Thursday, May 5, 2011

I Am NOT Crazy, Or, Thoughts on My Second Meditation Retreat

A couple of things to clear up right away. 

First, I AM NOT CRAZY. Honestly I'm not!

Second, I AM NOT A HIPPIE. I may have dressed like one when I was traveling in India and Southeast Asia (come on, everyone does) but I'm really not.

Baggy linen pants? Ethnic garb? Looks like a hippie to me!

I did however, attend a 10-day no-talking Vipassana meditation retreat. TWICE. 

Does that make me crazy? Or a hippie? I don't think so, but I know what stereotypes pop into people's heads when they hear about meditation ashrams, vegetarian diets and vows of "noble silence." 

Leaving my first 10-day meditation retreat feeling GREAT

My first attempt into Vipassana meditation, or any type of meditation for that matter, was in Igatpuri, India in early 2010. I was initially drawn to meditation as a way to help relax and calm my frantic thought patterns. My experience in Igatpuri was a powerful one and impacted me in many positive ways. Unfortunately, as I continued to travel, I found it hard to continue with my meditation. 

Fast forward a year and I find myself living in Hong Kong. The stress of living among the crowds in yet another big. over-populated city started taking its toll. I found myself often flustered, frustrated, depressed and apathetic, with energy levels dangerously low. 

Thus I spent another grueling, yes, GRUELING 10 days forcing myself to sit still and focus on my breathing in a Vipassana meditation center in the outskirts of Hong Kong. At first, I struggled with the rigorous schedule of waking up at 4:30 AM and meditating for 10 hours each day. Within two days, 9:00 PM couldn't come soon enough for me to fall asleep and rest my weary body from the day's strenuous meditations. By the end of the week, the schedule of waking up before the sun and sleeping before most people in Hong Kong get home from work became second nature.

As I was returning to Vipassana mediation as an "old" student, I had the added difficulty of eating nothing (nothing!) after 12 noon. Let me tell you, for someone who loves to eat as much as I do, this requirement was the most difficult. Or so I thought. The first couple of nights I watched with jealous envy as the "new" students enjoyed their evening fruit while I grumpily sipped at my tea. By the third evening though, I was no longer feeling hunger pains and I think my meditation benefited from the lack of food. 

See how food makes me so happy?

Not speaking to anyone, in word or in deed, for the full 10 days was probably my favorite aspect of the meditation retreat. It's just such a nice change from everyday life and really allowed me to focus on myself. In fact, on the 10th day when we were allowed to start speaking again, I found it difficult to find my voice. Hearing myself talk seemed surreal and the act of speaking itself was exhausting.  

On the day of departure, I was extremely emotional. After leaving the retreat premises and returning to my Hong Kong apartment, all the sounds, lights and crowds of Hong Kong was so intimidating that I had to lock myself indoors for the rest of the day!

All in all, the meditation retreat with its vegetarian diet, strict schedule and vows of silence, was another beneficial 10 days. It gave me time to focus on myself, sort out my thoughts and brought a little bit of peace to me. Although I've since struggled with maintaining my meditation (life has such a way as to take over all other things, doesn't it?), I still do my best to meditate a little each day and I feel all the better because of it. 

And everyone could use a little help in feeling better, right? Even us non-crazy hippie types.

Have YOU had a spiritual experience while traveling abroad? Please SHARE!

© Connie Hum 2011


  1. i'm highly considering doing one of these meditation retreats while i'm here in india but the thought of being alone with my thoughts for 10 days is a bit.....unnerving! think i might go stir crazy with no one to talk to - or having people around to talk to but not being able to talk to them!

    but, at the same time, i imagine it could also be an incredible experience. how often do we get 10 days to truly be alone with our thoughts and to just reflect and meditate......

  2. Good on you! I have never done or considered doing anything like this but the more I deal with everyday life, sometimes I think it would be a nice change!

    I'm glad it helped you out when you needed it in Hong Kong, sounds like it was definitely worth it!

  3. Thanks for this...planning on doing one of these retreats in Thailand (where I live) in June. I'm glad to hear it's actually possible to get through it! :)

  4. In college I took a class on the Anthropology of Religion and we talked about Vipassana in depth. I've since found it fascinating, but kind of regard it the way I regard skydiving. I'd LIKE to do it, but taking that mental leap is very intimidating. I'm so impressed that you've done it twice!

  5. Really interesting to read about your experiences! Very tempted to do a retreat myself at some point.

  6. oh, man, goenka vipasana courses? they are great. everybody should do them. something inside never goes away, after one of those.

  7. @kay*(from india.with love) It's DEFINITELY an experience you should do while in India. I know it sounds like not talking to people is going to make you go crazy, but honestly not talking to people for 10 days is so great! Try it, please!!! =)

    @Annie It is a nice change and I felt so much happier and balanced after both retreats!

    @Megan How exciting for you! I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the retreat after you've completed your 10 days!

    @Steph Oh, I totally agree with you. Taking that mental leap is certainly the hardest part, in my opinion. I think I was considering attending a meditation retreat for about a year. Finally, I figured I was going to be in India so why the heck not??? The second time around was a much easier decision to make.

    @megan If you can get the time and the chance, you should absolutely give it a try!

  8. @gregory I find Goenka-gi completely captivating. And yes! Everyone really does take something very positive away from the experience!

  9. Thanks for sharing your experience with Vipassana meditation retreats. A friend of ours in Prague has done a couple and highly recommends them. When we were coming out of Bangladesh, I was hoping to try one but the schedules in the area we were in didn't work out. Sounds extremely difficult, but very rewarding. Hope to be able to find out for myself one day!

  10. Hmmm - at first it doesn't sound that appealing at all, but I guess there's no harm in trying. Can you talk to yourself at the very least? :)

  11. I'm not a hippy too ;P But I've done a couple meditation retreats.. My first was just last year at a Zen Buddhist monastery. It was something I put on my bucket list before I flew to SE Asia with "no plans" and literally the opportunity just landed on my lap (or facebook wall, stalking a friend)!! So I've tried the zazen technique and now Vipa last March this year.. I was a "new" student but I would love to try it again but I'd rather travel to Thailand to do it :P

    Vipa for me was like watching a really confusing movie for the first time and feeling like you need to watch it again (and again and again) to really "get it". Well I haven't been watching (meditating) at all.. Don't keep up the practice but know in the back of my mind that I should!!

    And psh, you're not a hippy... But you wear that shawl REALLY well. I struggle to figure out how to wrap it.

    Lots of people think I'm a hippy because of my interests (leaning towards spiritual and eco-consciousness, which does relate with eachother). It used to bother me but now I realize it's just a label. People can think what they want.

  12. @Audrey Too bad the timing didn't work out for you. Hopefully sometime in the future, it will and you'll get to experience it for yourself! And I won't lie: It IS extremely difficult. But SO worth it!

    @Jill - Jack and Jill Travel The World The idea of finding inner peace and a calm mind totally appealed to me immediately! You can think to yourself as much as you want! =)

    @Janet I hear the Vipassana centers in Thailand are quite nice. Would be a beautiful place to try Vipassana again!

    With regards to the shawl, I too have no idea how I got it to look the way it did in the photo. I very much doubt I could recreate that look. I remember just wrapping it around myself several times and then just tying it at my waist. Though it was a Punjabi-style scarf that I had bought in India so it was a bigger scarf than your standard scarves, which may have helped me in the wrapping.


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