Impressions of the retreat

iphone-comp-2014-01Here’s the last of three blogs about the retreat I went to. This part is about my impressions of it.

This was a silent Vipassana meditation retreat with no verbal, visual, or physical contact with other attendees until the middle of the tenth day.

I was surprised by the number of 25 to 35 year olds that were there, and for many it wasn’t their first retreat!

I’d assumed before going that most attendees would be middle-aged or older because ten days is a long time to live a monastic existence if you’re not a monastic. Maybe there’s a trend happening among the 25 to 35 demographic.

This is sort of random and insignificant, but at least half of the men were sporting facial hair of some sort.

I was  the only American (I think). So it was cool seeing 65 Latinos interested in Vipassana meditation. Several of the women attendees were dropped off and picked up by their parents, kinda like at a summer camp. That’s probably due to the tendency of Latinos staying with their family longer.

Goenka is the voice of Vipassana. He’s an interesting speaker, although some of his stories are quaint, and he seems a product of his Indian culture, there were a couple of references to reincarnation. But his English is clear and sophisticated, if a little accented.

One thing I had a hard time with was his singing in Pali, the language of ancient India. I guess he’s trying to keep the teaching as pure and true to the original as possible. The method has been passed down unchanged and effective for 25 centuries. Still, his singing was distracting and confusing to me. Each time, I felt like I’d wandered into a backstreet karaoke bar in Tokyo where a drunken Japanese company man was slurring through a song I didn’t know. Apparently I’m not the first to feel this way, people who’ve attended more than one retreat say that Goenka’s singing grows on you.

Something I need to dig into is the mind/body connection. I don’t understand completely how calmly observing (both pleasant and unpleasant) sensations (occurring in your reality) right now, and noting how they dissipate (arising and passing) leads to getting rid of internal feelings of “unsatisfactoriness.”

The description of “awakening” that’s often attributed to the Buddha is saying it was the release from “suffering,” but I’ve read that a more accurate translation is the release is from “unsatisfactoriness.” That makes more sense to me.

Was attending this ten-day meditation course worthwhile? Yes.

Will I go again? Not soon. But maybe it’s like asking a woman who’s just given birth if she’s ready to do it again. Probably not soon. But who knows how you’ll feel after some time passes.