Second Time at a Vipassana Meditation Retreat

I came back from my second 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat a few weeks ago. If you haven’t already, I suggest you read my first experience before this one. It is more thorough, describes what the technique is, what each day schedule is, what the theory behind it is and much more. This post will focus on what I experienced during the second retreat as well as how it has enabled me to change myself.

I found my first experience to be highly beneficial on many levels, that I decided to go back to go deeper into my practice­. I also viewed the retreat as a personal challenge.

Although most people assume that the second meditation retreat should be easier than the first one, it isn’t so. Of course, some aspects of the practice, such as finding an appropriate meditation position and feeling sensations throughout the body, do get easier with time. This is simply due to the fact that by the time of their second retreat, most students have practiced regularly and are now much more familiar with the technique. However, as you progress on this path, new challenges continuously arise and keep pushing you out of your comfort zone.

As an old student, additional rules applied to me. The major one was not being allowed to eat after noon, which is a rule all Buddhist monks apply in their daily lives. On the first day, I found this rule to be a bit hard to follow since I’m used to eating relatively large dinners but my body quickly adapted and soon enough, I had no desire to eat after lunch. I also saw for myself that it was much easier to meditate with an empty stomach than with a full stomach. On my first retreat, I too often ate large quantities of food at meal times and as a result, it was much harder to stay awake and focused during meditation hours.

Also, as old students, we were given some specific set of instructions to guide our meditation. In fact, we were allowed much more freedom than on the first retreat, since we already had a reasonable amount of experience with the technique. We weren’t held back by the “step-by-step” approach taught to new students. The daily discourse, however, is the same for old students as it is for new ones. Although this may seem redundant, the discourses are very dense and fairly long (about 80 to 90 minutes each) and I understood a great deal more this time that in my first retreat. I have no doubt the same will happen on my third attempt. You definitely can’t fully retain the massive amount of information in one 10-day retreat!

During the meditations themselves, I got a fair deal of interesting experiences, both “pleasant” and “unpleasant”, although this distinction is rather meaningless in Vipassana meditation, as you must be equanimous and non-judgmental. I had experiences where I felt like my body dissolved completely, feelings of intense peace and presence and feelings of incredible sensitivity and connectedness to everything that surrounded me. On the flip-side, at times I experienced a considerable amount of physical pain as well as feelings of anxiety and agitation (especially in the first few days of the retreat). I also, on multiple occasions, I “heard voices” when I was meditating deeply. I feel like this was caused by the fact that I was getting in touch with subtler and subtler experiences as my mind was getting sharpened by the practice. I also have had these experiences after the meditation retreat, when meditating on my own.

I also lucid dreamed like never before. Some of these dreams were truly mind-blowing by their clarity and “time-dilation”. Upon waking, I truly felt as if hours, if not days, had passed, even though it had only been 20 minutes. In fact, at some point I was quite disorientated by the repeated false-awakening and sleep paralysis experiences I got. One of my sleep paralysis episodes was actually quite scary, which happens pretty rarely to me nowadays. Here’s how it went :

Upon falling asleep, I briefly lost awareness but was brought back to consciousness by a feeling and atmosphere I associate with sleep paralysis. I opened my eyes and saw, right next to my bed, a weird looking and obscure shadow crawling on the floor. Obviously, since I was in a sleep paralysis, I couldn’t move anything but my eyes so I couldn’t really take a closer look. The weird entity slowly crawled up the side of my bed, looking at me and touching me in a very unpleasant and violent way. I identified the shadow as a girl/woman and she proceeded to whisper some incomprehensible yet threatening words very close to my ear. I usually have an easy time just closing my eyes and ignoring whatever happens during a sleep paralysis episode but this was really overwhelming. The “thing” then began to violently shake me while shouting at me and I felt like I was getting thrown on the walls. I felt absolutely powerless. What I then did was quite interesting, I started meditating and did a meditation called “metta” which focuses on compassion. I aimed the compassion at the “creature” and woke up pretty much instantly. I was left pretty shaken up by this episode and it took me a while to fall back asleep. Nevertheless, I find it quite interesting that the sleep paralysis ended right when I started meditating.

