This post focuses on a few general tips for your first 10-day Goenka retreat. Then I will suggest some things to take with you. I will also include a packing list in the end. If you want to know more details about my experience during the retreat, there will be a future blog post on that.
Think hard about if you are able to do the schedule
There was a speaker installed in every room with a pre-programmed bell ringing throughout the day to inform you that it’s time to wake up or get up to meditate. The lights are turned off at 9:30 pm, so you’ve got 6.5 hours of sleep opportunity. If you’ve got efficient sleep, you might sleep 6 hours, but if you don’t, you might only be getting 5 hours or less each night. For many, this might be a dealbreaker. On the other hand, if you are able to take naps during the day, then there is plenty of opportunity for that. For example, you can pretty much just stay in bed until breakfast, but you’ll have to deal with your roommates getting ready in the morning. Generally, pretty much whenever you don’t have to be in the meditation hall, you could potentially take a nap. But then, again, during the day, your roommates might disturb you.
Arrive early so that you can socialize with your roommates
They told us to arrive between 3 to 5 pm and I would recommend arriving early at 3 pm so that you can get to know the people who you will be sharing your room with during the next ten days. If you arrive at 5 pm, your roommates might have already bonded and socializing might be more difficult. If you arrive even later than that, you might not be able to talk at all with your roommates, because the first meditation starts at 8 pm and after that, the Noble Silence begins.
In case your course is bilingual: Listen to the English dharma talk if you speak English
The german one sounded monotonous, was only a soundtrack without video footage and took around 10 minutes longer. You can take a look at the English ones here.
Things I suggest you take with you on retreat
A disclaimer: I suggest taking a lot of things.
I realize that many people arrive by train or by carpooling, so I marked certain things as optional on the packing list. It may seem like a lot, and to be frank, I felt a bit stupid packing so many things, but in the end, I was happy I did.
I went to the retreat during December in Germany, so this list is especially suited for a winter with temperatures ranging between -5°C and 10°C.
Make sure to get earplugs if squeaking wooden beds, floors and/or snoring roommates disturb your sleep. Experiment with foam or wax earplugs to figure out which work better for you.
There’s a good chance you will have several roommates. I had four. And with every move one would make and every step one would take, there was something, somewhere squeaking. If you have really good earplugs, you might even manage to miss the 4 am alarm clock, so you might be able to stay asleep until breakfast. In the meditation hall, there is a lot of coughing, swallowing, moving and sneezing going on, so sometimes I used my earplugs during a group sit.
Prepare for getting a cold
I would estimate from observing the people at the retreat that there’s a 30% chance that you will catch a cold on a retreat during wintertime. I got a pretty bad cold on day 6. On day 8, I had a 38.5°C fever. I thought about going home. I told the teacher and the helpers. The teacher told me I should stay and participate in all of the group sits and rest for the remaining time. The helpers gave me one paracetamol around noon and another one in the evening. Taking the thermometer with me and being to tell them a solid number and not some vague thing like „I think my forehead feels slightly warmer“ enabled me to show them that I was actually really sick and not just a really whiny person. The following day, I told the teacher that the fever still wasn’t down significantly, so he suggested that I only participate during one group sit and the discourse.
But still, the medicine they gave me wouldn’t have been sufficient, at least for me personally. They gave me a nose spray and two paracetamol in total for 4.5 days of having a full-blown cold. I took my own ibuprofen and took 3 *each day*. Asking for paracetamol was always a hassle and I don’t think they give you pain relief if you only have a sore throat. But, er, pain relief makes your life much less painful if you have a sore throat.
So pack exactly the kind and amount of medicine you need to fight through a 7 to 8 day cold. (Not that I think that it is always advisable to stay if you get sick, but that’s another issue.) Some suggestions:
- nose spray with Oxymetazoline hydrochloride, because those are the ones which help for nasal mucosal swelling
- a box of tissues
- throat lozenge
- fever thermometer
- Ibuprofen or Paracetamol
- some Dexpanthenol Cream for dry skin at nose
- optional: saltwater nose spray
Take a digital alarm clock. A wristwatch is also useful.
You won’t have access to your phone and there wasn’t a clock in our room. Also preferably take one which doesn’t beep every time you hit a button, because that might disturb your roommates.
Be wary about checking your wristwatch during the meditations though (it’s better to leave it in your room).
About the things they tell you not to take with you
When you arrive, at the registration, they will ask you to hand them over your phone and they provide you with a locker for your wallet, car keys, etc., but we didn’t have access to the locker during the retreat.
They don’t strictly investigate if you took a pen and paper, food and so on with you even though they tell you not to. If having no real dinner is distressing to you, then take a snack like a bag of nuts with you. Some might say that breaking the rule in that way might be detrimental to your progress on the retreat. Fair enough. In my opinion, though, you should make yourself reasonably comfortable to ensure you can put your full attention on following the meditation techniques. Sometimes little things like something to write or a snack might make the difference.
In a questionnaire, upon arriving at the center, they ask you about what kind of medicine you brought with you. I personally didn’t tell them about any of my medicine because I was worried that there might be a hassle associated with it and I didn’t want to risk being bothered by them for even a second in regards to that (thyroid hormones ). I don’t think they would have, but on the other hand, I think I overheard a conversation with a student and a helper, where the helper requested the student should tell the helper about when she took pain relief. But I might be wrong and it probably wouldn’t have been bad at all, because the helpers were generally very nice and reasonable. I think there might be a benefit to being super conscientious about the rules and being absolutely honest in the questionnaire. It might be troubling to some people to hide some information. Judge for yourself on that one.
The packing list
- bed sheet for a 90-1m bed and covers for pillow and blanket
- optional: your own pillow for sleeping (there’s a pillow available)
- optional: meditation cushion, zafu or meditation bench for your room. All of these things are available at the meditation hall, but you cannot take them to your room. In case you have room to take something, take it.
- optional: blanket. In case you want to take your own. However, In our room, there were blankets provided.
- clothing & shoes
- for winter: warm sweaters
- underwear (for winter perhaps also underwear tops because in our room the temperature was around 18-20°C at night)
- optional: thick socks for winter
- optional: slippers. They also had slippers provided at our center.
- shower sandals
- outdoor shoes. Tip: you will have to put on and off your shoes very often. Preferably take ones with zippers and not ones with shoelaces.
- outdoor jacket
- umbrella and/or raincoat
- in case you’re into that kind of stuff: disinfectant spray
- in case you have glasses: specs cloth/wipes
- sleeping mask
- optional: tampons/cup/sanitary pads
- optional: razor(s)
- optional: shaving foam
- moist toilet tissues
- body wash
- optional: blow-drier. At our place, they had provided one.
- towels (for face, hands, and showering)
- optional: wipes for face
- optional: face cloth
- meds (e.g. thyroid hormones, Vitamin D supplements, …)
- band-aid (also waterproof band-aid)
- optional: blistering plasters
- optional: hair tie
- optional: chapstick
- optional: nail scissors
- optional: tweezer
- optional: moisturizer
- optional: comb
- phone (for navigation and emergencies)
- recommended: portable charger for phone + respective cable. If you give them your phone, it won’t be charged for 10 days.
- alarm clock!
- optional: wristwatch (no digital one)
- optional: in-ear headphones
- decide for yourself: pen and paper
- optional: tape (weirdly I found that quite useful)
- optional: scissors
- optional: flashlight or headlamp
- drinking bottle to fill up with water
- thermos bottle to fill up with tea
- optional and in case you have a long trip by car: water bottles
- mints/chewing gum
- plastic bag for dirty clothes
- driver’s license
- cash and/or card
- medical ID