How a Vipassana Retreat at Sohna Changed My Life

Silence is a powerful tool to break the shackles of pain and trauma. The breath is the healer, for in it lie memories and life force. Spiritual retreats in India are aplenty and can help resolve mental health issues

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I had given up, my career was in shambles. My brilliant career was dead or so I thought. I didn’t have a job and I wasn’t getting a job. Nothing seemed to be working. It was the beginning of the end or so it seemed. I kept going around in circles and was besieged by questions. Was it my fault? What had I done wrong? Was I ever going to swing back to normal life? Would I rise again? The dream that I had seen for myself had collapsed. I didn’t know what to do. I spent days browsing the internet and trying to find contacts, to somehow find my way back in the job market. I just felt like running away to another world where this would not exist. I didn’t want to face this. But all this wasn’t going to solve the problem.

Every Problem Has A Solution
The truth is that every problem comes with a solution. We just need to find that solution. Finding that solution is not tough but it does appear to be tough. So, let me get to what I did. I sat down and prayed for help. I sat down and asked myself what I wanted to do. But then there were noises all around me and within me. Whenever I would sit and take out my notebook to write, the phone would ring or the bell would go off. It was either time for the maid to come or my mother needed something. Or someone would call to find out about my work progress, and eventually it became a vicious cycle of pain and wounds getting deeper and raw.

Somehow in this pain, I realised that I needed a place where there was no sound. I needed to discover silence to find myself. I knew a place of silence was a monastery or meditation area. And I needed to get away to the place, so I took off for a 10-day Vipassana course. Was I prepared for the rigorous routine—the early morning wake-up, the simple meals, the not-so-comfortable bed, the silence? All the way from Noida to Sohna, throughout the two-hour journey by road, I kept thinking about all the stories I had heard. But my wounds were so deep and raw that I needed this silence. I was prepared.

Power Of Vipassana
Vipassana means to see things as they really are, perceive them in their real nature. One of India’s ancient Buddhist techniques of meditation, taught more than 2,500 years ago as a universal remedy for universal ills, it was brought to India from Myanmar by the late SN Goenka in 1976. I must say that all I had heard about Vipassana’s discipline was actually good for the soul. It was not as tough to follow as I had thought. Maybe it was because I was ready. I needed this time to myself. I had to stop being a victim and become a leader.

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We were to reach the centre by five in the evening. I reached much before time. Registration formalities over, I drank two cups of tea and was on the way to my sparsely furnished room—a narrow bed with blankets, cotton mattress, and concrete shelf to keep my bag. The good part was the two windows. But I didn’t know that I was going to spend all my time in the meditation hall and the narrowness of the room didn’t matter. The narrowness of the physical space would dissolve in the days to come, as I discovered during the course. The narrowness and confines exist in our physical world, the self is infinite and this retreat opened that infinite space for me. I broke through the shackles of the failed attempts to see the truth.

Evening snacks were in a common hall with a defined division between seating for men and women. The rules were laid out. Silence was to begin and there would be no interaction between men and women. Their areas were cut off. We could talk to the women who had offered their service for the meditation course or the teacher only if there was an emergency. The gong would ring to announce the time for meditation and meals.

Getting My Glow Back

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Maybe getting up at 4 o’clock was tough in the first two days, well it certainly was tough, but I did manage. Then it became a pleasure. The sky so dark, peacocks meowing and breeze so fresh hit my face as I would make my way to the meditation hall, a two-minute walk from my room. But these two minutes were pure heaven.

The first three days were just spent focussing on the breath. It isn’t everyone’s cup of tea to silently spend so much time with oneself and it is unnerving, used to as we are to company, people, phones, TV, sound in any form. But it was becoming bliss for me.

I meditated early in the morning, had my breakfast at 6.30 am and bathed. Then it was meditation again and lunch at 11.00 am…but it was the free time between 11 am and 1 pm that was spent sleeping on the grass under the neem tree. As a city dweller have I ever given into this freedom–only on picnics to India Gate, Delhi, when I was a child. It seemed like I had travelled back to another era, where all was fun. Something in my brain was changing. It was slowing down. It was forgetting. It just wanted to be in the moment. The change was perceptible as my expressions changed and dark circles under my eyes were visibly reduced. My little mirror was making me feel good.

As there was no disturbance, it was pure bliss to simply gaze at the vast blue sky, sometimes eagles and crows would hover above. I would watch them soaring high, wanting wings too. It was the time to speculate or perhaps not think and simply enjoy the blue sky, hear the rustle of the leaves and take off the pullover. Early February chill was soon to give way to spring; I had made the correct decision of going into silence in the most amazing weather. I was leaving behind the pain in the womb of silence.

Day 3 to Day 8, were spent feeling the waves of the body, moving around and in and out, going up and down. It was the small cave-like rooms that provided the much needed peace.