The after-effects of this meditation retreat were deeper than in my previous retreat. I feel like I’ve understood and experienced a great deal more, which changed the way I see the world in a significant way. I am much more “in the moment”, which is a feeling well described by Eckhart Tolle in his books “The Power of Now” and “A New Earth“. Most of the time, I quickly notice when I am getting into negative or irrelevant thought processes and come out of them very easily. I feel like “presence” is slowly becoming my default state of being as opposed to ceaseless thinking. My mind is also much calmer and I’m more aware of everything as it happens, including sensations in my body.

I am also much more confident about life, I feel like whatever happens on the outside, everything’s going to be fine. I know that what truly matters is my state of mind, not external circumstances. As a result, I react to events in a much more detached way and can maintain peace of mind in the vast majority if situations. This enables me to be much less reactive and to live in a much more authentic and uninfluenced way. This also causes me to be way less attached to material things. I truly feel like anything I own can break or get stolen without it mattering a whole lot to me.

Next, although I’ve been, in the past year, progressively  finding less and less value in intellectual pursuit, this retreat enabled me to fully see that it truly doesn’t represent anything to me anymore. Although I may still enjoy it as a pleasurable activity, I have stopped believing that accumulation of intellectual knowledge is anything more than a “game”. This strongly contrasts with how I used to think a few years back. As of now, I just feel like it creates excessive thinking, which makes it impossible for me to stay fully present and experience reality as it is. I feel like it’s not worth it as gets in the way of the strong feeling of peace I get when I stop thinking, labeling and judging. Although “not thinking” is not a practical possibility to live in the world, I now see thinking more as a “tool” than as an “end”. I try not to identify so much with it and to use it only when necessary, and then go back to “presence” as soon as possible. As a consequence, I am not interested in discussions about “people” or how about “doing this was right” and how “this person was wrong”, etc. I now see all of this as meaningless and a waste of time.

Finally, I find it easier to motivate myself to meditate regularly, as I see the benefits and results of my practice almost immediately. I can’t imagine going back to my old states of mind and thought patterns!

If you want to read a thorough testimonial of my first Vipassana experience, you can read it here : my first Vipassana meditation retreat.

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17 thoughts on “Second Time at a Vipassana Meditation Retreat

  1. Brides

    You’re articles about vipassana are so insightful and well-written. Thanks for sharing your experience. I’m heading to my first vipassana ‘retreat’ next week. I don’t have specific expectations about it, as the more blogs I read the more it seems everyone’s experience is so varied. I’m both terrified and excited by it. I do hope though I come out with the sense of peace you seem to have found.

    Reply
  2. Tracy

    I’ve been on one Vipassana retreat so far, 2 years ago. I read both your postings on your experiences and I couldn’t have written my experience any more accurately. Reading your 2nd experience is making me realize how much I want to go again, if you’ve said it’s given you a lot more then the first one. Like you, my life has changed drastically, especially the way I react to things. Your example of seeing people getting so angry or frustrated..i see that all the time too now, since being back. My drive back to civilization was a wild experience, I couldn’t drive the speed limit even, driving slow and calmly. Got on the highway and crazy angry impatient people flying past me, riding my ass because I was doing the speed limit etc..wow. I’m such a calm person now, and usually can look inside my mind as to what I’m experiencing if I start to get annoyed or frustrated with a situation or person. Or I can step outside of the situation and look at it almost like from above, and watch it play out. Anyway, thank your posts! I’m going to look into signing up for round 2 now. 🙂

    Reply
  3. amar

    Hi I am amar from india I read your article It gives deep understanding about vipasyana. Have u gone for 20 day course and written your experience if yes can u pl send me link on my mail id thanks in advance.

