The Dhamma Pataka center, near Worcester in the Western Cape, offers a 10 day meditation retreat that will show you a whole new world. You are guided through the Anapana and Vipassana meditation techniques by the venerable SN Goenka, current leader of the global Dhamma movement, and whether you come from a background of meditation or are a complete beginner, you quickly realize that the next 10 days will not be a retreat of calm, tranquil musings. The thoughts and feelings, easy and difficult, tear through you at quite a rate, spurred on by the fact that you are developing your mind into a tool designed to be able to cut through to the deepest parts of your psyche. In doing so, you are bombarded with issues both old and new, petty problems and defining moments.
In order to develop your equanimity - the ability to maintain a sense of calm and understanding of life's impermanence - you are taught to observe the sensations of the body. A simple process, but essentially one that cuts right to the heart of reality. While you are busy maintaining your emotional balance through a searing pain in your back, you are developing your ability to maintain strength and understanding in life's more complicated difficulties. While you detach from the beauty and serenity of meditation's friendlier moments, you are allowing yourself to understand that pleasure is just as impermanent as pain, and attachment to it can only bring misery in the future.
As you work on this functional, practical level, you are releasing yourself from the holds of misery, from the cravings and aversions that steal your ability to think clearly and enjoy the moment. However, you are also bringing up more than your fair share of past difficulties and future worries. In your shell of non-communication, you undergo what 99% of people in this world never will - complete, extended isolation...
It's just you and your thoughts, and a meditation regime that threatens to overwhelm you at any point. All in the name of consciousness :)
In following blogs, I'll chat a bit more about the experience and what I learned along the way. For a more practical description of the retreat, and the logistics if you wish to attend, visit the Dhamma Pataka site here.