This post is dedicated to Vipassana, the 10 most “what-was-I-even-thinking?” and “so-grueling-I-thought-I’ll-GO-CRAZY” days of my life.Good news is, I survived!
The very idea of Vipassana, the complexity in it’s simplicity caught my attention a few months back. Honestly, I wasn’t going through a very glorious period in life and soooooo, the willingness to complete the course, that basically is a “Meditation boot-camp” successfully was my much needed recluse.
I opted for the Dhamma Shikara meditation centre, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh. Well, obviously!
“Vipassana” which means to see things as they really are, is one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation. It was rediscovered in India more than 2500 years ago by Gautama Buddha as a universal remedy for universal ills. The technique is taught at ten-day residential courses by the late S.N. Goenka and his students all over the world.
Undoubtedly, one of the strictest, most intense meditation practices that exists.
Why you ask?
- You are entering 240 hours of solitary confinement where speaking, eye-contact, verbal/physical communication with anyone, of any kind is strictly prohibited. Not kidding.
- No phones or technology. No yoga pants. No gym. No music. No reading. No writing. No masturbating. No sex. No lying. No smoking. No drugs or alcohol.
- You get meals (very fulfilling, Sattvik food) 2 times a day. No solid food after mid day. No dinner!
- If you think meditation is relaxing, get ready to face intense physical and mental pain as a result of this sudden stillness in life.
So what happened exactly?
First three days were the longest. One day seemed like a hundred. My mind wasn’t at rest as I had imagined it to be, which was shocking because the jobs assigned to us were only:
- Day 1: Focus on your natural breathing
- Day 2: Focus on the feeling of your breath going in and out of your nostrils.
- Day 3: Focus on “sensations” that arise on your upper lip. This can be an itch, a tinge, coolness, the feeling of air passing by..just anything. Focus only on that.
- Day 4: This day, the Vipassana technique is taught: Now the focus has to be shifted to the entire body, part by part. Starting from the top of the head, forehead, eyes, nose, cheeks, lips, ears, neck, chest, hands, stomach and so on. ONE BY ONE. Slowly.
- Day 5- Day 10: Continue scanning the entire body for minor/major sensations slowly. Up to down, down to up, front to back, back to front till a point where you experience FREE FLOWING sensations in the entire body. This stage may/ may not be reached in 10 days, so no panicking. It’s normal. 🙂
Event 1: I groggily tumbled out of bed at 4 am and somehow made it to my meditation mat. Focusing on breathing. What I thought to be a relaxing retreat away from the toxic world, turned out to be sheer psychological torment. Thus, I was sleepy most of the times and just couldn’t sit down in one position for more than a few minutes. My knees, back, neck, butt were crying for help and were always eager to give up. These million hours of sitting down with the built up pressure on my butt (which I was sure will be flattened in 10 days) scared me for the number of squats I’ll be needing later. I was frustrated, angry, tired and on the verge of giving up. But I bet everyone was.
Lesson 1: Equanimity = Non-reactivity :The ability to simply observe, and not react .We were asked to stop creating mental pain out of physical pain. That’s when I began analyzing of how much pain was real v/s how much pain was created by my mind.
Observe the physical pain, don’t think, keep observing, observe more and whoosh!! It’s gone!
Slowly but magically, I could deal with the physical pain with ease. Took me quite some time, but happened eventually.
Then occurred a sudden hurricane of thoughts in my head, so many thoughts I never knew I had. These thoughts were not logical, were not even interlinked, I didn’t want to think what I was thinking but I had zero control. All kind of convictions broke in.. Insightful, devilish, shameful, horrifying, incessant, spiritual ..all at once. Was I always this crazy? At this moment I realized how complex my mind is and what capabilities it held. Oh man! HOW AM I EVER GOING TO MEDITATE?
Am I a lunatic? Is my mind going to spontaneously combust and kill me?
Lesson 2: Impermanence: anitya (Sanskrit), is one of the essential doctrines and a part of three marks of existence in Buddhism. All physical and mental events come into being and dissolve.
Nothing is ever meant to be permanent.
The mind is an incredibly powerful and convincing persuader.
But this is what I realized, real time experience: My current state of mind won’t last as it is forever. Thoughts will come into being and then will dissolve. That’s the ultimate truth.
Slowly I was able to shift my mind from crazy thrills to scanning my body within seconds. Yuhoo!
Food breaks were my best, most awaited hours. Just like recess. During the initial days, I overfed myself every time, just so my stomach would stop making wild, embarrassing noises in the night. No dinner, remember? I would dream of pizzas, thick shakes, biryani and would crave and crave some more. Unintentionally though, I was suffering.Plus, my mind was alert as ever. Sleep was nowhere to be found. Tummy growling, thoughts rushing. How do I sleep? Arrrggghhhh!!!
