By Shelley Marmor
Have you been considering a silent meditation retreat in Mexico? Or, is your retreat coming up?
You’ve landed in the right place — because I did one — and you’re about to get all my insider information about what to expect before, during, and after the retreat.
First up, some general information I think you should know about my 10-day silent meditation retreat in Mexico — starting with a quick bit of housekeeping on silent meditation retreats vs Vipassana.
What Is Vipassana?
Vipassana is the most well-known type of silent meditation retreat — though it isn’t your only option.
In fact, the one I did at Hridaya Yoga’s Mexico retreat center in one of my favorite travel destinations, Oaxaca, was not a Vipassana!
However, the differences between the 10-day silent meditation retreat I did and a Vipassana are relatively insignificant, in my opinion.
The rigorous daily schedule is pretty much identical, with both retreats including as much as six hours of daily meditation, spiritual lectures, and complete silence.
Both retreats also have near-identical recommendations for each participant including:
- discontinuing all other spiritual practices,
- modest dress,
- a vegan diet,
- separation of the sexes,
- and abstinence, among other things.
Beyond that, Vipassana is completely donation-based, whereas I paid about $400 for my retreat and all meals.
What Is A Meditation Retreat?
A meditation retreat is an immersive meditation experience. It’s very different from typical wellness or yoga retreats.
Going on a retreat will give you the chance to leave all things familiar behind, especially when you do Mexico retreats since you even leave your home country (aside for, of course, if you are Mexican).
With both a Vipassana and the 10-day Mexico meditation retreat I did, you’re going to be meditating.
You’re also going to hear lectures from the retreat leader(s) on various spiritual topics.
But honestly, this is an ascetic undertaking. Think simple, modest, and humble.
Meditation retreats are a journey inward, so this is all about being and not doing.
The only doing in a meditation retreat is sitting and meditating — which, by the end of my retreat, we were doing in three-hour-long sessions!
What Can I Expect From A 10-Day Vipassana Meditation Retreat Or Silent Meditation Retreat?
In your Vipassana, as well as in most silent meditation retreats, you can expect highs and lows and many different emotions to come up.
You can also expect to not have any idea what to do with all these emotions, since you can’t talk about them, which is the “normal” coping mechanism.
This is the abridged version, but I divide my own experience like this:
Mexico Meditation Retreat Day 1: Excitement
As if being in Oaxaca — one of the most beautiful destinations and best places to travel alone in Mexico — isn’t enough, there is your retreat to look forward to.
Honestly, it’s like the first day of school.
You experience a lot of joy and happiness. You’re very curious about the other people in the room with you.
But then you remember you can’t talk to them.
You’re actually not even supposed to look at them!
Yes, Day 1 is “shiny and new,” but after a few minutes, your muscle memory kicks in.
You’re going to naturally want to be inquisitive in the way you’re used to being inquisitive, which is by talking and making eye contact.
But you can’t do either thing.
I remember a few times on Day 1 when I had to physically stop myself from going to speak to someone.
This part felt surreal, and unlike anything I’ve ever experienced; but like all things, you will adapt and accept this (temporary) new way.
Mexico Meditation Retreat Days 2-6: Detox
These days, though still new and exciting, felt like a detox.
I felt like I was shedding something. It was like a giant purge, though I can’t totally say what I was purging; maybe just the notion that I need to talk to live.
On Day 2, we were doing 30-minute meditations, and by Day 6, we’d worked up to two-hour sessions!
Seeing this progression fueled my desire to keep going, even though silence was difficult.
Honestly, I sometimes had to remind myself that I willingly signed up for the retreat because it was so incredibly hard.
Mexico Meditation Retreat Day 7: Emotions
Remember when I said this was an emotional experience?
This was the most emotional day for me, during a generally very emotional experience.
Day 7 was the day I seriously considered quitting.
We were in a pretty large shala (meditation studio), but there were about 100 people. During my retreat, we each had maybe eight inches of space on either side before we’d hit our neighbors — and not be able to say “excuse me.”
There was a three-hour break for lunch and personal time, and I’d always go to my Airbnb across the street to shower and lay in my hammock.
On Day 7, I did this, and my first hammock thought was, “You’ve come far enough. One week in silence is super impressive.”
I started having nonsensical conversations with myself that involved bizarre rationalizations as to why I should quit like, “One week of meditation sounds cooler than 10 days. One week has a better ring to it.”
