Vipassana Meditation: How to Prepare for a Silent Retreat
I’d love to say a silent meditation retreat is for everyone. But there are exceptions.
If you’re like me, you’re probably thinking this doesn’t look relaxing at all; that’s because it's not. A meditation retreats purpose—or at least one in the Vipassana tradition—is not to calm the mind; we are seeking insight and that does not necessarily mean a good time.
When you sign up for a retreat, you come to work. The introspective work done during a meditation retreat is for those who are willing to accept the external and internal challenges that may arise during a stay.
But if you have made it this far I assume you are still interested in taking the challenge or have already signed up.
So let’s talk strategy.
Rather than philosophical or metaphysical, the best ways to prepare for your first meditation retreat are mostly logistical. This may seem counterintuitive, but preparation involves no prior meditative practice or theory.
That’s right. You can attend a retreat with no prior knowledge of the Vipassana technique and you’ll probably be better off than a well-seasoned meditator set in his ways from a different tradition.
So I won’t give you any advice directly related to your meditative practice, but I will caution you of some of the most common concerns people have after having sat a course.
I would recommend you consider these 5 things as you move towards siting your first meditation retreat.
1. Overlook the Rules
First and foremost. If you have done any research you may have noticed the code of discipline;
You are requested to read the code as you sign up, after you are accepted, and when you arrive. And if its importance hasn’t been stressed enough, you’ll review it one more time before the course begins.
People who do not take the rules seriously will either harm themselves or someone else. Most if not all of the rules outlined have been tested over thousands of years and function as a system for creating an environment conducive to attaining clarity of mind.
I think I made my point here. Read the code.
You can find a link to the rules here.
2. Sleep Schedule Training
The crack of dawn probably does not do justice to how early you have to wake up on a retreat.
If you’re not an early riser, you may want to consider starting to prepare to wake up very early. As you saw in the timetable above, meditation starts at 4:30 am. So if your bedtime is anywhere close to that, I recommend you prepare for a literal rude awakening.
I have seen many meditators struggle with this. And during you’re retreat I am sure you will notice some empty cushions during the morning meditations.
Here are some ways you can begin to prepare to wake up early enough for a Vipassana retreat.
Start by setting your alarm and placing it across the room. Turn off the snooze option to ensure that you get up out of bed in the morning.
Now after waking up at 4 am, keep the momentum by…
- Drinking a glass of water immediately.
- Runing a mile.
- Doing 25 push-ups.
- Taking an ice-cold shower.
- Drinking a cup of coffee or tea.
This list is not exhaustive. Its purpose is to give you an idea of the type of things you may want to consider to help you build a habit of waking up early.
For an excellent resource on changing your sleeping habits, check out this article titled “The Most Successful Techniques for Rising Early.”—I think the title speaks for itself; check it out.
3. The Eating Schedule
During a retreat, you are served two vegetarian meals a day and a snack consisting of fruit in the evening. So if you are accustom to eating three or more meals a day and have dire cravings for meat, then a silent meditation retreat may leave you feeling hungry.
The best thing you can do to prepare here is to start eating smaller portions at similar times. If you can habituate your eating habits to mirror that of the timetable above, then you should have little trouble getting used to eating intermittently.
And if you are really having trouble here I recommend you also start cutting out meat and caffeine—both of which will be sparingly available. Personally, I quit drinking coffee a week prior to my retreat to remove the chance of a withdraw symptoms harming me.
4. Posture Preparation
Beginner meditators tend to have issues finding a seated position they feel comfortable sitting in. Unless you work at a desk job, you probably aren’t aware of how tasking sitting in the same position for hours upon end actually is.
So prior to your retreat go take a look at the various types of seated positions in advance. This will give you time to experiment and find one that works for you.
It really does not matter what position you start with. Just try to sit in that position as much as possible to get through the initial body aches early. And if you find that the position you have chosen is too painful, try another.
You can find more information on the types of meditation postures here.
5. But most importantly, take it easy on yourself
It’s your first time, and as a new student, you ought to understand from the start that the practice is challenging. And no amount of beating yourself up for having a difficult time will change that—this was the lesson I needed the most during my first retreat.
Whether you keep waking up late for meditation, are having leg cramps, or just plain old hungry having some compassion for any given state you are experiencing can take the edge off.
Keep in mind that ultimately the precautions above are mentioned because these are common experiences. So instead of beating yourself up with doubt or any negative self-talk, get excited. You are experiencing something so common—so human—that many before you and many to come will also undergo similar suffering; you aren’t the first, nor will you be the last.
Accept that and I can almost guarantee you will learn something during the course of your silent meditation retreat.
For more information on the importance of mindset, see my article on the 5 meditation mindsets that are imperative to a developing practice.
Please do not take what I say lightly. A silent meditation retreat will be one of the most demanding trials of your life. So prepare yourself.
For more information on Vipassana check out the official website or my post detailing my first silent retreat below.
You all know that I meditate every day. But have you seen the other habits?
I have spent years tirelessly hunting for the best daily habits to incorporate into my life. Meditation is one of them. But that’s only one. Check out the other four in a copy of the Top 5 Habits I Do Every Day—for free of course.