breath slowly increases, towards the later part of the course, I had a few times where I slipped in to a pleasurable trance-like state where I was not really aware of time and anything around me, just the subtle breath, in and out, and various sensations of the body. It’s in these states real meditation begins, however it’s only a special few who can achieve this consistently within the ten day course, the ten days are definitely an introduction, rather than a course of mastery.

A nice plus of the course is that it is always given free of charge, and they provide accommodation and delicious home-cooked meals throughout the duration. The facilities are simple, although clean and modern. The centre is totally funded through donations from past students, but there was never any pressure to donate, in fact, they insist that if you do want to donate, you should only do so if you’ve personally received benefits from the teachings and want to donate for the benefit of future students.

The course definitely was a challenge, but a worthwhile one I think. I can’t say I’ve had any major breakthroughs yet, although I can see there are benefits to be had, I will keep practicing the technique, and see how things progress.

More Information on Vipassana: http://www.dhamma.org

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4 responses

15 12 2008
fernanda

hi
My name is Fer and by the moment I am in London. I definetelly would like to do this 10 days but i would love to have information about fares,dates and places i could assist.
thank you

17 12 2008
Mark

Hi Fernanda,

You should be able to find all the information you need on the Dhamma Dipa website:

http://www.dipa.dhamma.org/

3 02 2009
Ten-Day Vipassana Meditation Course — Part I « Reflections

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