Vipassana Meditation Camp Review: the Good, Bad, and Ugly

Wow okay. So I went for a meditation camp from 3-14 May. I first heard of it from Celestine Chua’s blog, and she said it was useful to her. Now that I’m still quite free I thought I’d try it out.

The official Singapore site is here.

Vipassana advocates for seeing things and accepting reality for what it is, instead of what you want it to be. In that spirit, I’m going to try to write a realistic review.

Unlike Celes’s review that I linked to above, mine will be pretty full of spoilers. If you prefer to go in without knowing anything, don’t read further.

The Good

The view. Sunrises and sunsets every day, and stars at night. I saw birds I’ve not seen before. You can hear boats and waves too. Tall trees and dappled light. The smell of the sea, carried by the delicious breeze.

The meditation. It was really interesting to learn more about it! I found that it helped me deal better with pain. Because we’re supposed to try to feel the sensations in our body and look at them neutrally, I found that pain fades away. When I focus and get curious about the pain, it actually disappears. When I asked myself “Why is this feeling considered painful? Why is pain bad?” I realised I had no real answer. Or rather, my answer was that pain reminds me of death. Death was bad and I had to avoid it. Then I realised that most discomfort and most pain won’t actually lead to death, and death was a natural consequence of life anyway.

It was an interesting rabbit hole of thoughts. And it’s not as morbid as you think – I suppose it did help me face up to reality more calmly.

The quiet. It was very peaceful on St John’s Island and because we weren’t supposed to speak or communicate at all for the first nine days of the camp, it was calm. I personally really liked it haha.

The escape from reality. It’s an excuse to put down all your responsibilities and focus on meditation for ten days. They confiscate your phone after all! In return, you explore the reality of your own self and look inwards.

The food. Yep, it was good. Simple vegetarian food, and the menu changes daily. My course had Chinese, Indian and Indonesian food, soup, some salads, fruit, nuts, yoghurt, bread. However, your last meal at 5pm is really just some fruit, so I was occasionally hungry. I used the chance to be less afraid of hunger – it will pass, and there will be food again anyway.

The people. They separated the men and women so I only made new friends of one gender. But they were really interesting and very warm people! Much more variety than the typical Singapore: I met people from Brazil and Spain, for example.

The Bad

Heat. Oh god the heat. It was hot and humid and muggy Singapore. In the evenings I could feel the sweat rolling off my back. The sea breeze helped sometimes, but wow it was terrible. There were fans only, and they were sometimes too feeble to help. I later learned from a helper that St John’s is one of the terriblest places to do the course, and other countries offer better weather and facilities. But I guess the heat also helps me be more comfortable with being uncomfortable, too.

Mosquitoes. Haha this one. I chose to wear long sleeved shirts just to fend them off. I’d rather the heat than mosquitoes. And you can’t kill them, because there was a rule of not killing other beings while you’re there. (I did accidentally kill one though.) There were many other creatures too (flies and ants for example, and a spider the size of my outspread hand, which scuttled under my bed) but well, those are harmless.

The meditation. You really can’t do anything except sleep eat and meditate. Sometimes the time tends to crawl along. The first few days felt like the longest few days of my life. It was seriously hard at first.

The Ugly

Religiousness. On the website it claimed to be completely secular, but actually every night we listen to some Buddhism based concepts (the meditation originated from there after all). Yes the method itself was secular; the theory underpinning it was not. They talked about reincarnation and how life was full of suffering, and about how the meditation could help you escape that. It’s a really small part of the day so it was alright, though I wished they were more upfront about this. Perhaps scared of scaring people away?

So…was it worth the time?

After coming back I’m calmer, I think. My head is more in the moment and less prone to anxiety. I’m not sure how long this will last, so I’ll be seeing what happens as time goes on. Either way, it was an interesting experience, and made me a lot more comfortable with discomfort (heat, mosquitoes, time crawling by, pain).

It’s up to you if you can spare the time! I think it’s a good way to get in more practice, which will help if you decide to meditate regularly. I don’t regret going, because it really was interesting and it challenged me too. You can sign up at the official site I linked to above if you’d like – there’s another run in the second half of July this year.

If you do go, enjoy the experience!

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