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My Vipassana Experience

CANADA | Tuesday, 15 May 2012 | Views [3434] | Comments [2]

Vipassana: To see things as they really are.

Where have I been for the past two weeks? Sitting cross legged for hours on end each day. My eyes were closed more than they were open, I was provided 2 and a half meals per day and the phrase "silence is golden" was applied for ten consecutive days. 

There have been two separate occasions where someone has mentioned Vipassna to me over the past month, enough to spark some interest! 

Me being me, it wasn't the 10 days of silence that intimidated me, it was more the 2 and a half meals provided between wake up at 4am to lights out at 10pm... 

I had organised a ride out of Portland to the course via a ride share website put together by the Vipassana course. Jessica and Margaret arrived at the hostel 20 minutes earlier than expected, so I was caught off guard. I had just devoured a huge meal thinking that I wasn't going to be fed over the next week and a half. Driving to the event I dozed off as the two girls chatted away in the front. The drive went by surprisingly quickly and when I awoke they told me we were about 15 minutes away. I suddenly got very nervous and started questioning myself, "What the hell are you doing James???" 

Hesitantly walking into the "slippers-off" registration building (which doubled as the mens dining area) I assured myself that I would complete the course no matter what. I was greeted by a little table where I had to fill out a pre-screening sort of form and a few standard questions about my health, background and so on. The direct, plump Indian man then instructed me that I would be in room 3A and that no shorts were allowed. This struck a chord with me and I was a little peeved off, but alas, I had no choice but to comply. We were instructed to hand in all our possessions, all our distractions. No phones, laptops, books - distractions! Again, I complied... for the most part. I kept my Blackberry which has not really served any purpose at all since being abroad, other than an alarm - which is what I fully intended to use it for (I didn't come to need it due to the 4am gong that was rung each morning).

A light dinner was provided (a beautiful basil and lemon lentil soup, complimented with a salad, vegetable condiments and delicious home made dressings). Honestly, I was a bit surprised. So I went to town on the hearty soup and whatever else was provided (I was told this was the last supper!) causing myself to be bloated, yet again. 

We had an hour off to digest and settle into our little split rooms. My roomies name was Sage OfLight Thone and that is as far as we got. Everybody gathered into the Dhamma hall for our commencement of silence and first group meditation session. I don't have a big meditation background, playing around with it once or twice, but no foundation. Within about 4 deep breaths my mind started to wander... And oh how slowly that first hour went. And that was only day ZERO!

Day 1 - 3

These first 3 days proved to be great patience testers. We were instructed to simply be aware of our respiration and magnify our focus to the triangle area starting between the eyebrows running down to the corners of the mouth. Don't react to it, just observe it. The intention here was to simply sharpen our mind to observe and eventually pick up on the subtle sensations that arise around our body. Easy enough huh? Not one bit! No more blind reactions, just observation... Oh how we constantly reminded in the form of lectures that played through the loudspeakers in the hall by the head teacher, S. N. Goenka.

True to his word, on the third day I started to notice and observe the "sensations" around my nostrils. A sensation can by ANYTHING and this was drilled into our heads over and over again as Goenkas lecture plays through the speakers. To be honest, I was sick of hearing him repeat the same thing, reiterating what a sensation is (but I later started to question it and only wished that I listened more closely rather than get irritated. Basically a sensation can be the heat on your skin, coldness, tingling, vibrations, itching and so on. ANYTHING! 

Day 4 - Vipassana Day

There were signs up all around the compound (yes, there were boundaries. Oh and I forgot to mention that there was gender segration. Men on one side of the establishment, women on the other. They have their own dining, so do we. The only time we really saw them was in the saw. And even then, most people have their head down and eyes closed. I tried to smile at one girl on the third day as we walked into the hall from our separate entrances and she just looked at me puzzledly. Oh well, I tried!) informing us that TODAY was the day we would be learning Vipassana. After the first 3 days of meditating my ass off, my sixth sense kicked in and I picked up everyone else's thoughts; what the hell had we been doing???

Like I said, the purpose of the first 3 days was simply to sharpen the mind to be able to focus on smaller areas to observe these sensations, without reacting. 

