Discussion on: I'm a software developer and a meditation teacher - ask me anything!

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Daragh Byrne Ask Me Anything

Great question. In many modern minds, meditation means Vipassana derived practices (mindfulness of the breath/body, emotion, thoughts and so on). The modern MBSR derived mindfulness movement takes its practices from a mixture of Vipassana and Zen, so the practices themselves are deeply familiar to many people, including myself.

The common meaning of Vipassana is taken to be the popular ten day retreat format. This particular format originated in Myanmar in the 20th century as a result of a number of government and clerical decisions that encouraged non-monastic access to deep meditation practice - its influence on the modern mindfulness and meditation movement is tremendously deep. This style of meditation has become known in the west as Insight meditation (insight into the deeper nature of reality being both the result, and the direct translation, of Vipassana).

I haven't sat a traditional ten day Vipassana retreat. Instead, I've explored a number of long retreats in the Insight tradition (8 and 5 days, multiple times), with western teachers here in Australia. I've found extreme value and experienced deep challenges as a result.

My first retreat was 8 days and was practiced in silence, apart from instruction sessions, Dharma talks and checkins with the teacher. I felt that the particular retreats I chose both honoured the Vipassana practices, but perhaps provided a little more support and a little less austerity that the ten day retreats, based on what I've heard. I was especially heartened to know that my particular teachers were psychologically trained. Meditation is a mental act, and when you engage in it for a longer durations, any underlying psychoemotional challenges can make themselves known.

Sitting in meditation for consecutive days is definitely a challenge, but can be rewarding. I'd recommend bringing a degree of self awareness to your first retreat, or starting with a shorter duration (2-3 days is probably OK). If you have any recent trauma, or any mental health issues, they are absolutely going to make themselves known, so be prepared for that. For example, I sat my first retreat not long after a relationship breakup, so I spent a LOT of time processing that while on retreat.

That said, if you're prepared for it, a longer retreat can be a profound experience. Buddhist practices lay out a path towards liberation of suffering, with an invitation to try it for yourself an see what's true for you. I certainly, after a time, began to experience deep states of mental stillnes, inner peace and a certain amount of insight into the nature of myself. Your milage may vary.

Please let me know if you have any more specific questions.