I rode this motorcycle to and from my most-recent ten-day retreat

Ten-Day Vipassana Retreats

An Old Student’s Perspective

Duncan Riach
6 min readOct 20, 2020

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As I write this, I’ve attended a Goenka-style ten-day Vipassana retreat four times, which makes me an “old student.” These retreats represent industrial-grade meditation training and practice, demanding around ten-and-a-half hours of meditation per day. If you’re reading this, you’ve probably either attended at least one, or you’re planning to attend one. In order to get the most from these retreats, here are four things I’ve learned to value.

Return to the Practice

Everyone’s retreat experience is unique, and different content seems to come up each time for the same person. For me, a recurring thread that runs through my retreats is some form of emotional distress. On more than one occasion, I’ve considered going to the teacher asking, “Is it normal to be this emotionally disturbed?” I usually answer this kind of question myself: it doesn’t matter. What’s happening is what’s happening; there is no escape from it. What’s being asked for is to return to the practice: bring the attention back to the sensations within the framework of the body.

If I believe what Goenka tells me, this practice releases a ton of sankaras (old psychological imprints) which manifest as all the things I struggle with on these retreats, such as anxiety, loneliness, regret, lust, and a desire to be famous. That’s the roller coaster I’m on. I imagine that I’m dealing with all this stuff in normal life to some degree, but I’m just not as conscious of it happening. These imprints also probably come up more intensely during a ten-day retreat, when I have time and intention to keep returning to the sensations and to sit with all of it for long periods.

So when I find myself struggling on these retreats, I try to remember that this is part of the process and that the content of the suffering isn’t important. I remember that I must be unconsciously pushing away or grasping at sensations, and I use the suffering as a reminder to “start again” (as Goenka keeps saying) and return to the meditation hall and return to the sensations.

Returning to the equanimous mind, the practice, and the meditation hall, can be thought of as a pragmatic expression of the triple gem, the taking refuge in the buddha, the dharma, and the sangha…

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Duncan Riach

Top Writer. Self-Revealing. Mental Health. Success. Fulfillment. Flow. MS Engineering/Technology. PhD Psychology. duncanriach.com