Starting To Speak Again

Breaking the silence is another day’s process. But did I really want to break it? It was such a different experience, hearing your own voice after so many days. I made friends with an Austrian artist, Luise Kloos. There were many young girls from Russia, South America, China who had come to experience this meditative silence. A fact unfolded—I thought spirituality was a fad, a term, but when you don’t have access to it, it is a treasure. The girl from China, I forget her name, had landed in Gurgaon on the day of the meditation and left for China the evening it was to end. It was a revelation to know that she had just spent her 10-day vacation from work to experience Vipassana. Would I go to China to experience a monastery and not experience its economic pleasures…? I don’t know.

Luise had come to do Vipassana for the seventh time all the way from Austria. This made me realise that spirituality was neither boring nor serious. Spirituality has no boundaries for it is the path of finding answers, of being with yourself, of learning the art of acceptance and of aligning yourself with the ways of the universe. It is the ultimate teacher, the teacher that teaches you to empower yourself and to make your outer world a place of love and light.

Spirituality and discovering yourself are the ways to walking into the jungle of life and being able to come out without any harm. The animals, the birds, the trees, the pathways are your testing grounds of faith.

Luise and I got talking. She told me about her son’s visit to Mata Amritanandmayi’s Ashram and her walk into the world of the inner being. For her India was a land of exploring and finding herself. She had been coming to India for about a decade now and she always wanted to find time for more access. It was a country full of chaos but love, she said.

Take A Retreat

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Even for us, India offers a gallery of spiritual retreats. Another of my favourite places to find peace is Rishikesh. Just a few hours drive from Delhi, the waves of the Ganga have always managed to make my days calm and nights bring a deep, dreamy sleep. Avoiding the main town and Triveni Ghat, I normally stay at the Parmarth Niketan Ashram or the one of the guest houses on Muni ki Reti. As the name suggests, it is the sands where the saints did their tapasya.

I feel the place never sleeps. The day might change to night, the light might give way to the dark, but the sound of the Ganga’s waves has a particular rhythm. And it is this rhythm that brings peace, especially if you sit in the quiet of the dark on the banks of the river. Watching the waves, hearing the water lapping against itself, one wave after another went by, I realised that the toughest thing to do is to be like water, simply flowing. We bottle up, store so much within our hearts and minds that we become stagnant. We move in circles around the stones that come our way. We stop at the boulders, we get hurt, we cry, but have we ever tried flowing around it. Perhaps no, until someone pushes us to think differently. We are compelled by a force to change.

A retreat can be that compelling force. It can help us find the force; it can bring that change agent in our lives. Every time I have faced a tough situation in life, Rishikesh has been my retreat and I just need a few hours by the Ganga to wash off the stress. The majestic beauty of the mountains, the flow of the river, the prayer chants in the air, the breeze full of sacred energy, and I feel a fresh surge of life within me. This bliss, this force, this change I cannot describe in words, this is something to be experienced.

Even if you are not the kind to spend hours by the Ganga, you could take a trip to the Neelkanth temple or join the yoga class in the ashrams, or simply find someone like you to talk about things other than materialistic. Rishikesh is the yoga capital of the world but more interesting fact is that it is an amalgamation of different countries. Just walk around the main bazaar, or sit in the bakeries and cafes there, and you will find so many more with similar problems and same quest.

When I visit Rishikesh, I am able to figure out why people are attracted to organised spiritual retreats as in the Osho Meditation Resort in Pune or Art of Living by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. A situation is easy or tough is dependent on the outlook. And a meeting place with more like-minded souls can be the first step to finding a way over the boulders, to become free flowing like the fresh waters of the Ganga.

For me, retreat might be to a place out of home, but for my mother the retreat is the evening TV show ‘Awakening with the Brahmakumaris’. Sister Shivani and actor Suresh Oberoi in conversation discussing matters of the soul, treating every situation as a guiding light, as a lesson to be learned, absorbed and practiced is a retreat into the inner world.

A woman lawyer, I recently met, is an Osho fan. She has been to many retreats held in the Pune resort and her way of finding way out of grief, troubles is by listening to Osho at night. ‘Every time I am sad, I listen to his discourse on CD, or read a chapter from his books. This brings so much of calm’, she says. Another lawyer has done the Art of Living course and practices the sudarshan kriya daily. ‘This breathing technique calms me, helps me focus, be with myself to handle the ways of life,’ he says.

As a journalist, I realised that all of us, in any walk of life, are constantly in a flux of changes. All of us need our space, we need time to rediscover ourselves, the mistake we make is in not recognising when to pause. If we take regular pauses, we are more equipped to handle the pressures of life. But if we decide that we are going to take a retreat when we have finished the mainstream of life, we are burnt out. Simple pleasures like folding our legs and sitting on the ground are difficult to do as age progresses. You need back support or diet is an issue. The time is now, regular short retreats to lead a fulfilling life.

Find A Spiritual Retreat

Vipassana Centres, Igatpuri

Said to be the world’s largest Vipassana meditation centre, Dhamma Giri is located at the Vipassana Research Institute at Igatpuri in Maharastra. It is here that the founder SN Goenka gave his first public course in 1976. There are over 400 cells for individual meditation. The 10-day courses are held twice a month, throughout the year.

Bihar School of Yoga, Munger

Founded in 1964 by Swami Satyananda Saraswati, you learn the yogic lifestyle at Bihar School of Yoga. Yoga involves postures, breathing and meditation. But here, emphasis is on service and meditation.

