Vipassana Meditation at Dhamma Dipa: What I did do

So that’s what I didn’t do during my 10-day study of Vipassana Meditation at Dhamma Dipa. Here’s a list of what I did do.

  1. Lived in silence.
  2. Lived in an all-male community where the loudest sound were the birds (until the Harrier Jets passed over).
  3. Saw rabbits before dawn.
  4. Saw not just every sunset and sunrise, but every moonset and moonrise.
  5. Watched a nest of spiders entrap their prey around a light. With our vow of no killing, there was no sweeping away of cobwebs.
  6. Lots of walking, slow and fast. I used the field as a clock sometimes, 6 minutes to make a circuit.
  7. Lots of sleeping (when I shouldn’t have been).
  8. Lots of sitting crosslegged, something I hadn’t done since primary school.
  9. Lots of pain.
  10. Lots of thinking. I spent a lot of time going over my memories and felt a deep appreciation for all the people I’ve met and ridden with.
  11. Lost any reasonable idea of social graces and personal appearance. Scoffed food, nails long and grubby, beard shabby and dandruff all over the place.
  12. Watched a bee pick pollen from a blue flowered plant.
  13. Ate gorgeous vegetarian food and spectacular breakfasts.
  14. Meditated (a bit).
  15. I learnt a bit about myself, about how frustrated I get with petty annoyances, how bored I get without mental stimulation.
  16. Sat in a hall with 120 other people and listened to the sounds of coughing, sneezing, sniffing, shifting, scratching, swallowing, farting, breathing, crying.
  17. Laughed hard at the teacher’s hilarious discourses in the evenings (the only intellectual stimulation allowed).
  18. Heard an owl hooting in the night.
  19. Heard foxes screeching.
  20. Woke up and got up at 4am everyday – or before.
  21. Had crazy cool dreams.
  22. Created an aversion to the sound of a gong.
  23. Got paranoid that my co-meditators hated me. The slightest body-language snub was a cause for boiling paranoia.
  24. Listened to the most appalling chanting noises, sounding like the final death rattle of our teacher, and still kept my equanimity (almost).
  25. Spent a lot of time looking at my clock, counting down the minutes and the days.
  26. Felt a surge of joy every morning to be out in the cold and sometimes the misting rain and to be looking out over the valley and the woods, out into the silence.
It’s a list that goes on and on, believe me. I repeatedly fail to quite capture the experience of frustration and joy that went with the 10-days at Dhamma Dipa. You’ve just got to try it for yourself. But you can read my attempt to capture more of my experiences here.

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David Charles is co-writer of BBC radio sitcom Foiled. He also writes for The Bike Project, Thighs of Steel, and the Elevate Festival. He blogs at

12 thoughts on “Vipassana Meditation at Dhamma Dipa: What I did do”

  1. That is a great (whoops, unequanimous) summary of life at Dhamma Dipa….and a joyful (is joy equanimous? It took me a while to figure those boundaries out) reminder of the two months I’ll be spending there from February, nourishing my severely energy-depleted soul……… 🙂

    Dammit….I like your blog. And I resisted for so long!


  2. Thanks Zoe! I used the mighty power of equanimity only last night, when I couldn’t sleep. Instead of getting pissed off, I repeated to myself those soothing words – “Ani-churrrr, ani-churrrrr… This too shall pass, this too shall pass…”

    I fell asleep about three hours later, so it obviously works!

  3. Hey David

    Its actually ‘anichcha’ 🙂 Just wanted to contribute as I have myself returned from a 10 day course and am planning to go for another immediately preceding one course I want to serve as a Dhamma Sewak (Server)

    And yes me too found the teachers’ voice during chanting very very funny:)

    Be Happy
    Prashant Sood

  4. It changed me quite a bit, I did my first one in 1997 – I did it having been out of the army for 7 years so I was still pretty ‘militarised’ – looking back it was like going through a real ‘men that stare at goats’ experience : ) – but it definitely changed me.(for the better ! ) A few things happened over the 10 days – we viewed the hale bopp comet during a rest period as it passed through the night sky and I spoke to someone next to me, only a few words something like ‘that’s amazing’ and during one of my sittings of strong determination I was ‘flying through the stars’ in my minds eye….which was a unique experience.
    I also nearly stood up in the meditation hall during one of the hour long meditation sessions and punched the guy behind me who was farting and belching his way through what seemed like the most excruciating hour of my life, I could smell and almost taste the last meal from his ‘arisings’. I was so angry my whole body was red hot and my clothes were soaking wet with sweat, just from sitting there ! I didn’t though, and it felt like something had left me afterwards. Another time during the hour long meditation sessions I drifted in and out of semi consciousness and awareness, sometimes anxious that I had just shouted something at the top of my voice and everyone else was carrying on and ignoring me. Of course I hadn’t as the ‘male manager’ would have come over and asked me if I was ok ! The whole silence thing has an effect – it tested me but strangely at the time I never once felt as though giving up was necessary. There were a few wide eyed ‘retreat’ junkies there, visiting all the dhamma retreats around the world – an Aussie guy, who was pretty wide eyed, came up to me in the first bit when you can talk to your ‘peers’ and wanted to start to start a discussion about grenade launchers and ‘torching the villes’ in Vietnam ‘ a reference to when the villages where burnt to the ground by western forces’ – that was pretty weird and it raised a few questions !!!
    Since then I’ve done a couple more retreats and so has my wife (who introduced me to it) and our two boys – who in their teenage years did the children s course, I was very pleased that they did it. I recommend the experience to people and I reassure you that your experience will most likely be less ‘cinematic’ than the one I had, I know for a fact their are a lot less ‘retreat junkies’ there now : ) Wishing you experience real happiness – Al

    1. Hey Al – That’s a great story! It’s funny: I’ve never done another retreat since that one in November 2010, but recently I’ve been wondering if I should do it again. I learnt a lot about myself as well, particularly my paranoias and anxieties. One axiom from the course that I’ve always kept with me is: “This too shall pass”. I find that thought very useful when faced with those two imposters, triumph and disaster. Good luck to you! DC

      1. The retreat is mixed up with dogma and ritual IMO too. However, there is a lot more science to it as well, unfortunately there is reluctance to really look at the science within the tradition.
        I suspect you’ve missed the deepest aspects of what Goenkjai is teaching but its hard to take it all in. I’ve met many very long term practitioners who have missed the subtle aspects, and no doubt I’m still missing things.
        Here’s a link to a guy called Gary Weber and a free pdf which can give a more scientific understanding.
        There’s a pop up but it can be downloaded for free. I suggest you find someone to talk to who knows a bit more about the subject on modern practice, there are some, but I’ve never met any who are only willing to stick to Goenka practice. Many of the pali terms used appear to be mistranslations and point you away from the original meaning.

        1. You’re definitely right that I have missed a lot! I have recently been pondering going back and having another experience at Dhamma Dipa, to learn more. The book you link to looks interesting as well – I’ll try and track it down in a library. Thanks for helping me along the road!

  5. Thinking of doing one next month. This blog will make it more do-able for me cos I will know what to take wth a pinch of salt. Thanks for taking time to reflect so honestly and write so clearly.

    1. I hope you enjoy it! Vipassana is tough, but very rewarding in the long run. I’m glad I did it, and I’d even consider doing it again – but, as you say, taking everything with a pinch of salt. All the best, David

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