I’ve been debating whether to write about this for a while now. On the one hand, I feel it was a pretty private, inner experience, which may be better unshared and given an untampered space to live in within me. On the other hand, I figure, if I’ve found something good, why not share it?
Two weeks ago I came back from a 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat south of Manila here in the Philippines. It was a silent retreat wherein participants were not allowed to communicate with one another, even through eye contact or gestures, and were not allowed to engage in any activities that could serve as distractions from our morning to evening meditation. This included cellphone use, reading, writing, any musical activity, dancing, physical exercise.
I know what you’re thinking. The same thing my mom said when I told her I was going on the retreat. Why would anyone in their right mind decide to put themself through this?
Well, I actually had wanted to experience this kind of retreat since I took up Buddhism in college, and learned about silent retreats. Something about them intrigued me. To take away the distractions and unnecessary mental wanderings that come from chit chatting and an overstimulation of our senses in everyday life … something about that spoke to me.
Set in a humble space in Tiaong, Quezon is the Dhamma Phala, Philippines’ Vipassana center. Vipassana is an age-old meditation technique taught by Gautama Buddha. It means “to see things in a new way”. Since 2500 years ago, it was taught and handed down from teacher to pupil, teacher to pupil, and unfortunately got lost until it was revived in Burma earlier in the 20th century. A man by the name of S.N. Goenka fortunately learned it, later bringing it to India and throughout the world.
More about the retreat – for ten days, 40 or so of us meditators sat from morning til evening, meditating and becoming intimate with all the sounds of nature. The morning roosters, the birds, the geckos or tukos, the evening crickets. The gentle breeze, the roaring wind, the thundering rain. Living in the sweltering heat, relishing the cool evenings after the rain. There was a beauty surrounding all our fear and confusion, our questions of why am I here?, our pains and aches from sitting for hours on end. The beauty lay in the simplicity of communicating through politeness; of savoring meals in silence; of appreciating butterflies, flowers, plants, trees, views that may have easily gone unnoticed.
What did I learn from the retreat? I don’t want to go too much into it, lest any of you may one day become intrigued and decide to join one yourself. However, this “new way of seeing things” is proving to be a true game changer for me. My largest learning is equanimity – to not react to things just because they are good or bad in any way. Learning to remain an observer and accepting things as they are. Reacting and clinging only generates misery. It’s true.
Grateful to those who came before me, who donated or served in order for me to partake in the retreat. The spirit of giving lives within each of us and shines a light when we embrace it. This is one small way for me to give back, by spreading the word.
Here is the link to the center’s website in case anyone is interested: https://www.phala.dhamma.org/
Tread lightly. Remain aware. Spread love. Be happy.