Art of Living, Bangalore

Founded by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the Art of Living programme’s aim is to have a stress-free and violence-free society. The Art of Living courses include breathing techniques, meditation and yoga. The movement has spread peace across communities through humanitarian projects, including conflict resolution, disaster relief, sustainable rural development, empowerment of women, prisoner rehabilitation, education for all, and environmental sustainability.

Prajapita Brahma Kumaris Ishwariya Vishwa Vidyalaya, Mount Abu

This women-centric spiritual movement’s mission is to guide humanity towards its spiritual destiny and help with the birth of Satyug. Today it has over four lakh lay members and 5,000 centres in 87 countries. All Raja Yoga meditations are based on the main philosophy that we are all souls and not just body. There are also many workshops and programmes held at Mount Abu.

29 thoughts on “How a Vipassana Retreat at Sohna Changed My Life

  1. Meditation- single cure for all human suffering.
    Beautiful post Ambika.
    Do check out Yogoda Satsanga Society of India – yssofindia.org established by Paramahansa Yogananda in 1917. His Autobiography of a Yogi and he himself has been regarded as one of the most influential spiritual persons of the last century.
    I too was very disheartened and unfulfilled when Paramahansa Yogananda, my guru, came in my life in late 90s. Life has just been awesome since then 😊🙏

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I can really relate to you when you say, life seems to have come to a standstill and the dreams that you saw for yourself, seem vanishing! I’ve been there. I’ve been to Gorai beach long back but didn’t manage to visit Vipasanna too that day. But then that’s a reason to head back to Mumbai again. Silence is indeed good for the soul. Its nice that to be away from technology, one with nature, and just be silent, and listen to the sound of nature for days together. Yes, I can imagine it to be unnerving at first.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I really want to do something like this as I have so much stress in my life at the moment (and I think the whole world is stressed out at the moment). I would love to get up early in the morning, and drift away into a state of mindless emitions at sunrise. I beg for silence right now. So this retreat really is what I need at the moment. Beautifully written and understand where you are coming from.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your retreat experience and found it very inspirational. This is something I would love to experience and I am sure it is a life-changing experience. I love my own company and I find my place for solitude and reflection is a walk in the forest. I love being at one with nature with no one around and hearing the birdsong and feeling the sun’s rays creeping through the foliage. If I ever get to India I would definitely want to experience something like this.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. It’s a beautiful experience and a retreat. This has been one of my desires to do even though I am not suffering from mental stress or anxiety. I think this has to be one of the best things anyone should do. I knew that India offers varieties and loads of retreats like your Vipassana at Sohna. It’s admiring, really. You’ve also got to listen to your own voice and appreciate the sound of silence, even waking up at 4 am that actually became a pleasure for you—love stories like this as it inspires me. I wish the pandemic would end soon and hoping to make a retreat, too, with my friend in Bali. And one day, probably at Mount Abu, India. As you’ve mentioned.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. This is a very interesting concept. I’ve never heard of it but now that you’ve explained it, I think i’ll definitely be looking into these kinds of retreats. Especially now with how chaotic everything is due to the pandemic and being far away from my origin country, a moment of peace and reflection would be truly appreciated. I loved reading how inspirational this was!

    Liked by 3 people

  7. I’m happy that you found yourself and, and much peaceful than ever. Things happened for a reason. Sometimes we thought there is no solution, but all we can do is just be patient, be what it is, and eventually, we will the solution for our problems. There are times that nature makes ways for us to pause, to become a better person.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Sounds like it was a really powerful experience for you, something to challenge the mind and the spirit. I must be good for the mind to really unwind like this, not sure I’d have the patience to do it, but it’s definitely something I’d like to try at least once.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. I went on a Vipassana silent retreat in Thailand. And while I didn’t mind the silence, the discipline of waking up at 4 am, and the chores, I found the meditation and the spiritual part a bit too much for me. And I simply can’t sit idle for too long. I wish it was okay to at least have a book to read because reading is therapy for me. But it was a good experience nonetheless.

    Liked by 4 people

  10. Two very close friends of mine went for Vipassana and they had the best things to say about the experience as well. I loved how they described the feeling of connecting with your inner self and I was totally inspired. It does sound difficult to be able to keep silent and disconnected from the whole world for a period of time and the talkative person that I am, I will probably really struggle with it! But from the accounts I have heard of people, including yourself, it seems like it could be a life-changing experience!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yes, it certainly challenges the physcial self, even for someone like me who meditates daily. It took me 12 years to finally do this. But even few minutes of silence at home as a daily practice helps a lot.

      Like

  11. Hello atravellerswishlist information or the article which u had posted was simply superb and awesome and to say one thing that this was one of the best information which I had seen and came across so far, thanks for the information #BGLAMHAIRSTUDIO

    Liked by 3 people

  12. It was 2007, in sohna when it wasn’t even called a retreat, I did it. It was a strange experience though, but something I used to go back to, sleeping, waking when ever felt vulnerable.

    Thanks for sharing Ambika
    Nara x

    Liked by 1 person

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