A 10-day Silent Meditation Vipassana retreat: my experience and insights.

In this blog post I will share with you my experience and my insights after doing a 10-day silent meditation retreat – my first Vipassana meditation retreat. I also recorded a special podcast episode about it (#267), which you can listen here.

I went to the retreat last week, in November 2022. In this post, I’m going to discuss the reasons why I decided to do it and some specifics of how those 10 days went, as well as my realisations and insights.

Before I do that, let me briefly explain what is Vipassana. Vipassana meditation is a straightforward practical way to achieve peace of mind and therefore lead a happy, useful life. The word Vipassana means to see things as they really are. And as a meditation technique is a process of mental purification through self-observation.

I will discuss more about the actual technique of Vipassana and how it achieves this objective, this mental purification through self-observation.

My reasons

Before we go there first I would like to share with you the reasons why I decided to do such a thing – to go through 10 days of silence. There are 3 main reasons:

The first one is that for a few years now, I have been feeling a calling, an inner calling. At that time I didn’t even know it was called Vipassana, I had heard something or read something about a silent meditation retreat – I don’t even remember where it was, but it was a few years back. And it appealed to me. Maybe also because of my introverted nature, the idea of not speaking for 10 days was one of the motives that it appealed to me in such a way – but as I said I felt an inner calling to do it.

The second reason why I decided to go was to improve my meditation practice. I have been meditating for quite a few years now and very consistently. However, in many ways, I wasn’t feeling like I was progressing with my meditation practice. And I wanted to do something like this, an intensive, shall we say, meditation retreat, to learn how to meditate more effectively, how to improve my meditation practice.

And the third reason was this journey of personal development and self-mastery that I’ve been on for the last six years now – and I felt like I needed to take this particular step to advance myself on the journey. Hand-to-hand with this journey of self-mastery, I also am on a path of spiritual evolution, a journey to realise my spiritual nature. You see, many times within personal development, our spiritual nature is neglected or it is not given so much importance. Usually, the emphasis is given to the mental, the intellectual faculties of one’s mind, whether that is knowledge or emotional intelligence or communication skills or confidence – things like that, which are all fantastic and immensely useful.

However, because of my background and my story, and if you have followed me for a while, you might probably have heard me talk about my best friend when I was in my early 20s, who suddenly completely turned his life around and dropped out from university, and went to Siberia to become a shaman. That event, and seeing his transformation at that time, really influenced my spiritual understanding and endeavours.

So meditation, apart from the proven benefits that it offers, in terms of calming one’s mind and improving our concentration and lowering blood pressure and all these wonderful things – meditation for me has also this deeply ingrained spiritual aspect.

These were the three reasons that I felt drawn to do the 10-Day Vipassana silent meditation retreat.

And let’s move now to the chronicle of what happened during those days. The Vipassana centre where I attended the course is in Suffolk, which is a rural area in the UK. I applied for the course back in July, and the openings they had at that time were towards the end of the year. After a few weeks, I got accepted into the course, and then because of my nature as a person, I wanted to get some knowledge, to get some preparation for what I was getting myself into.

One of the things that I did was to speak with some people that had done the silent retreat before. I probably spoke or communicated with around a dozen people, and what I found extremely reassuring on one hand but also very inspirational on the other hand, was that not a single one of them had something negative to say about the experience; all of them said that it was a wonderful experience, a significant step in their journey. Many of them gave me wishes to have an incredible, enlightening experience, with realisations – and as I said, this was both inspiring and reassuring.

The other thing that I did when I got accepted at the course was to go through the information that they provided for someone in order to attend the course – in other words, what was expected and what was involved in the retreat. And one of the things that I will share here was the code of discipline that all the participants had to follow.

You see, the foundation of the Vipassana practice is moral conduct. So anyone who attends a Vipassana course must undertake Five Precepts for the duration of the course. The first is to abstain from killing any being, the second to abstain from stealing, the third to abstain from all sexual activity, the fourth is to abstain from telling lies, and the fifth to abstain from all intoxicants.

