The external part of the retreat

house old plain houseThe site’s been quiet lately due to holiday busyness, and because I was on a ten-day meditation retreat. I’m back, and here’s the first of three blogs about it, the external part.

How was it? It was like third grade on a Texan, long and hard.

First, there’re ten days of silence, including no visual or physical contact. The men and women were segregated to their own halves of the campus. Days started at 4 am and it was lights out by 10 pm. All of the food was vegetarian but tasty, eaten during a five-hour window, breakfast at 6:30 and lunch at 11. Walking was the only exercise and the longest route I found on the campus took about seven minutes.

What about cell phones, computers, books, or writing? Forget about it. You’re on your own. The days were taken up with ten hours of meditation, in hourlong blocks with breaks or meals in between. It’s all about creating a monastic environment for ten days, minus weird hairdos, outfits, or rites and rituals.

The whole thing was non-sectarian and was attended by people ranging from atheists to strong Catholics, all just there to try out a meditation technique called Vipassana. It’s the same technique the Buddha figured out 2,500 years ago. The technique was preserved in its most pristine form in Burma all these years.In modern times, S.N, Goenka, a wealthy businessman, who’d stumbled across it, began sharing it.

Because as the saying goes, “the mind is an excellent servant but a terrible master,” the aim of the Vipassana technique is taming the monkey mind that’s jumping from thought to thought, and back and forth between past and future.

All retreats are free and staffed by volunteers who liked the course and are returning the favor by serving at another retreat. When you complete the course you can make a donation, but it’s not expected or encouraged.

There’re now Vipassana centers all over the world. The one I went to was the first in Latin America. It’s in the mountains, about an hour and a half from Mexico City, so the nights were cold but the days were sunny and almost warm.

Because it’s centrally located in Mexico, the center gets lots of traffic, there were 65 women and 60 men. I was the only gringo, but there were people from other countries, though most were Mexicans. How do I know that? In the middle of the 10th day we started talking again. So you’re able to finally chat with the other attendees about whatever you want.

That’s the external part of the retreat in a nutshell. I’ll talk about the internal aspect and my general impressions in the next two blogs.