I’m about to attend a 10 day meditation retreat in the Tuscan hills of Lutriano, Italy. I’m in the neighborhood, so I figured, why not?
The organization is an international meditation group with centers worldwide. I am considered an old student with this group because I have completed at least one 10 day training with them, in the Midwestern USA. In fact this will be my 4th one in about 5 years.
The retreats are a full 10 days and they are serious. You arrive on day 0 to get oriented and settled into your room. There is very little talking, as you take a vow of silence which starts the first evening. There is no wi-fi, writing or reading. The days begin early and consist of a daily routine of meditation, breaks, mealtimes and instructional times. The vow of silence ends on day 10 and everyone leaves on day 11 in the morning.
The style of meditation taught is called Vipassana, which simply means ‘to see things as they are’. The technique is largely based on observing sensations in your body and is taught in small, progressive chunks throughout the course. The teacher in me loves the progressive curriculum because it is skills based, has regular check-ins with teachers and plenty of guided instruction and practice.
It is non denominational and does not conflict with any religious or spiritual beliefs. It is rooted deeply in Buddhist philosophy, but there are no rights or rituals. It is focused on learning the technique to gain benefits.
When I tell people this I get a number of mixed responses. Anywhere from ‘Wow, that’s awesome, I’d love to do that too!’ to ‘Wow that’s so anti-social, are you sure it’s not a cult?’ And a lot of things in between! Most people are aware of or participate in meditation and mindfulness practices but few spend so much time learning to refine the technique.
No, it’s not a cult. After being involved with this group for over 5 years I have not been offered any Kool-aid nor asked to give up some major part of my life! I come and go as I please 🙂 Yes, it is taking a break from society and socializing to sit with yourself, but for a specified period of time only and for good reason.
A typical day looks like this:
- 4am rise and shine
- 4:30-6:30am meditate in room or in meditation hall
- 6:30-8am breakfast break
- 8-9am group meditation
- 9-11:00am instructional meditation time
- 11am-12pm lunch break
- 12-1pm rest and interview with the teacher
- 1-2:30pm instructional meditation time
- 2:30-3:30pm group meditation
- 3:30-5pm instructional meditation time
- 5-6pm tea break
- 6-7pm group meditation
- 7-8:15pm teacher’s discourse
- 8:15-9pm group meditation
- 9-9:30pm question time
- 9:30pm-lights out
Why do I meditate?
A ten day meditation is not generally relaxing. It is work and takes determination. But I come out of it feeling better than any vacation or other type of break or relaxing activity.
Meditating helps me stay calm and calms me down. If I am upset about something or am having a hard time accepting something that is going on in my life, I meditate. I practice the thing I am struggling with whether it be forgiveness, acceptance, letting go, seeing things from a new perspective, etc. Meditation works for me in the moment. Also, when I have been meditating regularly for a period of time, I find that I naturally stay calmer and get upset less often about ‘the little things’.
Meditation helps my focus. I have a good amount of attention deficit going on at any given moment! So many of us do these days. It can keep me from getting things done and can be a source of frustration in my life. Meditation is like the perfect cure for this. No pharmaceuticals necessary. Whenever I meditate I am literally practicing keeping my focus. We get better at what we practice, right?
This increased focus also leads to clearer thinking. When I am focused, I become more sharp and able to problem solve. I see more options because I’m not letting my thoughts run like drunken sailors all over the place. This helps my confidence. I decided to start a homemade soap business after a 10 day meditation retreat!
While meditating itself is not always very relaxing, I almost always feel more relaxed after I am done. I feel lighter, and happier. My wellness is improved. This is a benefit I can not deny. I experience it over and over again.
If you are interested in learning more about Vipassana, check out this website.