Another interesting rule that I will mention here was that during the course there was complete separation of men and women. So even though I went to the course with my partner, we were separated we didn’t meet during the course.

I mentioned earlier that the foundation of the Vipassana practice is moral conduct – so these precepts and code of discipline lay the foundation which is necessary for the next step, which is the concentration of the mind, which in turn allows the third step which is the wisdom of insight that Vipassana brings.

Vipassana meditation and the art of living

So, having said all this as a preface, let me now explain briefly why Vipassana meditation is said to be about the art of living. We all seek peace and harmony in our lives. But from time to time we all experience agitation, irritation, the so-called miseries, and when we suffer from them, we don’t just keep them to ourselves – more often than not we spread them to others, to the people who are around us.

So anyone who comes in contact with a person who is unhappy, who is agitated or miserable, also becomes affected. And of course, we understand that this is not the right way to live our life. So the question becomes, how can we remain with inner harmony, not only for ourselves but also for the other people around us.

In order to answer that question, we have first to know the basic reason why we are suffering in the first place. And we realise that whenever we start generating negativity in our mind we become unhappy, we become agitated. But how do we start generating negativity? That’s the next question. And the answer to that question is simple. We become unhappy when something happens or someone behaves in a way that we don’t like or when something that we want to happen fails to do so.

So how can we solve this problem? One of the ways, a theoretical way, is to arrange one’s life in such a way that nothing unwanted happens, that everything goes according to our desires. But that’s purely theoretical because it is impossible – no one can live their whole life where everything happens according to her or his wishes.

So the real question is how can we stop having these automatic reactions when something unwanted happens to us, or when something that we want to happen doesn’t? How can we stop automatically reacting to it?

One solution that is being offered for this, is as soon as you realise that you are reacting and generating fear, anger, negativity, then divert your attention to something else. For example, go out for a walk or take a cold shower or go for a run or start counting 1-2-3-4, or repeat a mantra or something like that. And to some extent, this works because the attention is drawn away and to some extent the negativity, the anger, the fear subsides.

However, the solution only works at the superficial level, at the conscious level, because when we divert our attention and do something different, what we really are doing is pushing the negativity into the subconscious. The negativity remains there and whenever another opportunity arises, this suppressed negativity erupts violently like a volcano and it causes us to behave in the same way again and again. So we realise that diverting our attention is not a real way to solve the problem – it’s simply running away from it.

Another solution that has been offered, is to actually face the problem – so whenever negativity, anger or fear arises, observe it. This is a marvellous solution. But anyone who has ever tried it, probably knows that it’s not very practical. The problem is that when, for example, anger arises, it very quickly overwhelms us and we go into it without even having a chance to notice it.

And even if we are able to notice it and we start trying to sit down and observe it, the problem is that, because anger is an abstract concept, instead of observing the actual emotion, we tend to start observing the stimulus, the external stimulus of it – and this, rather than making the negative emotion subside, it actually multiplies it.

However, someone who reached the ultimate truth found a real solution to this problem; and the solution comes from the discovery that whenever this negativity, or this impurity as they call it, arises in the mind, there are two things that happen in the body, physically, and they happen simultaneously.

The first one is that the breath changes its natural rhythm, loses its natural rhythm and becomes heavier – and that is something that with practice it is easy to observe.

The second thing is that inside the body a biochemical reaction happens resulting in some sensation of one or the other type. So with proper training and practice, one can observe the respiration and the sensations that are happening in the body. And this is the foundation of Vipassana meditation: to start observing the breath and observing the body’s sensations; and once we are able to do that, that negative emotion quickly passes away. And the more one practises the technique, the quicker these negativities will dissolve.

What many of us do is look at reality only outwards, externally. But there is also an inner aspect of reality; and when we are ignorant of that, we don’t understand that the real cause of our suffering lies within, so we are always blaming and trying to change the external reality.

Vipassana meditation is this technique of self-observation, of experiencing our own inner reality. One of the wisest, most profound pieces of advice that has ever been given, is “know thyself”, and that’s exactly what it means: observing this inner reality, our own inner reality. And when we experience that, then we learn to stop reacting automatically to negativities and gradually we become liberated from them and we experience true happiness.

