10 Lessons Learned from 100 Hours of Meditation

I recently spent 10 days of my life meditating for 10 hours a day.

100 hours of meditation!

How was it?!?

Well, I’ve been trying to figure out how to put what was a very indescribable experience into words. Here’s my best attempt at capturing 10 lessons learned.

Props to my brother who asked if I was like Ron Swanson meditating, which led to this meme.

10 Lessons 10 Days

#1 Vipassana 10 Day Courses Are Hardcore

There was no easing into the course.

Day 1 we jumped right into meditating for about 10 hours a day. And I mean that. 4am wake, then meditate for 2 hours. Breakfast & break, then a 3 hour meditation block. Lunch & break, then a 4 hour meditation block. Snack, then a 1 hour meditation and 1 hour lecture.

You follow the schedule rigorously. You follow the rules rigorously.

It felt like we had entered into a voluntary extreme mental bootcamp of sorts and once we were on the rollercoaster, well we were on it.

#2 Not Talking, Not Writing, Not Reading Are Easy

If you read my other post “Why I’m Going Silent for 10 Days”, you’ll know that during the retreat you can’t talk, make eye contact, read, write, do yoga, go jogging, eat snacks outside of scheduled times, etc etc. It sounds miserable.

But you know what? It was all totally fine.

Not having to make small talk when you’re trying to do a total mental demolition and refurb was a huge relief. And no sensory input in enables your mind to get seriously still.

#3 Meditating For 10 Hours A Day Is Hard

No bones about it, 10 hours a day meditating is a long time. Some sessions were blissful, some were ridiculously boring, some were filled with terrible nerve pain.

It tested me, big time.

#4 Nature Is Awesome

While I was living in my inner world, I took extreme delight during my walks to the meditation hall and on our 1/4 mile trail during breaks. I connected with rabbits, hummingbirds, dragonflies, cacti, the wind, rocks, lizards, some sort of pigeony looking bird, and trees. I spent at least 10 minutes one day watching ants building a new ant pile. Sound really boring? I actually found myself filled with joy and wonder.

Some of the many nature photos I took on Day 11 when I got my phone again.

#5 Our Minds Are Wild

When you are absolutely quiet and not taking in a lot of information you realize how totally unsettled our minds usually are.

Comparisons came up. I caught myself making up stories about other participants with whom I was having zero interactions.

I found my mind caught in a lot of loops that I didn’t even want to be in! One of the bigger ones: wedding planning which really bummed me out because I’ve been trying to be chill about the whole thing, but there it was, staring me in the face.

My mind majorly calmed down on Day 2 or 3, and what a relief. And even in that calm state I realized how much of my own discomfort and dissatisfaction is just my a product of my mind.

It’s as if a wild animal normally runs our minds and we’re not even aware of it.

#6 Our Brains Are Fascinating

Brains are what are recognizing sensory information and our minds are interpretting it into a story.

Brains → Recognize sensory info
Minds → Make up a story about it

When you are very very still, with your eyes closed for most of the day, your brain can do some AMAZING STUFF. My hearing became super sonic after a few days. I could pick out different birds by their call. I started recognizing how the wind sounded passing through different types of trees.

#7 Our Bodies Are Amazing!

Not sure how I missed this in my research on this meditation course, but you spend 6 days doing a body scan, which is Vipassana meditation. And while that sounds ridiculously boring, WOW OUR BODIES ARE FASCINATING.

Selfie time, Day 11 when I was released into the wild. Badass background courtesy of Joshua Tree National Park.

Starting on Day 4 or 5 all that stillness started to light my body up like a Christmas Tree. We have something like 500 nerves per square inch of skin. I think I might normally feel about 2; many times during the retreat I swear I felt all 500.

One day, I experienced what I can only describe as delightfully cooling peaceful yet also energetic skin tingles for 1.5 hours straight. I thought I had broken through to the other side!

HOUR 54 = A JOYOUS HOUR OF PEACE!

Yet, I also had ridiculously painful searing hot nerve pain shooting from my shoulder down into my hip for 1 hour one day, which I declared to be “The Longest Hour of My Life.”

HOUR 63 = LONGEST HOUR OF MY LIFE

Even weirder was when I experienced a terrible throbbing pain that felt neverending, and then—after 45 minutes of constant turmoil—it suddenly disappeared without me moving at all.

Which brings me to…

#8 We Create Our Own Reality

This is a deep topic not really fit for my listicle write up. But, yeah I already kind of believed this, and now I totally do. At some point I felt like I was able to reframe my reactions to all events, positive or negative and for a few moments I got to some deep level of true inner peace.

My take-away: Stuff happens around us, and our peace of mind comes from how we react to it. Problem is: 99.9% of our reactions happen subconsciously, so it takes some deep digging to rewire our brains.

#9 We Can Totally Rewire Our Brains

If you had told me on Day 8 that we were actually part of a Jedi Mind Training Course To Rewire Our Brains, I would have believed you.

Even 2 days into the course, I could see how my brain was being reshaped. I felt less reactive. I saw thoughts coming from very far away and was able to just let them float on by.

It was incredible.

I felt like Neo at the end of the Matrix when he realizes he can control the Matrix.

Me, to all my thoughts & attachments (retreat only, see lesson #10).

#10 BUT…We Have To Practice

I got to some deep insights on this retreat. Related to my own reactivity, my relationship with trying to control time, my work purpose, and my emotions. I felt lighter, more powerful, and way more peaceful after 10 days.

Then, I came back home.

And it all felt a bit like a dream rapidly fading away.

Where was my zen!?! It was just here!!!

Which brings me to the most important lesson, #10. Whatever we want to keep, we’ve got to practice. Because anything profound has to be continuously practiced and integrated into our lives. Otherwise it’s a strong experience that weakens to become just a story we tell.

That book won’t do you much good! Practice in advance might :)

Coming back, I have experienced how absolutely essential it is to keep up with my meditation practice, every day. It’s not enough for me to write this article about the experience, it’s not enough to reflect on it, it’s not enough to talk about it.

I have to sit down and actually practice. Happily. And consistently.

As I realized in the retreat, there is power in practice!

— With love, maria

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Thank you to Amanda Kwok for your facebook post inspiring this article. And to my asynchronous Vipassana retreat experiencers Catherine Pao, Amanda Lubin, Teddy Daiell & Alex Abelin.

Writing on meditation, behavioral psychology, and applied ethics. Stanford MBA, Bain alum, certified Koru Mindfulness teacher.