I had a challenging time reacclimating back to normal life after my Vipassana meditation retreat. I transitioned from complete silence, without anything to worry about except sitting, back to my hectic work days and long hours. I went from 0-100 MPH/KM, so to speak. I wish someone had warned me of this challenge in advance, but after speaking with the teacher, she explained that everyone reacts differently, and so it is difficult to forewarn anyone. I decided to consult with my fellow Vipassana meditators to see what helped them during this transitional process from silence to the noise of life. Through their recommendations, as well as my own success and challenges, I came up with this list to help someone successfully acclimate back to the real world after a Vipassana sitting.
1. Take a day or two off from work before returning back to emotionally process
I really wish I had known to prepare some time off for my return. I went straight back to my job as a social worker, which is energetically hard work, to say the least. It took me almost two days to even start calling and texting back friends and family. In retrospect, I could have used a day to gather my thoughts before returning back to work and life.
“The days after the course everything was too intense. I was glad to have one day off in a quiet hotel close to the center, to give myself the time to review my impressions and to get back to [normal] step by step.”- Verena Z., Germany
“Being able to be by myself for the following two days – and journaling.”- Kim H., California
“I had several days before I needed to do anything, so I could ease back into the world slowly.” Anon.
“Not going straight back to work.” – Janine P., Los Angeles
“Going on a solo hike in Joshua Tree right after helped tremendously. And journaling.” Patty L., San Francisco
2. Processing the experience with the right people
Other than for my partner and parents who picked me up, the only people I felt comfortable talking about the experience to, at first, were friends who had completed the course themselves, as well as the teacher. They were able to emphasize and understand my cultural/energetic shock in ways others couldn’t. It becomes hard to explain to people who do not know what Vipassana is, making the transition back to normalcy more challenging. It is also good to know that you are able to e-mail with and even talk on the phone with the teacher if you have any questions or concerns that come up after the retreat.
“I didn’t really want to talk to anyone about the experience, other than my fiancé.” Anon
“Talking with a close friend who did the retreat with me helped a lot with reintegration.” Anon
“I did learn after my first experience to not try to explain. It seems people are either drawn to it or not. Once someone is stratified in the “I cannot”, “I’m too busy”, etc… and they won’t let that go, the have made an unconscious decision to let their habit, reactions, cravings, aversions, etc… drive their lives which is totally ok, just not my bag.” Anon
“It also felt good to talk to friends from the retreat and hear how they were doing.”- Allison S., San Diego
3. Meditate, Meditate, Meditate.
When I was back home, I continued strictly following Goenka’s two-hour a day protocol for meditation. However, I noticed that I wasn’t feeling grounded, as though I couldn’t quite snap back to reality. The teacher recommended temporarily taking a step back, and perhaps only meditating for a half-hour, or really focusing on Metta meditation. When I mentioned that I felt like I was floating during meditations, she recommended that I open my eyes when this was happening to re-ground myself in my surroundings. I am glad I spoke to her when needed, as it really provided me with some strong guidance allowing me to continue my meditation at a pace that suited my busy schedule.
—I later met with a different teacher while serving a course, who I expressed times in my life when I didn’t have the space to meditate for long periods. She said, even if you are only able to sit for a couple of minutes, this is still Vipassana meditation. That made me feel so much better.
“Sticking with the meditations and remembering that everything I was experiencing was impermanent helped a lot. I also held on to two beliefs: 1- that all the amazing experiences from the retreat would stay with me and 2- that even my struggles were learning opportunities. With these practices and understandings, the reality of what was going on for me always felt okay— whether I perceived it to be good or not.”- Allison S., San Diego
“To be honest I haven’t been practicing the meditation according to Goenkas instructions (2 hrs/day) but have instead taken parts of it to incorporate into my existing practice. I’m benefitting greatly from it and am happy to have another technique to add to my toolbox.” Patty L., San Francisco
There is an app/website for old students to access complete (Goenka recorded) group sitting meditations, guidelines for practicing, discourse summaries and other great resources. Contact your center for the username and password.
Be happy, and as always,
4 Ways to Acclimate Back to Normal Life After a 10-Day Silent Vipassana Retreat