And so, before I go into my own personal experience of the retreat, the last thing I will add here is that although Vipassana was taught by the Buddha, the technique has nothing of a religious or sectarian nature. It is truly universal and it applies to people of any background, any religion or even people of no faith whatsoever. It is as universal as the causes of human suffering are universal.

My experience

In terms of my own experience in the Vipassana retreat, for 10 days, there was no speaking, there was no reading, no writing, no phones, no communication with the outside world – in other words, no distractions whatsoever. One was left to work only with their own mind. We had two meals a day – delicious and abundant, there was a lot of food there – but there were very specific hours: the breakfast was served at half six in the morning and lunch was served at 11 in the morning. Then in the evening at five o’clock, there was only tea with a couple of fruits, not a proper meal. This was a very interesting factor that in many ways it allowed a period of time-restricted eating.

In general, from the actual day-to-day schedule, the gong to wake us up would ring at 4 am and at 4:30 we would start meditation. In total every day we had around 10 to 11 hours of meditation.

In terms of the actual meditation technique, I will give a very simplified explanation here for you. There are two stages: the first one is to observe the natural breath in order to be able to concentrate the mind. When this happens, this sharpened awareness of the mind allows the next stage, which is observing the changing nature of the body and mind – scanning the body and observing its changing nature and experiencing the universal truth of impermanence.

For me, and from my personal experience during those 10 days, there were some days that were fairly easy and there were some days that were incredibly hard. And not only physically, because when you are used, for example like me, to exercise most days of the week, then the lack of exercise is something that affects you. You can walk there or you can do some stretches but that’s pretty much it, that’s all you can do. There is no other form of exercise allowed. And of course, sitting to meditate for around 10 hours every day is also a strain on the back and the knees.

Apart from the physical aspect, the real difficulty was the thoughts that would come up – many of them dark. And I personally found some consistent and persistent thoughts coming up, and they were some things from my past, insecurities, some fears, some events of the past that I had buried into the subconscious; I hadn’t thought of them for over 20 years. And they consistently kept on coming up for me to face them.

One thing to note here which is important is that the only communication that you are allowed to have is either with the teacher, if you have questions about the practice or you are battling within your inner world or things like that, or with the course manager if you have any issues with the accommodation etc – but that’s pretty much it in terms of who you can communicate with.

As I was saying, I did have some taxing, challenging, difficult days. One of them was day 2; just when it had started, I felt that I had been there already for quite a few days – but I had only been there one day – it was like I had been there for 3 days at least. Even worse than that was when day 5 started, when I thought to myself “oh my god, I’m not even halfway through the course.”

And of course, all these are thoughts from the mind, fears, insecurities, negativities, whatever the mind does – and it does it all the time, not only when you are in a course like this, but that’s it when you live in your everyday life as well. It tricks you with projections of fears, of negativities, of these impurities that the mind has.

Having said that about the difficulties that I had though, I also had some really good days when I was feeling very energised, and I was feeling like my meditation practice was going very well. I had some important insights during those 10 days – and while some of them are quite personal for me to share here, believe me when I say that there were significant realisations of some mental loops, some patterns of thinking and reacting that I have been doing all my life – and they became totally apparent there because they kept on coming up, and quite intensified as well.

On day 10, the last day of the course, after 10 am we were allowed to speak – it was the transition back to a more extroverted way of life. That was one of the most incredible days, speaking and connecting and sharing with the other students of the course. In total, we were probably around 80 or 90 as I could estimate. We were around 40 male students and the women seemed to be just a bit more than us. That 10th day was utterly joyous: sharing the experience with others, listening to others’ experiences and realising what a gift and what a gem these previous days have been.