Lesson 3: Craving and Aversion: We create immense attachment to the external (people/ possessions) and then suffer greatly from craving (wishing for something that we do not have) and when we don’t get what we want, we create aversion (someone or something that arouses a strong dislike).
The kind of food I was craving were not my necessity, I could totally live without it, yet I suffered in their absence. So yeah! It’s absolutely fine to want something but making it your obsession and meanwhile losing your calm IS NOT.
Learn to love but also to let go!
Ye nahi toh kuch aur hi sahi?
Event 4: The silence while living inside my head for this long led to a direct confrontation with MYSELF. And I wasn’t pleased. The aches, realities from the past that I was running away from, caught me! The people I thought I had forgiven, the thoughts I had buried, my existential catastrophes, the nightmares, my mistakes, my guilt, my anger, my vulnerabilities… It was all out there and I was freaking out. BAD! I think it was Day 6 and 7, which were the hardest. I had mental breakdowns. I couldn’t take it..my own reality. When I tried sleeping, I had terrible nightmares.
WHAT. THE. ACTUAL. FUCK?
Lesson 4: Mastering the inner dialogue: Facing so many inner demons at once scared me. I was breaking down and was at my most vulnerable state. And there was no one I could share it with. I was the only warrior against these many demons. I was shaking. But once I accepted my reality, it all made sense…
I realized that human beings are driven by two extreme forces: Love and Fear.
Everything we do is a consequence of either of these two factors. And that’s the key to understanding yourself and others. Being compassionate and resonating with the outside world with patience (why did they do this to you? Think! ), is your cheat sheet to a happier self. Period.
Further, through million hours of continuous meditation, I discovered..
Physical sensations of our body provide a huge gateway to understanding ourselves and the world.MAJOR DISCOVERY GUYS!
For example: Think about someone/ something/ some place important in your life and pay attention to your physical sensations that occurs in your body while you think about them. Butterflies in tummy, tinge in the chest, quickened breath, a sense of comfort, worry, peace, anxiety, fear, happiness? Your body knows it all and it speaks to you. Vividly. So, PAY ATTENTION. And follow the signs.
MY EVERYDAY ESCAPE:
Nature: With the limited space to roam, my life paced down. I was more observant than ever. I endlessly watched the rain falling. I went for walks, watching bits of the outside world visible through the boundaries. I collected little stones, carefully observed their patterns. I grew fond of watching baby monkeys cuddling with mommy monkeys, jumping, falling, creating havoc all over the place. Monkeys are hilarious. I patiently watched snails crawling. Snails are so cute. I made tiny boats out of leaves and stems, decorated them with tiny wildflowers. I watched the water droplets dwindling over branches, listened to thunderstorms and smiled a lot throughout. The whole fascinating drama of nature, CALMED ME DOWN.
The evening discourses: The 7.00 PM video discourses by the late S.N.Goenka were my ultimate everyday savior. Every time he spoke, a tiny ray of light glinted through a crack in the darkness. He spoke exactly what I needed to hear that particular day as if he could read my mind, constantly reassuring me that I wasn’t the only one experiencing pain and helplessness. I WASN’T CRAZY, fellas! Phew!!!!
THE FINAL RELEASE:
The Noble Silence broke on afternoon of Day 10 and surprisingly, I didn’t feel like talking at all. Now that I’ve been away from the instant validation and gratification of my phone for over 220 hours, things had slowed down. And instead of fighting it, I’m just existing in it. This change was as sudden as it was 10 days before. But soon after, the entire place was filled with mellifluous and lively chatter. I guess I might have cried a little when I held my dearest phone again.
Finally I knew…Discipline. Focus. Inner peace. And the drill. It’s possible after all. (Even if you’re an engineer. HA HA!)
The old life with new perspective resumed on Day 11.
Things to know:
- Vipassana course is entirely FREE. You don’t pay for food, lodging, the beautiful surroundings or teachings. It is maintained and run entirely on donations by the students worldwide. This is necessary because it humbles you, turns you into a monk with a begging bowl, grateful for whatever’s given, not judging or expecting as you haven’t paid for it.
- Day 3 and Day 6/7 are going to be the hardest. Stay calm!
- Is it a cult/ religious group? Oh no no no! Absolutely NOT.
- Will it magically transform your life? NO. But will teach you the technique.
- Would I recommend it? Yes. Your experience will be entirely different that mine, just like our lives. So yeah, go on!
- Selection criteria: In some places is pretty hard to get a place if you don’t apply from the beginning, so try to check the website for the course often. There’s always a waiting list. Basically you fill a form, answer a few health related questions, give a working email and phone number so that they can revert back incase you are selected.
- Click here to know more: https://www.dhamma.org/en-US/index
Here’s a little video of what the Vipassana centre looks and feels like: