A day at 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat in Sri Lanka

Kristjan Keres
9 min readFeb 3, 2019

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In January 2019, I spent 10 days at the Vipassana meditation centre in Dhamma Anuradha, Sri Lanka. It’s a strenuous course with total disconnection from the outside world in Noble Silence (including no speaking, no writing, no reading). One has to follow a fixed timetable with 10 hours of meditation per day.

The aim of Vipassana meditation is to make one see things as they really are, and, among others, to create more awareness, control, equanimity, peace and happiness in your life.

This post is not to describe in more detail what Vipassana meditation is about, rather, it is to give an overview on how a regular day at the course feels and looks like. All the notes and pictures were made after, not during the course.

4am — 6:30am | wake-up meditation session

Gong. Gong.. Gong… And so the bell rings 8 times.

It’s 4am. Time to wake up!

I take a moment to open my eyes, realise where I’m and why I have to wake up in this pitch blackness. A pleasurable sleepy feeling starts to come back, but only 5 minutes later — it’s the gong again. Now, 5 times!

One thing for sure.

I’m still at the meditation centre in the middle of tropical Sri Lanka.

Another day in silence,
with no external distractions whatsoever, begins.
And I’m starting to like it. More and more, day by day.

I stand up. Brush my teeth, refresh my body, drink a litre of water and stretch some of the sore muscles from the earlier days.

As everyone has to wear white, I put on the light linen clothing I was given. Plus, a shawl for my head and shoulders.

I exit my cell.

Outside, I join the fellow white zombies randomly walking around in our moonlighted garden. Only to be little Buddha statues minutes later in the meditation hall.

The first meditation session of the day is on.

I close my eyes and start to follow the breath and sensations on the body. As the mind is still half-sleep, it’s difficult. I can’t really understand either if I’m sleeping or meditating. It’s usually something in-between.

The haziness is alerted not only by the hunger in the body, but also by the beautiful sound festival presented by the peacocks as a sign of the sunrise. The chanting session by our teacher follows soon after.

The nature has woken up, and both have we. It’s time for the long-awaited breakfast.

6:30am — 8am | time for breakfast (and morning nap)

I go to the table, which was dedicated to me in the beginning. Table umber 19.

The buffet Sri Lankan rice and curry selection is amazing. And always, as by the course standards, fully vegetarian.

The combination of the 2 matches my appetite perfectly, and my eating capacity seems to top all the other meditators. Even the servants give me a small peculiar smile every time.

Yet, as I’m gazing the other body-and-plate ratios, it seems I’m not the only one not following the “eat 75% of your capacity, so it’s better to meditate” recommendation.

I wash my plates, dry and return them neatly back under a towel on my table.

My (very) basic bedroom on the left, and dining hall on the right. Note how all the tables (which are lower than my knees) are facing only one direction to avoid any kind of communication with each other (incl. eye contact).

As a morning habit, I walk around for 15 minutes on the one pathway we have. In need of the fresh morning breeze. Peaceful.

At 7:10am, I have 45 minutes to have the-very-important-power-nap before the next session. Napping is not encouraged by the staff, but as a first-timer it seems to be so essential for the extra energy and strength it gives.

Until, the sound of the gong! 2nd wake-up call of the day to remind the meditation starts in 10 minutes.

8am — 11am | strong-will meditation and equanimity

With the fresh feeling, it’s easier to start the first 1-hour Adhitthāna sitting of the day (2 more to come later). The sitting of strong determination. The most difficult part of the course, where no-one is allowed to exit, neither change their posture. Or to put it simply, not move at all.

It requires a total determination and concentration, as it’s very likely that one goes through several stages of physical pain and tension during this period.

I decide to take the half-lotus position. For the first 20 minutes, I’m lacking any pain and feeling quite pleasant. Yet, at some point, the pain starts hitting my shoulders, my hamstrings, and at times, my knees.

My mind says “It’s impossible! I need to move. Now!”
I say “No-no! Let’s go, let’s go! I can do it.”

And so, I resist and resist for numerous times.
But how can I face the pain, yet stay put?

Equanimity is the answer. During the course, we learn to observe unpleasant (and also, pleasant) sensations without any reactions. In other words, despite pain, we can feel less or almost no pain. I just have to watch it from the side as something impermanent.

And amazingly, it works. Of course, not always that easily, but each time there is something new I embrace, study and discover — from pain.

My body is grateful it finished,
but my mind thankful, I fought.

The remaining 2-hour meditation is more flexible. I can change my posture whenever I feel like and take small 5-minute breaks.

Despite some progress, my mind is still wild — the most random thoughts and ideas keep popping up here and there. Yet, it’s incomparable to the madness in my head on the first days.

The morning session finishes. Gong rings, off I go. Always amongst the first ones to exit, as if I’m not hurrying. My meditation seat number 19 is nearby the door and gives me a slight edge.

The teacher of our course at Dhamma Anuradha, Ven. Bhikkhu Amatawimala, after the breakfast.

11am — 1pm | lunch and walking time (and again, nap time)

But after all, it’s 11am — time for the the second and last proper meal of the day. Again, impeccable. The red rice with lentil curry, potato curry, chickpeas and grated coconut to fresh it up with some cucumber and chilly. Mmm.

Plus, today I also get lucky. I get some papaya as a gesture from the monks, which we are not usually served. It’s the extra sweet, tender and delicious one. A good day!

A small smile on my face, I do my regular 5-lap afternoon-walk. Besides relaxation of the mind, it also serves as a small physical exercise, which is otherwise not allowed. A few other walkers join me every day.

