Are you planning to attend a 10 day Vipassana meditation retreat at one of their dhamma meditation center in USA, Europe, Canada, Australia or any other part of the world? Since, this is your first time; you have several doubts in your mind like:
- What to expect from the vipassana meditation 10 day course?
- What things should I pack for a 10 day vipassana meditation retreat?
- Would I be able to follow strict vipassana meditation course schedule?
- Would I be able to cope up with staying in such a remotely located open area for 10 days?
Well! It is very natural to have these doubts and I was encountered with the same when I was planning to attend my first 10 day vipassana meditation retreat, in the august 2015. Since then, I have attended seven similar meditation retreats at one of the best vipassana meditation centers in India. The last SN Goenka vipassana meditation retreat I attended was in August 2021, although these were (apart from the first) short retreats lasting up to four days, I have learned something new, in each of them.
Here I will share some important things to be kept in mind while planning to attend this silent meditation retreat based on my vipassana meditation experience. Make sure that you pack below items especially if you are a new student:
This is one of the most important items; one should carry along while attending a vipassana retreat. Torch becomes indispensable while walking from your room to dhamma hall during evening meditation sessions held after 7 pm and early morning ones which starts at 4:30 am. The path from residential quarters to meditation hall and dining area can get very dark during these times; thus, you need a torch’s light to get a clear view of the path and to ensure that you are not stepping on any harmless insect crawling on the path. Yes almost all insects present at vipassana meditation centers are harmless in nature.
As most of these centers have limited resources there are times when main power is switched off, if so happens at night time, torch light is the only means, to make things visible to you inside the dark room.
Power supply of residential quarters usually remains switched off during the day as all students meditate, inside dhamma hall. This is done, to ensure that power is not wasted, just in case some student forgets to switch off light or fan of his room. As soon as it becomes dark, power is switched on for all residential quarters and it is only in rare cases when power is off, for some duration, during night time.
Alarm Clock (must)
If you are planning to attend goenka vipassana retreat, by now, you must be well aware of the fact that mobile phones and other gadgets are not allowed during the retreat. You will be required to submit them to the administration staff who will keep them safely, in a locker allotted to you.
Not just in the morning, there will be times when you will feel sleepy during the long breaks that happen, after lunch and evening meal. In such a scenario, alarm clock makes it feasible for you to take good 30 to 45 minutes nap and wake up precisely before your next meditation session.
Although, in every 10 day silent meditation retreat there is one or two attends or servers, who carries an old school kind of bell in their hands and ring it exactly outside every student’s room’s door, as a secondary alarm, signaling it’s time to reach dhamma meditation hall for your next group meditation session.
Body Lotion (must)
As these meditation centers are located in open areas which are quite similar to woods. If you are coming from metropolitan cities like New York, Atlanta, California or Washington having climatic conditions, which are in complete contrast to what you will have at vipassana centre, you are very likely to suffer from skin related allergies like itching and acne.
A tried and tested Lotion will be blessing in disguise to alleviate your skin problems. Trust me, skin problems are major distractions when it comes to staying focused and control your mind, which vipassana is all about.
At times you may feel something is crawling on your skin. You may also suffer from a very moderate degree of sting bites kind of sensations on different parts of your body like hands, feet, back etc. But you don’t need to worry much about them as these sensations are harmless. On my very first night of first such meditation retreat, I experienced such sensations because of which I was unable to sleep properly. Next day, I shared this problem with the assistant teacher who suggested me to apply some body lotion on parts where I was experiencing these strange sensations.
Lotion helped to an extent beside I also choose to wear long trouser made up of a soft cotton material instead of shorts, while sleeping. This further relieved my problem. By the end of third day, these sensations were completely gone or may be my body became accustomed to that environment.
After subsequent SN Goenka vipassana meditation retreats and regular practice at home, I gradually realized that these sensations are triggered by the energies that are prevalent at that place owing to efforts of previous students to observe sensations throughout their bodies, for majority of the time during the retreat. Yes, every student is supposed to meditate from 4:30 am to 9 pm with few breaks in between. Students are even advised to continue to observe these sensations at night in their residential quarters, just in case they are unable to sleep.
Insect killer chalk (must)
Well this is a bit controversial one since one of the precepts that everyone is supposed to follow states that “You are not allowed to kill any living being during the retreat”. Having said that, I was provided with an insect killer chalk to help me deal with insects crawling inside my room during my first vipassana meditation 10 day course.
