Vipassana in the City

With lockdown three putting a stop to my hopes of attending a Vipassana retreat this January. And my need for solitude, silence and a solid practise of meditation feeling crucial to my overall mental health right now. I decided to down tools, step away from technology and make my own attempt at a two day retreat here at home in London.

It’s not as if normal life isn’t feeling like incarceration as it is. I figured, I might as well try and benefit from it.

It’s by no means easy to replicate the same environment of a retreat centre like the much loved IMC centre in Chippenham, where I had hoped to be attending the course next week. For starters I only have a small terrace outside the back of my Mum’s home in North London. This means the necessity of nature requires me to venture out past busy roads, to join the hustle and bustle of everyone else on their daily walks.

Part of the magic of Vipassana is that it is silent. You remove yourself from all distraction, take a vow of silence and hand in your mobile phone technology at the beginning of the course. The centres are usually surrounded by idyllic countryside away from people.

The silence helps to calm and balance the mind, aiding for a deeper meditation practise.

Attempting to recreate this in the heart of the city is difficult, however I surrendered expectation and decided to adopt my own variation of the traditional technique. My main objective was to abstain from any communication with other people, turn off all technology and increase my meditation practise throughout the two days.

The goal was to try this out over the weekend, to see if I can work up to longer stint next week when I was due to be attending the retreat.

Vipassana can be both physically healing as well as psychological

Some key learnings:

  • While I managed to maintain silence with my Mum by writing her a little note to explain why I’d been ignoring her all weekend, (I must remember to write that at the beginning of my silence, and not 24 hours into the practise as I did this time lols), I didn’t fair as well with my cat. I found myself talking to Cheeks more than ever. 
  • The vow of silence actually brought out an urge to sing. As someone who has been nurturing my singing voice, I welcomed this opportunity, and decided to write some of it down as it came through. Funny how creativity chooses the worst time to make an appearance. I think that’s how it works actually, when you least expect it, the channels open and inspirations floods in.
  • Going on my nature walks, in the peak of lock down at lunchtime are the worst idea ever! Not only is every park reminiscent of the heights of Glastonbury festival right now. But thousands of people are descending on London’s outdoor space all at the same time. I can easily rectify this with an early morning walk instead.
  • Always pre-prepare what you want to eat over the retreat, so you can save going to the shops. The least amount of time you can spend in the outside world the better.
  • I found the switching off from all technology really easy to do. Even for that alone, this weekend will have been a success.
  • I could probably double the amount of time spent in meditation. Next time I will create a bit more structure. I did get a burst of productive energy and ticked off some outstanding things on my to do list that have been lingering for some time. I also caught up on some reading which isn’t really allowed when you’re in a traditional retreat.
  • Vipassana in the city is hard, but not impossible. I think we actually strengthen our practise by meditating in cities like London where there is so much noise and distraction. 

A traditional Vipassana retreat is held over a consecutive ten days.

I hope to do the same again next weekend, maybe adding a couple more days for good measure. Without the luxury of a large back garden I don’t think I can commit to any longer than two-three days at most. Otherwise I start to miss nature, which is such an important part of the process.

Why not try creating your own mini meditation retreat at home. For even more success, why not get your partner or family members involved. My Mum works over the weekend which makes it possible.

I’d love to know how you get on.

G x

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