Maggie meditating
Home Living with Cancer Vipassana: A 10-day silent meditation retreat

Vipassana: A 10-day silent meditation retreat

by Maggie Jones
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Tomorrow I leave for a 10-day Vipassana retreat. Ten days without internet, cell phone, or even a pen.

These will be my accomodations. I’ll bring my own sheets and pillow, of course. And my own toilet paper.

Dormitory, Dhamma Mutta, Tung Wan, Lantau Island
courtesy of https://www.dhamma.org/

I’ll eat every meal, two per day served morning and mid-day, in this dining hall.

Vipassana dining hall
Food Hall, Dhamma Mutta, Tung Wan, Lantau Island
courtesy of https://www.dhamma.org/

I’ll spend over ten hours each day meditating in this hall.

Meditation Hall, Dhamma Mutta, Tung Wan, Lantau Island
courtesy of https://www.dhamma.org/

During these ten days I’ll observe “noble silence” meaning that, in addition to not speaking, I won’t communicate in any way including body language or facial expression, except during the designated times when I can approach my teacher with questions.

This will be my schedule each day:

Daily Vipassana Schedule

4:00 amMorning wake-up bell
4:30-6:30 amMeditate – In the hall or in your room
6:30-8:00 amBreakfast break
8:00-9:00 amMeditate – In the hall
9:00-11:00 amMeditate – In the hall or in your room according to the teacher’s instructions
11:00-12:00 noonLunch break
12 noon-1:00 pmRest and interviews with the teacher – speaking permitted to ask questions
1:00-2:30 pmMeditate – In the hall or in your room
2:30-3:30 pmMeditate – In the hall
3:30-5:00 pmMeditate – In the hall or in your room according to the teacher’s instructions
5:00-6:00 pmTea break
6:00-7:00 pmMeditate – In the hall
7:00-8:15 pmTeacher’s Discourse in the hall
8:15-9:00 pmMeditate – In the hall
9:00-9:30 pmQuestion time in the hall – speaking permitted to ask questions
9:30 pmLights out

I will have to give up my phone on entry and, even worse, my yoga practice. I’ll hand over control of my food. Fasting and outside food are not permitted but the simple, vegetarian meals prepared by volunteers should include some foods I can eat.

I did some special shopping to find clothes that fit the dress code: loose, covering the ankles, quiet. That translates to three pairs of pajama pants which I’ll be able to wash in the sink during breaks.

It sounds a little like I’m joining a cult, right?

I promise, I’m not joining a cult.

The Dhamma Compound. Dhamma Mutta, Tung Wan, Lantau Island
courtesy of https://www.dhamma.org/
Not home to a cult.

Why I’m practicing Vipassana

It wasn’t long after I was diagnosed that I learned about Vipassana for the first time. It is actually mentioned in Radical Remissions, the book I read the weekend after my diagnosis, but it’s only referred to there as a “10-day silent meditation retreat.” After that, however, mentions of Vipassana seemed to crop up everywhere in my research and even in non-cancer-related conversations. Coincidences piled on and became what I believed to be synchronicity.

I put in my application over the summer and was thrilled to get a spot in the November retreat just two hours away on Lantau Island.

Maggie meditating
My Vipassana retreat won’t look like this. Also, my beliefs skew more Buddhist than Hindu.

What I hope to get out of it

Vipassana teaches that everything is temporary. It’s been shown to be very beneficial for pain management and it seems obvious that it would be comforting/ preparatory for those facing their mortality. Most important to me, however, are anecdotal reports that, after 10 days spent focused on awareness of the breath and body, many participants feel incredibly in touch with their bodies right down to feeling individual veins and arteries. I’m not hoping for those kind of super powers but I’ve been savoring my increasing awareness of… myself? my mind-body-emotional matrix? Brad gives me a hard time when I call it my Qi. Whatever it is, it’s been magical and I can’t get enough. We’ll see if vipassana can feed the beast.

See you the week of November 18!

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