If you have problem with insects crawling on the floor of your room then I’ll highly recommend you to add an insect killer chalk to your packing list. As all dhamma meditation centers are located in very open area with a lot of greenery, it is natural to come across many carpenter ants that often enter your room from below the door especially when it’s dark outside and light inside your room is switched on.
Mark a solid line using this insect killer chalk along the door of your room right from the first day. You should do the same along the door of washroom as well. After a few days, you can deepen the line, to ensure that it continues to prevent insects from entering your room both from outside and from washroom.
I must mention that after completing a few Vipassana retreats I have realized that most of the insects at Vipassana center are harmless. Just that I prefer the floor of my room to be free from insects so that I don’t have to look down every time I take a step to walk lest I stopover on some insect.
Face Moisturizer (optional)
As said in previous point, environment at goenka meditation center is quite dynamic as compared what we experience in cities. A day that starts with clouds and drizzle can get very hot during the afternoon with unbearable sunshine. The same day can end with cold winds in the evening, forcing you to wear full sleeves.
However, this is not every day phenomenon; out of ten you may experience such climate on a couple of days. So, it is always handy to pack one tried and tested Face Moisturizer to protect your face against the sun especially if you have a sensitive skin, like that of mine. But make sure that the Moisturizer that you are packing is fragrance free (as shown in image on the right) otherwise its pleasant odour will impact the focus of other meditators who are practicing vipassana along with you in the dhamma hall
Allopathic Medicines (must):
No matter how healthy or immune you are, you must pack allopathic medicines for ailments like fever, nausea, diarrhea and headache. Now if I am suggesting you to take these medicines along it does NOT mean you will definitely fall sick and required to take these medicines. I bought these medicines back home untouched after attending most of my Goenka vipassana retreat. So, why am I asking you to carry them in the first place, well there are two reasons:
Firstly, majority of dhamma meditation centers are located at very remote and rural areas where getting access to a medical practitioner is quite difficult, if I talk from India’s context. Although, these vipassana retreat centers are very organized and they do keep sufficient stock of aforementioned medicines, there is no harm in carrying your own.
There are some small centers to practice vipassana meditation near me which may not be the best vipassana centers in the world. But they do conduct 1 day courses perfectly. Thus I choose remotely located dhamma centers for attending a 10 day silent meditation course while making sure that I add the necessary allopathic medicines to my vipassana packing list.
Secondly, as per my experience in most of such meditation retreats at least one person suffers from one of the symptoms mentioned above owing to change in environment, food, sleeping pattern etc. Even I had suffered from majority of these symptoms during my 3 day vipassana course in August 2016. Unfortunately, I was not carrying any of these medicines and there were times when required medicine was out of stock at center but I was lucky enough to borrow them from another student.
In most cases, if you are unwell assistant teacher will suggest you to stay calm and don’t bother to consume any medicines, at all. To which I agree to a great extent because I have seen students becoming normal within couple of days without taking any medicines.
In worst case scenario, if you are facing persistent health problems during vipassana 10 day course, which is rare, don’t ignore them and make a timely decision to see a medical practitioner, even if it requires you to leave the retreat in between. I have arrived at this conclusion after personally suffering from worst health condition during my 3 day vipassana retreat, as mentioned above.
Homeopathic or Ayurvedic Medicines (optional)
If you don’t take allopathic medicine anymore, just like me (this was the reason why I didn’t bothered to pack allopathic medicines for my vipassana 3 day retreat, as mentioned above) it means that you have found a reliable homeopathic or ayurvedic doctor. Ask your Doctor to give you sufficient medicines for above mentioned problems, just in case you need them during the retreat.
Considering, the strict vipassana meditation course schedule, for eating meals as well as other daily chores; Homeopathic medicines are a boon for meditators since they can be easily taken on empty stomach. So you are Not required to request assistant teacher to help you with unscheduled meals just to fill your stomach before taking an allopathic medicine.
What do you pack for vipassana retreat?
Remaining essential things to be added to packing list for vipassana meditation course will be covered in my next post in this series. Meanwhile, if you have something in your mind to add to this based on your own vipassana meditation experience, do share it in comments. Every student of vipassana is unique in his or her own way so you’re learning can be different to mine. Sharing the same will add immense amount of value to the community of seekers of peace and happiness.