The fourth day not only bought with it the continuous, ongoing patience and persistence but a new challenge. We were again, to continue objectively observing the sensations BUT starting from the top of our head, working our way down the body to the toes. Mr. Goenka goes on to explain how our sensations either derive from cravings or aversion. When we react to these sensations, on a subconscious level we are either multiplying our cravings or multiplying our aversion to these sensations. This is why so many people are miserable and are full of negativity in their lives; we blindly react to things people say, situations we are in, thoughts and we continue to build on and generate more and more misery. Mind you, this is just MY understanding of the technique at this point. 

Day 4 also bought with it a new kind of discipline. Refrain from moving, opening your eyes/hands. Naturally the first 3 days, when I got distracted I'd check my watch "awwww, we've only been going for 15 minutes?" or I'd open my eyes and notice everyone else sitting upright, with their eyes closed - WHY AM I THE ONLY ONE IN PAIN?!?!?! (I later found out this is exactly why Goenka instructs us NOT to open our eyes. Everyone is in pain, everyone occasionally looks around to check out others. It's just how we REACT and get discouraged when we do). 

Day 5 

I got through my first group sitting today without opening my eyes. I may have changed my posture once in the hour sitting, but that was a significant improvement and I was very proud of myself. 

I haven't mentioned yet how that when you start Vipassana, you instantly start dreaming incredibly vividly. Not only that, but odd dreams. Old memories start to resurface. Old friends come to mind for the first time in years. Things that are buried deep in the subconscious start to arise. It was very odd at first, and I didn't know how to respond. I thought it was pretty cool and as I became aware of it, I become excited to fall asleep and dream. On the 5th evening, I started to have a few "nightmares." 

Nothing serious, just very odd dreams. On the 6th morning, I didn't even want to get out of bed at 4am to walk down the dark path to the meditation hall (the guys totally had a longer walk than the girls). I also haven't mentioned our daily timetable. One of the few pictures I took...

This is your IDEAL day. Not everyone, myself included stuck to it exactly. But the one thing I did adhere to was the morning wake up bell. I was always in the hall at 4:30am for my own meditation. That one day, I almost missed it. I nervously shuffled down the gravel path with my flashlight flailing everywhere, no joke thinking that I was going to be eaten by a bear or attacked by a ferocious wolf. It was strange...

Day 6

By this point in the course I had developed my own regime. I would always be in the hall for my own meditating at 4:30am. I would stay a minimum at 45 minutes (one day I did sit for the full 2 hours, again very proud) then usually stretch a bit after and then back to bed for another hour. A bell was again rung to indicate breakfast and I would jump out of bed and walk as fast I could to bed the first in line, I'd settle for second. Breakfast was generally the same every day; Oatmeal, stewed prunes, granola, yoghurt, soy and dairy milk, some fruit (bananas, oranges and apples - this doubled as 5pm tea), bread and condiments. I opted for the oatmeal with stewed prunes, maybe another bowl of granola and then a PB + J sandwich.. with a twist! I threw a sliced banana in the middle. BAZINGA! What a great addition to something already so perfect. So I have managed to keep up with having a peanut butter and jam sandwich EVERY SINGLE DAY since being away. 

Enough rambling over breakfast (food just... excites me) because after breakfast, the first 3 days I would crawl back into bed and sleep for another 30 minutes. Not because I was tired, but the mere fact that I had eaten way to much (HUGE portions). Group meditation at 8am absolutely sucked the first few days simply because I was so bloated and lethargic after waking up again. From 9am to 11am I snuck in bit of exercise some days, I found the no exercise rule because it would serve as a distraction to others was a bit lame. So I started doing my own crunches and push ups in my part of the divided room, but this proved to be rather challenging so I got up went for a walk and found a nice little secluded spot within the male boundaries. Here I did what I could and felt a little bit better about myself. 

We were allowed to walk, and walk they did! I got to know some people by their mannerisms, how they conducted themselves whilst they ate, sounds that were made while drinking tea, the way people walked past you, held their hands behind their back. Or my favourite; the Storm Troopers. These select few would move around the compound as briskly and quickly as possible. Good on them, seriously. But I just thought it was funny how they swung their arms, head down and powered away!

ANYHOW, side tracked yet again... Ahh, so between 9am-11am, for me it was anything goes. Rest assured, I did meditate for a minimum for 45 minutes and then maybe went for a stroll, took a nap or took to my own little exercise corner. However, this day I felt a bit homesick as I lay there, so I got my phone out and started to look over all my old photos. 500 of them from as far back as August 2010. This later proved to be more of a distraction rather than anything soothing. I started to miss and really CRAVE my old job, my girlfriend mostly, mums cooking, friends and whatever else. Fortunately, I came to my senses with the help of our latest teaching.