In terms of “know thyself”, I feel that I have undoubtedly gotten to know myself better. An analogy that the teacher used was that of surgery. He said that in the same way that a surgeon does the incision and goes into the infected area and there is pus coming out, in the same way, a Vipassana retreat is a surgery of the mind. And the deeper you go, the more of these impurities, these defilements of the mind come to the surface. And that is of course uncomfortable, to say the least; it could be anguish. But once the surgery is over, you are healthy and you’re happy that it has been done!

Let me also share with you my experience in terms of the actual meditation practice I learned – and why this was a crucial realisation and learning for me. I’ll give you a little bit of the background of my history with meditation first: I have been meditating for many years; during these years, I’ve tried lots of different kinds of meditation, like transcendental meditation, chakra meditation, I’ve used apps like Calm, Waking up, or have done meditation where I’m just counting my breath; different sorts of meditations.

For the last three years or so, I have been consistently meditating every single day – I have not missed a day. Having said that, I will add that they were not extensive meditations. In the first year out of those three, I did 10 minutes a day – but it was consistent. Later on, it became 20 and sometimes it would be 30 minutes a day. And what I found during all these years of my practice of meditation was that my progress felt like it was very slow. Sometimes I even felt that I was not progressing at all – that I was just sitting with my eyes closed, thinking for 20 minutes.

Now that I have done this 10-day Vipassana retreat, what I will say with certainty is that I have finally found the meditation practice that I want to follow from now on. And I’m saying that because I realised the level of concentration that I was able to get into and also the level of sensations or altered states that I was able to go in, compared to anything else that I had tried in the past – so as you can imagine, I’m delighted about that.

In terms of the future, of what I am planning to do, there are some things. I will certainly do another 10-day course at some point in the future – and probably maybe next year. I would certainly enjoy going there and enhancing and deepening my practice.

Another thing that I will do will be to go to a course for a few days, maybe three days, and serve – and let me explain something that I have missed to share so far. The finances of the course are only on a donation basis. So, those who have completed the course and have found benefit can give a donation according to their means and volition, with the wish to help others. That’s something I realised personally, that this course I took was paid for through the generosity of the previous students. So it is my turn now to give something towards the cost of the future course, so that others may also benefit from the technique.

Another thing, apart from the monetary donation, is service. The people who were helping in the course were volunteers – they were not paid. So all those people who accommodated us those 10 days, helped us, served our meals and so on, they were all previous students that came back as servers to give. And that’s something that I am going to do in the near future, go for a few days and experience the gift of selfless service.


To start wrapping this blog post up, I will share a couple more things. The first one is that I feel like a weight has been lifted. I feel much more capable of observing my reactions when negativity starts stirring inside of me. Fair enough, I can’t say that I have reached enlightenment, or attained the ability to always remain equanimous and realise the impermanence of everything.

But I have gained a deeper understanding. And when I say understanding, I don’t mean mental or intellectual understanding only; I mean a comprehensive, body-mind-matter understanding of how the mental impurities rise as body sensations and start the negativity – so I have a better understanding of how negativity starts, and even more awareness and understanding of dealing with it and resolving it even.

Another quick mention – I met some incredible people during the course and every single one of them that I had the chance to interact and connect with, they all were in a similarly elated state after the course. Of all the people I spoke with on the 10th day, no one was disappointed or said that this was not worth their time or the difficulties they went through.

As a conclusion, if you have read so far, that shows me that you have something inside of you that is very much interested in and intrigued by the Vipassana technique, and I will invite you to explore the possibility of attending a course. The link to the Vipassana website in dhamma.org

If you want to ask me anything more specific or particular about it, send me a message and I will be very happy to encourage you, if that’s what you need, towards finding the determination to do something so extraordinary as this is.

Vipassana meditation is about the art of living; living a life with real peace of mind, a happy life, a harmonious life, a peaceful life. So thank you for reading – I hope you found this useful and I look forward to your comments or feedback or questions about it, and as I said, if you have read so far, take the next step and go to the Vipassana website and see what resonates with you. They do courses all around the world in different languages and so on.

One final thing to mention: my explanation about the Vipassana meditation earlier on was based on a speech given by S.N. Goenka, the influential teacher who established these non-commercial Vipassana meditation centres globally.