It was during a trip to New Zealand back in 2008 that I first heard about the free guided meditation courses of Vipassana.
Taking place in dedicated centres around the world, these 10 day retreats are conducted in silence and offer a step-by-step chance to learn a very specific sort of meditation technique.
The man who first told me about them was a lovely, wise yoga teacher that I was volunteering with and who still remains a good friend today.
He had completed several of these free guided meditation courses in both his native New Zealand and in Australia and the way he spoke about them really attracted me.
The seemed to be very pure, free of doctrine and dogma and fuelled solely by the donations of previous students.
For all intents and purposes, this means Vipassana courses across the globe are free, no one is seeking to profit from them; indeed no one but you has anything to gain from you being there.
I found this refreshingly different and wonderfully accessible.
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Aged only 23 however, I personally, was far too young when I first heard about Vipassana to do anything about it.
10 days of silence with 10 hours meditation a day is a huge undertaking and one that I couldn’t commit to at that time.
Nevertheless, my friend told me courses were available across the world and that I could take one whenever I felt the time was right.
This idea really appealed to me and stayed in my mind for many years to come.
I always told myself that one day I would like to experience a Vipassana course.
And so the time came, 4 years later, when I was in Latin America.
I’d been in the beginnings of a sort of detox for sometime by this point and became increasingly drawn to the idea of taking a 10 day free guided meditation course of Vipassana, not least because I had the time.
After all, the chance to step out of your life for 10 days, away from all communication and connection with the outside world, can be hard in our everyday, busy lives.
While travelling I felt I had a prime window of opportunity to take this time for myself and to dedicate myself to the course. I wanted to grab it while I could.
Having travelled down from Mexico, I was based in Colombia when I first starting looking seriously at Vipassana courses.
However, I was planning on heading into Ecuador in the coming months.
As such, I decided to research any 10 day Vipassana courses that might be taking place in Ecuador in the near future.
All the 10-day free guided meditation courses of Vipassana, that follow the tradition of SN Goenka and take place around the world are listed on a single website dhamma.org.
From here you simply navigate to the continent in which you are looking for a course and from there to a particular country.
Some countries have established centres that continually run free guided meditation courses of Vipassana, while other countries have courses that are run in temporarily rented schools, halls or community buildings.
Despite not having a permanent centre, I was delighted to see that Ecuador did have some courses running and, wonderfully, I found one taking place in a temporary centre just outside of the capital Quito in about 3 months time.
I quickly signed up before I had a chance to change my mind!
Despite reading the rules, regulations and strict timetable of the course before signing, I don’t really think that, like many others I’m sure, I fully took the information in!
At least, it didn’t really register in my mind what meditating for 10 hours a day actually involves!
I quickly discovered, however, that it is no mean feat and not to be underestimated!
It is, instead, a serious commitment, one which certainly tested my willpower and resolve to the maximum.
Like many before and after me, I expected the silence to be one of the hardest parts of the course, but as it turns out this is, by far, the easiest dimension of the whole experience.
Almost everyone I know who has taken a course agrees with this statement and perhaps this gives some indication of just how challenging a Vipassana course can be.
The day starts with a 4am gong and from then, until 9:30pm at night, you are almost constantly practising a form of meditation that is, day be day, gradually taught to you.
There are 5 minute breaks almost hourly, as well as rest times for lunch and at breakfast, but outside of these the timetable is arduous and consistent.
Yet don’t let this put you off. The free guided meditation courses of Vipassana are incredibly rewarding.
Despite struggling naively through my first course, I did manage to remain for the entire 10 days – perhaps only because I was somewhere in the cloud forests of Ecuador, with no idea how to leave!
But seriously, despite all the hardship, the physical aches and pains of mediating for multiple hours, as well as the mental pain of boredom I endured, there was something at least that I felt was deeply worthwhile in the practice.
After my first course finished, I returned home to Europe and didn’t spend much time keeping up the actual meditation practice.
However, the course stuck clearly in my mind and something about it just kept calling me back.
Within 6 months time I found myself at the UK Vipassana centre in Hereford again under taking another 10 day free guided meditation course.
And so the pattern continues. To date I have now taken 4 courses (1 in Ecuador, 1 in the UK and 2 in Australia), as well as a fewer shorter days courses and have increasingly found them to be a rewarding and fulfilling part of my life.
I now meditate most days and have clearly noticed the improvements this continuity of practice has brought to my life.
So if you are interested in free guided meditation courses, can I please recommend a 10 day Vipassana course.
Conducted all over the world they are a perfect thing to experience when you are travelling the world and already learning a lot about yourself and others.
As I mentioned before, all Vipassana courses taught in the tradition of SN Goenka are free.
Funded only by the donations of previous students, the courses are delightfully accessible in this way and available to even the greatest budget nomad.
Travelling can give us a great ability to disengage from the outside world for 10 days, something that seems much harder to do in “normal life” with work and other commitments always calling us back.
So while you are adventuring across the world, why not use the opportunity to journey and explore a world inside, as well as out – a 10 day free guided meditation course of Vipassana will certainly allow you to do this.