Day 7 - 9

Equanimity: Accepting your reality as it is, not as you want it to be. 

It was the same simple instructions over and over again. Remain determined and disciplined, observe, don't react. Stay aware and equanimous. This word is new to me, but it's definitely got to be a new favourite. I had many meetings with the teacher (we were allowed to speak with the head teacher at selected times of the day for private interviews) over the second half of the course. I found it all pretty straightforward and simple in the beginning. The whole course is, the whole technique is, but like most things in life, we have a tendency to complicate that which does not need to be complicated. I would go on my little strolls within the designated boundaries and little questions and queries would come up, I'd ponder for a while and then eventually book myself in to ask the teacher. I was always provided with a simple and straightforward answer. I didn't feel stupid, just enlightened!

Over these days we continued to meditate intensely, for the most part. The distractions are always there, and will no doubt continue to be there (as I was told) it's how we react, or DON'T react. Be aware, draw your attention back to the task at hand. Don't get upset, don't get discouraged. Just continue on. I would say this is definitely one of the main reasons I never stuck with meditating.

The pain that I experienced during the early stages or the course didn't get better as time went on. My legs ached like nothing else I had every experienced. It's a different type of hurt. My back would stiffen up from attempting to maintain perfect posture. Some simple stretches went a long way... 

I was truly enjoying the silence, the food was delicious. I learned to control my portion sizes and finally came to the realisation that I didn't need to consume 4 servings of lunch. Although, sometimes it was hard. The food was SENSATIONAL (Ha ha ha, I've been waiting to bust that one out!). Beautifully prepared vegetarian meals ranging from lasagna, to super soups, marinated tempeh, tofu and an abundance of fresh vegetables. My desire to cook has only intensified!

The next day...

Day 10

... we were allowed to speak! This was news. I was excited at first, but when we started talking, I must say that I preferred the silence. The Noble Silence ended after the group morning meditation and it was definitely harder to focus and concentrate after chatting to the guys you had been walking past and ignoring for 10 days. We were told it is to ease us back into society, which makes sense. 

That night ice cream was served after dinner (and yes there was a dinner as well. This day rocked!) and I had 3 bowls. Woops. Come 6pm group meditation I was hunched over, a bloated balloon in a sugar coma. 

We were allowed to speak that evening, and mingle with the opposite sex in the dining area until 10pm. I chose to go to bed at 8:30pm, after the discourse. Which I forgot to mention! The discourse was just a video of Mr. Goenka explaining what we had gone through that day, what was learned, helping break it all down and pretty much answering the burning questions running through our minds. 

Day 11

The day prior there was a little meeting to dish out some tasks that were needed to be done before we left, organising ride shares (which worked out fabulously!) and making some donations. The course is solely run on donations. There is no advertising done and you can only donate once you have completed a 10 day sitting. If you only complete half of it and feel compelled to pay for at least your food and boarding, then no dice. AND people did drop off! Out of the men, FOUR dropped off throughout the course. I later found out that only one female left. That does not at all suggest that females are more resilient!

The rest is history! The days went by so slowly, but the 10 days feel so long ago now, but the experience is still fresh in my mind. I have kept up with my daily meditating, it is definitely a lot harder than in the perfect environment created by the volunteers at the course. I don't know if I will sustain it, but I don't think that it matters right now. It's the small things. Since arriving here in Victoria I have found myself a lot more content and happier being just by myself, doing my own thing. 

That's a story for another day though... 

The experience has definitely left a profound impact on me and I'm definitely flying the Vipassana flag. 

This is my personal experience and completely my own perspective. I have only covered the very basics of my experience. I'd gladly answer any questions about the course. 


If you are interested at all, or skeptical. Please give that link a read. 

Bhavatu Sabba Mangalam

Tags: 10 days, meditation, silence, vipassana



Hmm. Hmm. Did not read it all yet, but interesting so far. I may be off to do it soon.

  Raymond May 17, 2012 3:02 AM


I enjoyed your well written journals on Vipassana, James ... and I might even check out the link you've provided, one of these days!!! Keep up the gr8 journals ...they're really quite informative and entertaining!!!

  Norma Jun 6, 2012 1:08 AM



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