November 30, 2016 at 8:04 am #40257
I will be attending a 10 day retreat at a Goenka vipassana center in January. The longest retreat for me so far has been 3 days. I understand that this is a more rigorous experience than many other types of retreats. I feel a bit unprepared. Any advice from those who’ve gone on retreats this long or even this retreat in particular?
November 30, 2016 at 12:31 pm #40260
Wow, Amy, what a commitment! I’ve never done a Goenka retreat before but there are plenty of descriptions of them online, and I know a couple people who have done them. They sound very grueling! If you know a yoga or meditation instructor, you might want to get tips on your sitting posture, because you’re gonna be doing a lot of it. Please be sure to tell us about your experience!
December 2, 2016 at 7:06 pm #40273
I will definitely keep you posted, Mark!
December 1, 2016 at 11:08 pm #40267
I went on a Goenka 10 day retreat. My suggestion is a few days prior to even starting the retreat prepare for the daily schedule by getting up in the morning earlier and earlier until you are getting up at the same time. The daily retreat schedule starts with waking up at 4am, and a 4:30 sit. Try to adjust your sleep schedule beforehand so you can be in sync with the rhythm. You will also be able to go to bed at 9pm and get to sleep, and avoid being sleepy during the day while practicing. Sitting will feel much better having had a good nights sleep, and sitting really requires one’s full effort.
In general, what helps me is practicing holding equanimity towards all sitting experiences. The sitting schedule has many sits during the day so a mental posture of equanimity will help in remaining diligent in long sits, and it helps ground myself when faced with the endless prospect of starting over again and again and again, without becoming agitated over this. It is to be expected, so I just start over, and let it be.
One thing I liked most about the Goenka retreat was how the entire first 3 days are spent solely upon practicing concentration. It gave me the opportunity to investigate this practice more thoroughly than other retreats. Talk about starting over and over again!
OK, now the crazy part, the experience of being in the sitting hall for the first time was very shocking, weird, and funny. After having had a regular practice with a living flesh and blood teacher it seemed more than a bit difficult accepting the whole cult-like set-up of watching TV screens playing prerecorded video talks (it was in California too!). But I got over it. In the end, it wasn’t a problem for me because Goenka is quite a captivating speaker and at times quite funny. Just accept it for what it is and see what he has to say.
Conceptually, a very interesting aspect of his retreat was to hear all the essential Buddhist teachings all rolled up into one very particular body scanning practice. It’s all presented as what the Buddha actually practiced, even though that is far from evident in the Pali texts. But I was fascinated by what Goenka’s technique was said to produce experientially if you became skilled at it, and how all the various Buddhist technical facets fit together into this narrative of his specific model. It is very unique unto itself. In general, I can appreciate that different meditation techniques will produce different results/experiences, and yet they can share common traits, and that these can be then be spoken of through a Buddhist understanding. It was like learning another language with a common root. Though, what wasn’t apparent was if Goenka had ever even tried any other practice than this one, nor if he or his followers appreciated much of the many Buddhist traditions.
Overall, I’d advise you to just accepted the challenge to sit every sit, follow the instructions as best as you can, and put any judgements aside until after the retreat to decide if it is something you are interested in continuing to develop some skill at.
I’m excited for you. Remember when it gets difficult that even the retreat won’t last!
- This reply was modified 3 months, 3 weeks ago by David S.
December 1, 2016 at 11:49 pm #40269
If you have your own zafu bring it.
I brought my own and was glad I did after seeing the mix of old remnants that was available. They even had soft pillows available (a terrible option). Those people who had never sat before were not even given just basic instructions for sitting. Without any advice, they were left to their own notions, creating mounds of pillows beneath themselves, only to find it painfully uncomfortable. People spent days figuring out what to sit on and many continued to practice with very poor posture. It must have been super difficult for them. But Goenka retreats teach a hard approach, but I think much of this lack of instruction is just very irresponsible and unnecessary.
If you need to sit in a chair make your request before attending the retreat, and if you do sit in a hard chair, definitely use a cushion or else you will bruise your rear.
I requested to use a chair because of lower back issues, and I also sat on a mat as much as I could. A typical instruction was to sit with whatever pain arose. So I practiced attending to the sensations of pain as instructed only to bruise the flesh between the bones and the hard chair. Only after telling the leader in my private session did they say that ‘Oh yes, you can injure yourself’. Not helpful. Don’t sit with pain. Protect your rear!
December 2, 2016 at 10:38 am #40271
I forgot to mention another feature of a Goenka retreat. The sexes are divided into separate interior living areas, separate outdoor areas, separate sidewalks, visually separated eating areas, and only congregating together in separate sides of the sitting hall.
As a Gay man I found it ridiculous that they do this to keep straight people from having sexual feelings. What are straight people? A bunch of children who can’t focus on their practice? How does this support the Queer community? I guess queer people are much stronger than that.
December 2, 2016 at 7:23 pm #40274
Thanks for all your comments and suggestions. While I don’t have a Zafu, I had considered buying one for the retreat. After your comment, I now plan to do so. I wondered also about preparing for the early mornings. That’s a good idea to begin getting up earlier. I admit to dreading that part.
If they see you shifting or changing position during meditation, do you get reprimanded? I already know I am incapable of sitting perfectly still. While I actually prefer sitting on the floor rather than a chair, my legs sometimes fall asleep and I don’t feel compelled to endure that. I wish I knew how to prevent the circulation problem.
I am excited about the opportunity but a little nervous about the rigor of it all.
December 2, 2016 at 10:08 pm #40275
I don’t think they reprimanded people on the retreat. In fact, sitting in front of me was a guy who for a few days occasionally repeated to himself in a quiet voice some phrase which was very distracting for me. I spoke to someone about it. But he never stopped so I don’t think anyone even spoke to him about it. I guess it might also just depend on who’s running the group. I think, more than anything, they just want people participating in the sits and not just hanging out. The intense part is the amount of sitting, but this is something to just commit oneself to and see where it goes.
I’ve found the Burmese leg position to be very comfortable (the legs are laying on the ground next to each other, not crossed). Cross legged, my bones sit against one another and this eventually causes pain. I also found having a Buckwheat zafu (a seed husk filler) more comfortable than the harder kapok filler, because it can be shaped underneath you to fit how ever you like (like a firm bean bag). And, having my knees resting on the ground/matt to create a three point stability has been easier for me by using a thicker zafu. This raises my rear up so that my knees naturally drop down to the ground. At the online Zafustore.com it is called a Large Buckwheat Zafu. I guess my flexibility is a bit less than some, so I don’t know if it would be right for you.
Glad to be of help! Enjoy the ride.
December 3, 2016 at 6:13 pm #40278
I will experiment with sitting styles before the retreat. I haven’t tried the Burmese position. I think I’ll be headed to the Zafu store for a Christmas gift🙂 To myself. Thanks much.
December 4, 2016 at 9:10 am #40283
You’re welcome Amy.
I have another suggestion. If you don’t already, sit daily leading up to the retreat.
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