Unfortunately meditation suffers from bad branding, probably due to the mysteriousness surrounding what it’s about. Meditation is just a technique for calming your mind so you can live in reality as it is right now, not how it was in the past or how it might be in the future.
The retreat was a Vipassana meditation retreat. It’s non-sectarian, non-religious, and there’s no agenda being pushed. Atheists and religious folk both can take something away. You don’t have to believe in anything to try it.
This reminds me of a story. A journalist interviewing the Nobel prize winning theoretical physicist Niels Bohr noticed Bohr had a “good luck” horseshoe on his office wall. The journalist was surprised and asked Bohr why an esteemed scientist would have such a thing. Bohr said “The way I understand it, is that it works whether you believe in it or not.”
The retreat participants are silent. But the Vipassana technique is presented step by step via audio tapes by S.N. Goenka (he died in 2013). He was a wealthy businessman who got a lot from Vipassana and spread (shared) the technique in its most pure form which had been preserved in Burma.
Basically, 2,500 years ago the Buddha took three existing techniques and refined them, creating Vipassana meditation, which is what he used himself and taught.
The first part is to be moral. As a temporary monastic for ten days, attendees do this by default.
Next is concentration meditation. Over the first three and a half days you focus your attention on your breath as it’s happening. Each day, you focus on a progressively smaller area surrounding your nostrils.
Starting on the fourth day, using your now refined ability to concentrate your attention, you begin scanning your body head to toe, part by part, over and over, using a calm, objective awareness of any sensation you encounter in that moment.
You’re probably thinking that sounds boring at best, right? But it’s not as boring as it sounds because your attention level has been increased. As you detect sensations, whether they’re pleasant or not, you notice that each one arises and passes away, each sensation is impermanent.
The genius part is that our minds, conscious and unconscious, demonstrate craving and aversions by manifesting subtle and not so subtle sensations in the body. So by noting these physical sensations in a non-attached way, they pass away just like they arose. That’s how I understand it.
The directions during the retreat are clear, and the best thing to do is to try implementing them without any hacks you think might help you. It’s a very old technique that’s honed and has been effective for many.