Packing for a Vipassana meditation retreat

I recently came back from a 10 days Vipassana meditation course and while I was unpacking I got annoyed by having to put back so many items. This is everything I brought:

1. Original packing list

Packing

  • 50l hiking backpack
  • 3 packing cubes

Clothing

  • Pair of jeans
  • Belt
  • Sweater
  • Pair of yoga pants
  • 1 Long sleeve t-shirt
  • 4 Short sleeve t-shirts
  • 4 Pairs of boxers
  • Wind jacket
  • Mid-layer jacket
  • 2 Pairs of socks
  • Leggings
  • Sneakers
  • Slippers
  • Hat
  • Gloves
  • Neck gaiter

Bedding (meditation center requirement)

  • Towel
  • Duvet cover
  • Pillow cover
  • Bed sheets

Toiletries

  • 3 Travel-sized bottles of shampoo
  • 3 Travel-sized bottles of body soap
  • Electric toothbrush
  • Electric toothbrush charger
  • Toothpaste container
  • 2 Toiletries bags
  • Antihistamines
  • Hand cream
  • 1 Pair of contact lenses cleaning and storing solution
  • Tongue scrapper
  • Contact lenses
  • Shaving razor
  • Nail clipper
  • Lip balm

Misc

  • Wallet
  • Keys
  • IPad
  • Phone
  • 3 USB cables
  • 1 USB wall charger
  • Water tumbler
  • Sleep mask
  • Ear plugs
  • 2 Pairs of noise cancelling headphones

That’s 63 items.

I like to call myself a minimalist. Could I have had a successful retreat with fewer things and without distracting others? My wife came with me, so not endangering my marriage is also a requirement.

Here is a first attempt of reducing my packing list by removing the “obviously you don’t need this” items:

2. Comfortable packing list

Packing

  • 50l hiking backpack
  • 1 packing cube

Clothing

  • Pair of jeans
  • Belt
  • Sweater
  • Pair of yoga pants
  • 2 short-sleeves t-shirts
  • 1 pair of boxers
  • Mid-layer jacket
  • 1 pair of socks
  • Sneakers
  • Hat

Bedding

  • Towel
  • Duvet cover
  • Pillow cover
  • Bed sheets

Toiletries

  • 1 travel-sized bottle of shampoo
  • 1 travel-sized bottle of body soap
  • Electric toothbrush (and brush teeth once per day instead of three times)
  • Smaller toothpaste container
  • 2 toiletries bags
  • 1 pair of contact lenses cleaning and storing solution
  • Tongue scrapper
  • Contact lenses
  • Shaving razor

Misc

  • Wallet
  • Keys
  • iPad
  • Phone
  • 2 USB cables (phone + headphones)
  • 1 USB wall charger
  • Sleep mask
  • Ear plugs
  • 1 pair of noise cancelling headphones

We’re down to 37 items, or 58% of the original list. That’s good progress. Is everything that’s left essential? Let me put my caveman Juan’s hat on.

3. Minimal packing list

I don’t need a packing cube anymore, the backpack has three compartments.

I could have dropped the jeans and belt, and travel with the meditation pants. According to my mom and to my wife I have well-functioning sweat glands and during the retreat I spent 10 hours sitting with others, so I still need two t-shirts.

I could have also brought 2-in shampoo and body soap and save one item. I would no longer need one of the two toiletries bag, and food may not taste the same without the tongue scrapper, but as an old student I’m not having dinners so less ama accumulates anyways.

And finally I could have also dropped the iPad and the sleep mask by reading on my phone during the trip to and from the retreat center, and just be patient with my roommates in the evening . I’m still not a master of pratyahara, my mind is extremely sensitive to noise and I already tried attending a retreat without bringing the noise cancelling headphones. They need to stay. The phone could save someone’s life, including mine, so it also stays.

And we’re finally down to 28 items, or less than half (44%) of the original list. It feels challenging to remove more items, but this feels like progress.

4. How do I grow from this?

What caused me to pack too many things?

  • Clothing: Too much aversion to hand-washing clothes and too much aversion to running out of things that aren’t really essential (will I run out of shampoo?). Can be fixed for the next retreat.
  • Toiletries: Too much caring about my looks. Easy to fix for the next retreat: at a Vipassana retreat nobody cares, Juan.
  • Misc: High degree of sensitivity not balanced with a corresponding high degree of pratyahara. With practice I hope to get better at this.

Personal over-packing causes aside, what makes us bring the most things?

We didn’t evolve to live at 1,300 meters, or in other words, heat transfer. If I want to pack less for a Vipassana retreat, I will have to go to a warmer place or finish the Wim Hof method.