I’ve been meditating on and off for about 5 years now. It all started when I was at a low, presented with very few options and nothing to lose. Had always known meditation has some benefits, what exactly were the benefits? How should one meditate? What duration?, etc were the mystical questions that remained unanswered but once I got into it and on the mode of self-discovery have covered quite a distance.
Cut to 2019, I went for a 10-day Vipassana retreat – no phone, no access to the outside world, maintain noble silence, live a secluded life, follow strict timings, eat what’s provided and at the time it is available, can’t read or write, no form of engagement or entertainment at all.
If all that sounds intense and difficult, well that’s not the tough part. The real challenge is to meditate – and as per the routine there, you meditate for about 12-13 hours from the 24 hours of a day.
So Vipassana is the meditation technique Gautam Buddha found on his own journey to Nirvana (Enlightenment). But it is in no way linked to any religion. There are no names, no photos, no rituals or rights performed or taught at Dhamma. Just the technique and some teachings on how to be a good human being and live a righteous life that adds value to others on the planet. All beings, not just humans.
Why I went for it
The reason I decided to sign-up for this retreat was to explore. Since I’ve experienced quite a few variations of meditation and this particular name was popping up often in the personal development space, I wanted to see what it was all about. Along with that, I was in a place in my personal and professional life that I sought clarity and direction.
Those 10 days I thought if not anything else will give me enough time with little distraction to evaluate and understand where should I head after this.
Whole of Vipassana experience can be divided into roughly two parts – one the initial phase where you learn the basic technique “Anapana” which helps you focus the brain – and the Vipassana phase where you learn and practice it.
During Anapana your brain and body are adapting to the new conditions, you literally don’t have anything to do, time relatively operates super slow. Since there are no distractions there is no time lapse that happens in our regular lives otherwise.
On the second day, in particular, there is a strong urge to go back, quit mid-way and just end the misery. But then my whole intention was based on the thing that I wanted to spend these ten days and see how it turns out. Nothing to lose.
I sat through the arduous hours meditating in the Dhamma hall. Mornings were easy despite the fact that it started at 4:30 AM (never got up that early except to catch a flight). Afternoons were the most difficult, five minutes seemed like an hour. There was no escape. The only way, rather the best way to spend your time there is to meditate.
Now talking about the technique, it is practical, scientific and result oriented. Not some mystical and mythical method which would show results with an unknown time span. Vipassana evolves, grows on you, challenges you and elevates. You get up at 3:55 AM beating the alarm clock that was set to start buzzing at 4 with intent and interest.
When you hit the bed roughly at 9:30 PM, the body and mind are still so relaxed that falling asleep becomes a task. Being someone who gets into slumber as soon as I hit the pillow, this was again something very new for me. I had to make an effort to fall asleep.
I made use of the same technique to go deeper into the zones of the brain that it was so relaxed and went into sleep mode without even realizing it.
After three days of Anapana where you learn to focus your brain and make it do what you want it to do, you get the first and real experience of Vipassana. I’ve been working out for a very long time and have otherwise also had physically draining experiences. Worked long hours (read 16 hour days) but never quite experienced mental exhaustion which was so intense.
When we were first taught the Vipassana technique during which you sit still, don’t move for about two hours – the moment the guided meditation ended, I couldn’t get up, the body was perfectly fine, still pretty relaxed but the brain was tired (AF). It was not just me but about 80 others who had that exact same experience in that hall (How do I know? The expressions on their face. Remember we cannot talk or even make gestures or even eye contact).
Overcoming your thoughts
If you’re aware and working in the personal growth space you’d have heard that your brain is your biggest enemy? Vipassana takes you up and close with that experience. There’s no escape. But this is where it is different. Vipassana teaches you how to overcome it.
Your brain will play the dirtiest of tricks to push you to quit – I missed everyone from my family to friends and people I care about. There were times when I had dark thoughts that someone was not well, something was not right, I need to talk to this person or even go off this place.
My worst fears surfaced, nightmares, those I had brushed under the carpet after long struggles.
But then I had to face them all. There was no other way out. Kept at it and in a day or two overcame most of it. The negativity does surface but Vipassana teaches you how to become stronger than that. If nothing else I’ve achieved this.
Overall experience –
Mr SN Goenka who founded the “Dhamma” organization has done a fabulous job. The structure, the facility, punctuality, the course, teachers, the environment, Mr Goenka’s discourses, the food, living space, everything is dot perfect. And all of that runs only on donation. There’s no fees charged for the course or accommodation and even food.
When I was handed a feedback form at the end of the course and asked areas where it can be improved I had nothing to add.
To sum it up, Vipassana works on the brain and the habit pattern of the mind. It is practised to develop equanimity (steadiness of mind, nonreactivity, neutral awareness, mindfulness) by observing physical sensations and the body, your thoughts and the effect that has on you.
Any questions, suggestions feedback feel free to comment or write to me.