To this day, I have no idea what brought me back to the shala, but Day 7 was the most bizarre and the most difficult for me.
I’m still somewhat surprised I even went back — especially as I had that comfy hammock to relax on!
Mexico Meditation Retreat Days 8-9: Surrender
I’d assumed I would have surrendered to the process earlier, but it really wasn’t until Days 8-9 that I decided I was okay with my silent fate.
By this time, we were doing three-hour meditation sessions and it wasn’t even a big deal anymore.
Humans really do adapt quickly.
But remember when I said this was an emotional experience?
On Days 8-9, I really started to feel feelings; all of the feelings.
I journaled extensively throughout my retreat and looking back into my entries on Days 8-9 make me laugh now.
They go from “I hate everyone in this room” to “I guess some people are okay” to “We’re all in this together” to “The world is one. The world is love.”
That train of thought covered about 30-minutes of time.
(Note: Vipassana doesn’t allow journaling, but my retreat did.)
Processing all of that after-the-fact, I think it’s only when you accept not talking that you really begin to hear your thoughts and emotions.
When you’re truly in a space of silence, you’re no longer bargaining with yourself about whether or not to be silent, and for me, that’s when the retreat “magic” happened.
Mexico Meditation Retreat Day 10: Restless
If Day 1 felt like the first day of school, Day 10 definitely felt like the last day of school. It felt like more of a formality to even show up on Day 10.
I was there, physically, but I was also elsewhere, mentally.
We did the same meditate/lecture/eat/repeat schedule as we did every other day, but I was restless. I couldn’t — or didn’t — concentrate as much, and being present during meditation was near-impossible.
In short, I was done.
The only thing left to do was cross the finish line; but now that I could see said finish line, I stopped caring when I crossed it.
After making it to the official end of the retreat, the weirdest thing happened:
I stayed silent.
My meditation retreat took place in Mazunte, Oaxaca, Mexico.
It’s a small but amazing beach town in Oaxaca, but definitely small.
The retreat ended at about 9:30pm, so there were only a handful of places open to eat. I settled on the Italian pizza place because I saw they had a big brick oven. Sold!
Not long after, other people started showing up. I recognized all of them, because they were all from my retreat, and because we had all just spent 10 days in a room together.
I still don’t know why, but I had no desire to talk to any of them or get to know any of them — which had been my only desire on Day 1.
It’s almost as if I knew they were people who would do a 10-day silent meditation retreat, and that was all I needed to know.
I think it also has something to do with how I was going to soon feel on Day 11.
What Are Some Tips For Getting The Most Out Of A Vipassana Meditation Retreat Or Silent Meditation Retreat?
When people ask me about my meditation retreat in Mexico, I like to start with how I felt on Day 11.
For me, Day 11 represents all the days after the retreat.
Writing this now, nearly two years post-retreat, I still don’t know how it went.
This retreat was kind of like the one time I went skydiving. When anyone has ever asked what skydiving was like, I always tell them, “It was like skydiving.”
There isn’t really anything to compare it to.
For me, being in silence for 10 days was like being in silence for one minute, except it lasted 10 days.
You kind of have to do it to have an answer, and even then, sometimes you don’t have one. Like me.
While there are a lot of practical tips, like the ones I’ll tell you about in the next section of this article, I think the top tip for getting the most out of your retreat is to have no expectations about it.
I learned a lot in silence, but one of the main things was to just witness my thoughts and not attach feelings or emotions to them because, quite frankly, we have a lot of thoughts per day.
It never occurred to me just how many, until I stopped speaking and could really hear all my thoughts.
According to a study done by a team of researchers at Queen’s University in Canada, humans have about 6,200 thoughts per day,
If you’re in preparation for Vipassana or a silent meditation retreat, give yourself the gift of no expectations.
The way I think someone will get the most out of the experience is to just let it unfold as it does.
How Do I Prepare For A 10-day Silent Meditation Retreat?
While not mentally preparing yourself for how you think or want your meditation retreat to turn out is great — physically preparing is essential.
I have three tips I believe will go a long way for your Vipassana or silent meditation retreat:
Meditation Retreat Tip #1: Diet.
If you’re already on a low- to no-sugar vegan diet or have gone on vegan yoga retreats, great, you can probably skip to the second tip.
For everyone else, I’d suggest starting with some pre-retreat diet alterations.
Your retreat food will more than likely be all-natural, organic, and 100% vegan. The shock to your system of going from a standard American diet to uber-vegan can have negative effects on your mood and stomach.