Good moment for another much-needed nap. The room feels like a sauna, but it doesn’t seem to bother the exhausted mind. Around 50 minutes of rest it is.

Until, again, we’re woken by the almighty bell.

Our 200 metre walking area. Green and lush during the day, mystical and hazy at night. Always, magical.

1pm — 5pm | longest meditations and tea, little things and peacocks

Back to the meditation hall. The longest session is starting.

Concentration back on!

Afternoon start with a 1h30min of “flexible” meditation, where one can meditate either in the hall or in the room, depending on the feeling. I choose 50 minutes in one and 30 minutes in the other. Plus 10 minutes for a rest.

After a small break, at 2:30pm, the second 1-hour Adhitthāna group sitting starts. The hardest one of the day — mostly, because of the tropical heat, as it’s the middle of the day and 34°C outside.

This time I go with the on-the-knees-and-ankles-next-to-my-butt position.

Patience. Persistence. Determination. Hard work.
My body is shaking out of the tension.

I constantly push myself. I’m not giving up. I can do it.

My mind gets disturbed, as I hear how the guy next to me is leaving the hall despite the rules, and gives food for thought.

Yet, soon after this — the end. The body parts that died during the session are coming back to life…

All good. Huh! I survived another one. Satisfaction.

Only 1 like this left for today.

I quickly take a cold shower, change my soaking wet T-shirt for a new one and return for the last meditation hour of the afternoon.

Our meditation hall. Who has more pillows stacked up, the men on the left, or the women on the right? Not a hard one, huh. Gives the required flexibility for the application of different meditation postures.

Everything goes nicely. Mind is more calm. Yet, at times, I can notice some internal stress. Questions like “Why am I here? Am I doing everything right?” come to the head. And not for the first time.

After all, getting more aware of your thoughts, feelings and sensations is what one learns through Vipassana every day.

I take some time to think it through. Focus back on. Relax.

5pm — 6pm | tea break, little things and beauty of peacocks

Until, gong! It’s time for the dinner. Ah, no! I was dreaming. It’s time for tea.

Never any surprise here. The same tea complimented with the same cookies, the same little mini bananas. 6 of each I have. And 1 banana to the pocket for the potential emergency hunger that might hit.

Here we sit again, closely, side-by-side in the dining hall.

Surrounded by Brazilian on the right, Slovakian on the left, Japanese at the back and American in the front. All in complete silence. Savouring the last bites of the day. Everyone in their own world.

We are having the last walk before the sunset.

It’s beautiful to perceive, how day-by-day everyone starts to notice and embrace even the littlest things around us.

Our senses are caught by the bright green leaves on the tree, the rocky structure beneath us, the nature playing it songs and the sunlight touching the face.

And, the sight of peacocks. Only 3 meters by. Oh, how beautiful. They usually pop up on distance here-and-there, but today one came almost next to me. I follow his footsteps, and marvel for minutes. Thank you.

While at the retreat, it’s hard to imagine a sight more beautiful and graceful than of a male peacock.

6pm — 7pm | last group sitting

Back to the hall. The final and the third Adhitthāna group sitting starts.

I choose yet another posture for the session. And feel, how the intense concentration of the evening leads to the best meditation experience.

Through wavering agony and bliss, I’m surprised and wowed.

I experience a wide range of sensations. Within the body, in the body, by the body. Incredible discoveries.

The last “sitting of strong determination” ends on high notes. Another step forward. Makes me eager to see what I can learn more in the upcoming days.

7pm — 9:15pm | evening discourse and instructions

The day closes with an evening discourse — the core teachings of Vipassana. If everything else is mostly physical, then this is an intellectual experience. Presented on videotape by “the man” behind everything — S.N. Goenka.

Evenings are always a pleasure, as the guidance helps to put the picture together.

The things that the teacher says, the rules that we have to follow, and why we do what we do — all starts to make more sense.

Also, Goenka is a brilliant character and speaker, who is able to engage everyone without even being there. We have a great laugh as he humorously “touches” the feelings each one had during the day.

After 1 hour of “entertainment”, with bright moon in the sky, I walk back to my cell. I wash, change clothes and get prepared for sleep.

But wait, not so fast!

Before getting rest, we have to pay the last visit to the meditation hall. We do the pre-night 20min group meditation with fresh instructions just obtained from the discourse. Compared to everything else, this goes by so fast and easily.

The information board with all the essentials and reminders for our daily lives. Equanimity stands out.

At 9pm, we are all back in the rooms. Lights out.

Being a basic residence, which is well-inhabited by different bugs, I protect myself with the mosquito net to every detail. Peace of mind.

I observe what’s going on in my head, count the days we have left and keep repeating the foundation words of Vipassana meditation:

Impermanence. Equanimity.
Impermanence. Equanimity.

Not sure, if I’ve got everything right, but…

“Work diligently, diligently. Work ardently. Work persistently and patiently. You are bound to be successful, bound to be successful.” they said.

I trust the progress. The unknowingness. The mystery.

I close my eyes. And rest.
With gratefulness.

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For more information on Vipassana meditation, its worldwide centres and courses, please check out
dhamma.org. I also recommend you to watch TEDx Talk “Vipassana Meditation and Body Sensation”. For regular updates on my life, thoughts and travels, please visit my profile on Instagram.

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Kristjan Keres

positive and entrepreneurial mind / world traveller / MSc, MBA / former CEO / former pro basketball player