It’s difficult to even put into words what I just experienced. I learned so many things at my 10 day silent meditation course. I will attempt to share what I can with you and then just encourage you to try it for yourself.
A quick definition:
Vipassana is an ancient technique of meditation that gives us the tools to liberate ourselves from the misery that is created in our own minds and find blissful freedom in this lifetime. It is the technique the Buddha used to enlighten himself 2500 years ago in India and is non-sectarian, non-dogmatic and totally universal.
Something that became crystal clear for me was the fact that human beings must experience something in order to truly learn it. Intellectual understanding of something only fills our minds but does not guarantee that we will live our lives according to that idea. That is why it is such a challenge to even write about it because I know that unless you choose to experience this yourself, my words will not suffice and could easily be forgotten.
I had wanted to do a Vipassana meditation course since I overheard another traveler in Kathmandu, Nepal talk about it last year. They are run on an entirely donation based, volunteer run system. They introduced Vipassana to two very dangerous prisons in Delhi, India and Alabama and saw 20% reductions in violence. Watch the trailer for Dhamma Brothers here. Watch the full version here.
We meditated for almost 11 hours a day for 10 days in a row. Three times a day we had to complete “Adhitthana,” or “sittings of strong determination,” where we were not allowed to open our eyes, hands or legs for an hour at a time unless we really needed to. My posture of choice, after much experimentation, was cross-legged on the floor on a cushion with two cushions supporting my knees, back straight, hands in my lap. The ideas I had about my ability to be disciplined and patient were expanded ten fold in those hours.
I want to address some common thoughts and questions I received from people before and after the course:
“Weren’t you bored?”
No. This was some of the hardest work I’ve ever done in my life. Our teacher, SN Goenka, likens the technique and process to that of a deep psychological surgery in which you purify the mind of all its defilements. The technique builds on itself and you learn more of it every day. Many old students (students who have already taken a 10 day course) are often described as melancholy and gruff during the process because the technique brings so much of your garbage to the surface so that you can clean it out and find peace within. The deeper you go, the harder the work becomes, it seems.
“I could never not talk for 10 days.”
Extroverted or introverted, I believe everyone should try this and can do this if their hearts hunger for peace and equanimity. Nothing less will get you through it. So much of what we say isn’t needed. Meditators always do better when in a quiet environment. The problem with talking is that meditation and talking cannot go together. You cannot examine yourself internally if you are talking. We are always focused outwards and as long as we focus our energy outwards, we will continue to suffer in life unless we take the time to turn inwards for serious contemplation.
“WHY would you do something like this?! Are you crazy?”
Pain and suffering are part of the human experience. Many people self medicate through food, drugs (prescription or otherwise), video games, and other ways of checking out. Learning how to cope in a wholesome way with our suffering, without any external help, is vital for our liberation from misery. Making pain your friend will automatically relieve so much misery. The only thing that causes suffering for us is our minds. This is what all the enlightened beings throughout time have discovered. Life hands us vicissitudes and we have a choice as to how to react. The problem is that many of us have deeply rooted habits of reaction that we are totally unaware of and Vipassana addresses this problem if practiced diligently and consistently. I have dedicated my life to the realization of the Supreme Self, of liberation from suffering, and I know the only way out is through.
“Would you do it again?”
In two seconds. I will do this again and again for the rest of my life. I will sit. I will serve others going through the process. There were moments of complete and utter bliss, where I couldn’t even feel my body, mixed in with all the struggle. But it wasn’t about the sensations. It was about feeling so purposeful and so alive and so empowered.
A few quotes from my napkin notes (we weren’t allowed to have journals, books, music, anything but I had to write a couple things so napkins from the dining hall helped me there):
“All the things that I get so convinced of in the moment are usually not based in reality but rather the past or future or future based on the past, etc. There is no need to get attached to these constantly changing thought patterns and emotions.”
“You can only truly learn from experience. This is the only way. You must meditate on the truth and you will experience it in your body and psyche.”
“Ignorance just means not knowing the truth. The only truth is the present moment and my breath as it comes in and out of my nose. Hahaha! It’s so simple. Literally just breathe.”
“Let reality be what it is, not what you want it to be.”
“The more you react a certain way, the deeper the groove gets.”
“Consistency of practice is the secret to success.” –Goenkaji
“When I stop craving the end of session, the end comes so much faster.”
“The art of living becomes the art of dying.” –Goenkaji
“The mind is like a monkey: always grabbing onto the next branch, never resting where he is. We must find our internal peace and joy so that we have no need for clinging on to things outside of us.”
My action steps for you:
1. Sit quietly in a dimly lit room with your eyes closed, back straight and legs in a comfortable position. Start to breathe. Choose one of the above quotes and meditate on it. As you breathe, feel the breath flow in and out of your nostrils. When the mind wanders, bring it back to this part of the nose. Don’t get angry or frustrated with your mind when it wanders, because it will. Feel the sensation of the breath hitting the upper lip. You have to really tune in to feel it. Take three minutes and center yourself this way. Try setting an alarm on your phone a couple times a day to remind you to re-center yourself.
2. What were some lessons you had to learn from experience versus just intellectually? Are there some areas of your health and wellbeing that could use some experiential learning?
3. Finally- is meditation something you’ve been wanting to incorporate into your life? If so, why? If you’re struggling to weave it in, what’s the obstacle? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
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