    Reply
    1. Gabriel Rocheleau Post author

      Hello Amar,

      I haven’t been to a 20-day Goenka Vipassana course because I don’t yet meet the requirements (you need to have sat five 10-day courses and served one). I did, however, go to a longer (40 days) meditation retreat at Pa-Auk Forest Monastery in Burma which I came back from 2 weeks ago and will blog about it soon!

      Thanks for commenting!

      Reply
  4. curtis64r

    Hi Gabriel, I too like your posts. I have no personal experience yet of Vipassana but, because of a friend I met in India two years ago, have been an avid reader and video fan of Mr. Goenka for many moons now. Am going next month to my first retreat, and am looking forward to it eventhough something like fear also checks in whenever I think about not speaking for nine or so days. Respect for all who can do that — and repose! — for hours on end! Best regards and best wishes! Robert

    Reply
    1. Gabriel Rocheleau Post author

      Hello!

      Great to hear you’re going for your first retreat!

      It’s absolutely normal to have some fear, and trust me, the not speaking part will not be that hard. Chances are that on the 10th day, when you’re allowed to speak, you won’t even feel like it!

      Wish you success on your first retreat, make every second count!

      Reply
  5. Ae

    Great post. I’m going back for my second retreat in a few months and I’m terrified. Absolutely terrified. My feeble attempts at meditation have disheartened me and my sila is weak.

    Thanks for the write-up.

    Reply
    1. Gabriel Rocheleau Post author

      Hey!

      Don’t be terrified. It can be very difficult to keep up a regular practice in daily life, and you shouldn’t be unnecessarily hard on yourself for not maintaining a solid discipline. You’re going in for a second retreat, and this is something that most people wouldn’t/couldn’t do, be joyful about that! Don’t worry too much about sila either. If you’re really leading a “reckless” life, the worst thing that will happen is that your mind will be more agitated, especially in the first few days. But still, your practice will be very beneficial and soon enough, your mind will settle down. Sila is not about following blind principles for hope of a reward/fear of a punishment, it simply is a way to live conducive to peace of mind and meditative practice. If your worries about sila are disturbing your peace of mind and getting in the way of your meditative practice, you are doing it wrong! 😉

      I wish you well,

      Gabriel

      Reply
  6. Subrata Lahiri

    Dear Gabriel

    I have read both your posts. They were honest and I could relate to every word of yours. May you progress on your way to enlightenment. May you be happy and peaceful!

    Reply
  7. Raden

    Hey thanks for the insight into how you felt. Your first time sounded good but the second time sounded scary esp the nightmares, I have heard other people tell of similar experiences. WHY?

    Reply
  8. Janne

    Hi Gabriel. Many thanks for your great posts. I am going to my first Vipassana retreat next week and look really forward to that. I have not done lot of meditation before, so I am somewhat terrified, main goal being able to push through the entire 10 days.

    Cheers,
    Janne

    Reply
  9. Madhav

    Hi Gabriel, I have had only one session of Vipassana and my second one is slated in October. I however have not maintained the silence and have realised my folly. BTW, What about the experiences in the pagoda cell? Where did you attend the sessions? I am from India. I do meditate for an hour in the morning. I am keen to know of yours experiences in the pagoda as I am trying to analyse and understand my own. I am not mentioning mine here as I would like to learn of yours for comparison. Thanks ….Madhav

    Reply
  10. Vi Ngo

    Dear Gabriel,

    Firstly, thank you so so much for such great posts you had written about both your 1st and 2nd Vipassana retreats.

    I’ve found your posts by chance while surfing the Internet for some reviews of those who’ve gone through the Vipassana courses. Eventually, yours are the most inspiring & well-written I have read so far.

    I am heading to my first retreat next week. And now I am both excited & nervous for it. But thanks to the experience you had shared, I get more motivated to go without too worrying about what will happen within 10-days.

    May you be more happy, peaceful and successful with your meditation!
    Vi

    Reply

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