Last august me and Rob attended a Vipassana silent retreat of 10 days at the end of our stay in the Netherlands. I had been thinking about doing a retreat again as the last time I did one was more than a year ago in Myanmar. At that time I decided to commit myself to doing one Vipassana retreat a year as I had learned so much in these 10 days. Next to that I was even more anxious to attend this one, as I was 6,5 months pregnant. I had heard that doing a Vipassana during your pregnancy was something special and that it improved the connection between mother and child. I was quite curious to experience that for myself! Rob, always up for a personal development training, joined me.
What is Vipassana meditation?
For the people that don’t know Vipassana meditation, let me shortly explain to you what it means to me. Vipassana meditation is a deep and intense training to obtain mindfulness, peace of mind, experiencing the “Now”, experiencing happiness or whatever you’d like to call it. It has its roots in Buddhism where they believe that the Buddha got enlightened by practicing a deep form of meditation; Vipassana. During Vipassana your goal is to observe what is going on in your body. You’ll be doing that in seated and in walking meditation for 10 to 14 hours during 10 days. Whenever you have something that distracts you, you’ll note that and go back to following your breath or the movement of your feet. Although this perhaps sounds easy, it is in fact quite hard as there are a lot of distractions. For example sounds, things you see or things you smell. They can keep you from concentrating. Therefore the retreat is given in silence, so people don’t talk. For some people this might sound like the worst thing, but trust me, there are far bigger battles to fight during this retreat and most people love the silence after a while!
The biggest distraction which you can have during your meditation is your mind. Your mind doesn’t like to be put aside, it doesn’t like to be mindful. Therefore it will try to distract you in many ways. For example: my mind likes to make up stories, daydream or relive the past. Next to that it doesn’t like boredom, so when I am in meditation,trying to follow my breath, suddenly my mind thinks: ” hey, this is boring. You know what wouldn’t be boring? Going to Australia and go surfing! Now how would that be? Drinking a nice cocktail with Rob..” And before I know it, I have been daydreaming for half an hour instead of meditating. “Now what is wrong with that?” you might think. Well maybe, because in real life this happens to us all the time and it sometimes keeps us from experiencing the things that we are doing at that very moment. For example during a hike in a beautiful landscape, my mind can be somewhere completely different. Or a night out with friends will pass by without me noticing all the things that are happening. I think this is a pity and at times I wish I could be more present. Ten days of intense Vipassana meditation helps me in being more present because it helps me to notice quite early when my thoughts tend to drift away enabling me to stop that proces and return to the Now.
Same goes for negative thoughts that we experience. If negative thoughts are not noticed they have the ugly habbit of transforming into sensations and negative emotions after a while. At Vipassana you’ll learn the interelatedness of the mind and body. An external factor can activate a bodily sensation, which then causes a thought to arise, which in turn can produce an emotion etc. This happens all day long and normally we are not aware of it. For example: You are walking somewhere, nice and quietly enjoying the sun and suddenly you hear a car breaking violently down the street. The noise reminds you of the last time you were in the car and had to make a emergency stop because someone else wasn’t paying attention on the motorway. Now what if that had gone wrong, you wonder? I might have had an accident right there. Worst case scenario I would have died? Who would have been the first to know this news? etc. Again, before you know it, this braking sound has made you plan your whole funeral. This one noise and the subsequent thoughts, caused you to perhaps feel sad, frightened or angry. This is a pity because in fact there’s nothing going on and just a minute ago you were just enjoying the sun. Now wouldn’t it have been nice when you could have stopped the train of thoughts before they had even begun and prevent all the negative emotions? Well, this is what Vipassana training is all about, being mindful EVERY SECOND in order to prevent the wandering of the mind. If, at times, we can bring this knowledge into practice it would make our lives a lot easier.
Now back to the experience of this retreat. How was it?
This retreat was the third Vipassana retreat for me. Even though for me the lessons that I get out of the retreats are the best I’ve had, it is funny to notice how quickly you tend to forget again. Especially the strength of our mind is something that keeps on surprising me. The mind is really capable of creating so many things that are not real. The doubt if I am going to be a good mom. The fear of loosing my freedom when having a child and feeling restricted and unhappy because of it. Fear that I will stop earning enough money in the future and we can’t keep on living the life that we do. Fear of what people might think of me if I don’t do what they want me to do. All of these things haven’t happened to me but in my mind they are at times very real and they cost me energy. This retreat helped me to remember that all is created in the mind and that only I can stop that from having a big influence on my daily well being. Vipassana also teaches that only you are responsible for your state of being. This also implies that you can’t make others happy, eventually that’s their responsibility. This does not mean that you can’t be caring and loving to others, on the contrary Buddhism teaches a lot of compassion towards others.
Vipassana during pregnancy
At the beginning of the retreat I had not given very much attention to my pregnancy. However, after a couple of days I noticed that I felt my baby more. I knew how he was positioned in my belly. Next to that it felt like we were communicating even though I couldn’t say anything to him due to the silence in the retreat. Every time I directed my attention to my belly and called his name in my mind, I would get an immediate response. How cool is that! Even at times when I was going through something difficult like anger, sadness or even pain, it felt like he was supporting me. Cheering to his mom that she was doing a good job. The experience I had in the retreat gave me the confidence that I am going to be a good parent. Physically I didn’t have any more discomfort than I normally have although I was already 6,5 months pregnant at that moment! I did have one moment (on day 3) when I wasn’t sure if what I was doing was going to be good for him, but I quickly realized that this was my mind which was trying to distract me with doubt so that I would quit. It wasn’t my body or the baby telling me that it wasn’t ok. So I continued and it was great after that. I would definitely recommend it to anyone.
Vipassana together with Rob
We usually get a lot of questions if it isn’t difficult to do the Silence retreat with your partner as you are not allowed to communicate with each other in any way. We both think it isn’t. When you are serious about the training and understand the importance of silence and focus on yourself, the presence of your partner is less important. Of course at times it can be a bit of a distraction but that is what the training is all about: trying to remain concentrated and don’t get distracted. The positive of doing the retreat together is that I always feel supported and not alone. Also after the retreat you are in a similar state and you have a deeper connection in which you can share all the insights you’ve had.
or read the blog of one of our companions during our last retreat (in Dutch):