We’ve all heard about these 10-day meditation retreats. To most of us, taking ten days off to do anything seems absolutely impossible. The reality is that no one has the time. It’s up to us to make the time and, let’s be real, the world won’t stop if we’re missing for a few days.
One of our fearless founders, Rie, recently took the leap into a 10-day Vipassana (a specific meditation method) retreat and is aglow with relaxation, happiness (like, real inner happiness), and mental clarity. It was a life-changing experience for her and she’d recommend it to literally everyone. Rie is not a zen master, uber spiritual, or a black belt in meditation. She’s a New Yorker, a founder of a startup, oh, and an expecting mother. She has A LOT on her plate, but after her retreat, she’s committed to going back every year. By cutting out the distractions, she was able to come away from the experience with a renewed sense of her personal values, the mission of her business, and how they ultimately impact our environment.
We sat down with Rie and chatted about what it was like, how her lifestyle has changed since, plans to incorporate meditation into the company culture, and even what her closet looks like now. This’ll be a good read for the skeptics and those who are too busy to consider a 10-day retreat, and it’ll bring some clarity to why disconnecting is essential for reconnecting.
Rie, how did Vipassana come into your life?
My now husband shared this video with me about how Vipassana transformed a jail in India - instead of being punished, the prisoners went through a Vipassana meditation course. Often when long-term prisoners are released into the public world, they end up making similar mistakes and end up back in prison. But, because of Vipassana, the prisoners became more giving, positive, and full of compassion. They went out into the world as transformed human beings and few of them were reincarcerated. I was super compelled by this video and wanted to learn more. It took me four years to finally go on a retreat, and I wish I hadn’t waited so long!
What background experience did you have?
Last year I started doing a Morning Miracle as part of my daily routine with my husband. Everyone has a different way of doing it, but we start by meditating, then we write gratitude journals, list 3 things to accomplish today, exercise, and read. The beauty of the Morning Miracle is that if you’re really busy, you can just do one minute of each. If you have time then you can do ten or twenty minutes of each. This daily routine helps me feel much more positive, focused, and appreciative. The apps Calm and Headspace really helped me kick off my meditation routine.
What was the final push to go on a retreat?
It was on my mind for the past four years, but I just couldn’t make the time for it. Let’s be real, who in this modern day has ten days to spend without speaking, writing, or reading? I couldn’t wrap my mind around the idea that it was possible for a startup founder. Even just being disconnected for a day freaks me out! The major nudge was in January when I found out that I was pregnant. I realized that OMG I might never get to experience this if I don’t go now. I really wanted to have that deeper meditation experience before I have a baby and my schedule is even more packed.
What are the rules on a retreat? What do you achieve with silence?
No speaking, no eye contact, no reading or writing. Men and women are also separated. No alcohol, no meat and just two main meals a day. It really changed my relationship with food. Since we were meditating for ten hours every day, I didn’t feel hungry. Eating sort of lost its pleasure and just became part of living. We just ate the minimal amount we needed to stay focused on ourselves.
Was it difficult to get used to?
I think the most difficult part for me was not the silence part, it was actually not being able to write or read. You’re basically in the middle of nature with no distractions, so you find yourself stuck with just...yourself. All you have is your breath and your mind and your body. We get so used to reacting to our environment that it’s a bit scary to know that you only have just yourself to face.
What were your highs and lows? Did you want to give up at a point?
It’s actually quite common, many students do give up and go home. I didn’t ever feel like giving up, but there were definitely some difficult days and there were some amazing days. For the first three days you’re taught how to breath, the fourth day is when you learn Vipassana meditation, and the fifth day was a whole new world for me. I had sort of a physical revelation, where I could really feel my body sensations in a whole different way. I was so excited about this phase and I thought I was an expert, but on the 6th day I suffered. I couldn’t feel the same sensations and I could not stay seated. That was a disappointing stage.
Where did your mind often wander off to?
For me it was 95% Material World. It was both facing the fear in certain things not working out, as well as crazy new ideas...so many ideas interrupted my focus! I am constantly thinking about it, since I’ve been doing it for five years. It was shocking to me to see how consumed I am and how hard it was to detach myself mentally. Keeping my mind off Material World was one of the most difficult parts of meditation.
Has your day-to-day lifestyle changed since and how do you incorporate your learnings?
I do meditate every morning now. I used to use guided meditations with the Calm app, but now I’m in pure silence and I try to do longer 30-minute meditations when I have the chance. I just felt like it was life-changing for me. I couldn’t believe it took me so long to do it and I want as many of the people that I care about to have the chance to experience it. I’m so not religious or spiritual, but the whole experience resonated so much with me. It helped me resurface what I care about and what I care about became the core values of Material World.
Is meditation part of the company culture now?
Going on this retreat definitely changed how I think about our office and culture. It’s not just a self-indulgent experience that brings you to a personal enlightenment. You come out of it with so much love and compassion for others and it really makes your communication approach to others a completely different animal. Jie and I decided to incorporate meditation into our company benefits program - all our management members and our team members, who have been with us for over two years, can go on a retreat as part of their PTO. Our office meditation room eventually turned into a meeting room, so we’re going to have to give that another try. :)
Will you go back?
Definitely! The goal is once every year or two.
Who would you recommend this experience to?
I think retreats can seem really intimidating because ten days is a long time. Thankfully, there are a ton of meditation apps that make mediation approachable and are a good way to get started. After struggling to get into meditation for a year, the Calm app was game changing for me. To really learn Vipassana, though, you have to experience the full 10-day retreat to truly appreciate it. It’s not something you can learn quickly from someone else. If you are curious and really interested in learning more about yourself, and understand that it will be hard work, then I think anyone is ready to go.
Does your closet look any different? Have you changed what you shop for?
It definitely impacted the way I think about my wardrobe. Meditation teaches a whole minimalist approach to living. By living essentially like a monk for ten days, you learn that it’s possible to be really happy and fulfilled with so little. Through our Trade-In service we encourage people to keep a minimal closet and continually swap in and out their clothing. I was so happy to realize that our service really aligns with this minimalist approach. The experience was a reminder of why we started Material World in the first place and reaffirmed what our mission is. By valuing what’s already out there and encouraging reuse, we can cause less harm to our environment and be grateful for each item we choose to keep in our closet. That realization was a reassuring moment for me. Despite the ups and downs, we’re on the right track with Material World. I already have a huge pile of clothing to swap out for my next trade in.