Even if you don’t spoon sugar directly onto your meals, packaged American food tends to contain processed sugar as a preservative.
Your 10-day meditation retreat will be refined-sugar-free.
I’ve done enough stints on the sugar-free Keto diet to know just how awful a sugar detox can be.
Aside from all the physical stuff, it can make you depressed, anxious, and tired — basically, all the things you don’t want to feel when partaking in wellness retreats in Mexico (or anywhere)!
Meditation Retreat Tip #2: Practice sitting.
Now, this might sound easy, because, well, you know how to sit.
But do you know how to sit silently, without shuffling, for three straight hours?
I sure didn’t.
Start by sitting on the floor, cross-legged, for as long as you can, and without moving or making any noise. If this means five minutes, that’s great; at least you now know where you’re at.
Regardless of how easy or difficult it is for you, I can assure you this:
You’ve likely never sat on the floor cross-legged for three straight hours, so you can’t really know how easy or challenging this will be for your body until you try.
Personally, my feet fall asleep pretty fast. I wish I had taken some pre-retreat time to learn how to make effective — yet silent — micro-movements that promote blood circulation.
If I had, I could have spent more time meditating and less time thinking about my sleeping feet.
Meditation Retreat Tip #3: Pack smart.
The final tip is the easiest, and most practical, as it’s about what to pack.
We’ll dive into this in-depth in the next section.
What Do I Pack For A Vipassana Or 10-Day Silent Meditation Retreat?
Tip #3 covers packing for your retreat. What should you pack for something you’ve never done before?
This likely goes without saying, but I’ll say it:
Silent meditation retreats have more of a reserved boho vibe than a Lululemon vibe. My best overall advice for packing is to think minimal and modest.
In addition to the obvious fact that you’re headed to a spiritual retreat and not your best friend’s bachelorette party, silent meditation retreats more-or-less mandate modesty in your dress.
My meditation retreat in Mexico separated the room by sex. In fact, we even used separate doors to access the shala.
Vipassana retreats also segregate the room by sex.
The intention for this is to stay focused on the self, which includes not drawing any attention to yourself through your clothing.
If you’re looking for a specific retreat packing list, here is what I brought to my retreat, along with some extras to consider:
- Modest yoga class attire, including three to five of each of these: yoga pants, shirts/tops, and sports bras
- Three loose-fitting sundresses or breathable cotton outfits
- Slip-on sandals; meditation rooms are usually shoe-free, so you’ll want an easy on/off pair
- Earplugs; if you’re staying in a shared dorm
- Reusable water bottle
- Medication; your personal medication(s) as well as headache and diarrhea medications
- Headbands, hair wraps, and/or hair ties
- Sleep mask or headscarf; some people keep their eyes covered with these during the retreat (I didn’t), but they also come in handy for sleeping
- Journal/pens; note that my retreat allowed for journaling while Vipassana does not
- Laundry detergent
I “cleaned” my clothing in the shower with only body soap, which may have helped a little (spoiler: it didn’t), but you might want to opt for real detergent.
Unless you’re bringing 10 of everything, you’re going to want to wash and re-wear some clothes.
What Is It Like To Go On A Silent Meditation Retreat?
As I touched on, going to a silent meditation is quite simple on the surface level — you basically just show up, sit, listen, eat, sleep, and not think about your clothing or physical appearance much.
However, on the inside, it’s a bit more of a roller coaster.
At the end of my retreat, the facilitator opened the floor up for shares. One by one, participants stood at the front of the meditation hall and expressed how for them, too, the retreat experience was extremely hard.
Some of the people who spoke were attending their fourth, tenth, even fifteenth silent meditation retreat! I loved listening to these veterans, who admitted they also struggled to make it to the end.
I thought this was a great ending to the retreat to hear these stories and sentiments. This made me feel validated for all the times I hated what I was doing and even wanted to quit.
These feelings were normal.
In actuality, all feelings are normal.
I really wish I had an eloquent answer to the “What it’s like to go on a silent meditation retreat” question.
But the reality is it’s a very personal journey and no two are alike.
I do know one thing for certain:
The retreat will challenge you. It was designed to do just that!
As a general rule though, challenges tend to make us both proud of ourselves for undertaking them, and happy when they are over.
I feel exactly that way about my 10 days in silence.
Have you ever done a meditation retreat in Mexico?
Bonus Yoga Retreat Resources
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