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“If you’re thirsty, I can’t drink the water for you” – S.N. Goenka
For 10 days, I did not talk, gave up my cell phone and laptop, did not read or write, ate vegetarian food, and had tea and 2 pieces of fruit for dinner.
Link: Vipassana Website
My day involved getting up at 4:00 am and meditating until 9:00 pm at night. This was broken up by the occasional walk around my dorm where I stared at the stars and the sunset with newfound appreciation and subtlety!
I don’t have the ability to express in words how incredibly profound and insightful this experience was. Not only was it the toughest thing I’ve done, but also the best experience of my life!
The 10-day stay and food was completely free thanks to the kind folks at Vipassana.
I can talk for hours and hours about my experience, but in the interest of brevity, I’ll just share a few thoughts in this post. Grab me at a conference and I’ll (for once) talk your ears off. 🙂
Why Did I Do This?
I’ve been dabbling with yoga and meditation as a way to calm down.
Ever since I can remember, folks have usually told me to “calm down” or to “just relax.” I’ve always been the kind of guy who used to find it hard to just “chill out.”
Everything had to be done to my high exacting standards. I used to either react or overthink situations. Often this was more negatively than I should have and what was good for me and those close to me.
Yeah, your quintessential “Type A” personality approaching burnout. 🙂
What Is Vipassana?
Quite literally, Vipassana means seeing things as they really are. It is a meditation technique which originated in India, and was used by Gautama, The Buddha.
Well, what’s different about it?
I’ve known for decades that I should “treat those two impostors (triumph & disaster) just the same.” But merely thinking or wishing for these is unlikely to work. I learned that I have to actually experience these within myself to see how both are impermanent sensations.
Creating impurities such as anger, hatred, and fear is a path to misery.
Vipassana taught me a way (outside of mere intellectual understanding) to live peacefully & happily. How to purify the mind and free myself of the suffering caused by craving, aversion, and ignorance. And how to live with equanimity, compassion, and joy towards others.
The cause for my misery and happiness lies within me. And I have to walk the path (Dhamma) myself. Vipassana showed me how to actually do this in daily life.
I loved the key message that everyone has to work out their own path to freedom and their own salvation. There isn’t a magic book, or set of phrases, or promises to be made which will get you there.
This was completely free of rituals, religion, drugs, alcohol, tobacco, grandiose pictures of so-called “gurus” and incense wafting through the rooms, etc. Introspection is serious business and I loved how one of the key messages was that we had to work diligently and persistently to find the answers.
I had to do the work yourself. And it was bloody hard work! Physically hard. Mentally hard. And emotionally hard.
But it was undertaking the hard work of meditating for 10 days in silence, which enabled me to actually experience these insights. Instead of merely having an intellectual understanding of it.
My Experience in Texas
Day 1 to 3
On Day 1, I walked into the registration hall in Kauffman, Texas (there are 162 centers word-wide). We were all excited about our journey, and many had flown in from around the US and the world!
After a few hours, the noble silence started and we weren’t going to speak to each other for another 10 days.
On the 1st few days, we learned to observe our breath as it came into our nostril and flowed out of it. My initial thoughts were very much sensory – about sex, sleep, and food. About memories of my childhood. My future goals and aspirations. The different types of businesses I want to start. And food! Lots and lots of food…
I woke up in the night many times with deep, deep cravings for a juicy hamburger or a steak! And the more I reflected on this, the more I realized that I numb myself by eating. Drugs, tobacco, parties, and alcohol aren’t my thing, but I
do did love meat!
Every evening there was a video which was remarkable for its uncanny ability to know exactly what we went through that day. Goenka noted how our minds kept wandering from the past to the future and how that contributed to agitation.
Everyone needs to remember the past and plan for the future, but it can also be very unhealthy if all we do is cling to good times and hate the bad times.
Observing this firsthand was very important because I got to see how to live in the present moment instead of being agitated about the past and future.
I was also in excruciating pain from having to sit on the floor. I tried every position I could – cross legged, thunderbolt, legs up and my arms wrapped around them. At one point, I made a castle out of the cushions provided, but it still hurt a lot. On the last day of the course, when we could talk, the guy behind me remarked that there were times when he thought that I was going to fall on him and bury him in a barrage of cushions!
I eventually asked for a chair to sit on. I wasn’t going to quit and go home.
Day 4 to 6
Over the next few days, we learned how to observe sensations in our body and to sit still and not react to them. This was the hardest part of the course for me – I was in pain, hungry & horny.
Sweat poured down my sides. I felt like I was crying, but when I wiped my eyes there were no tears! I thought my spine was going to snap. My legs became numb.
I fantasized about escaping and devouring a 100 ounce steak!
I fantasized about a harem of women.
I fantasized about being a baby and being held tightly by my mother. And playing with my family.
Day 7 to 10
And then something suddenly snapped…
In the last few days, I felt a deep sense of peace and happiness. The pain in my body suddenly disappeared. If my mind fast-forwarded to the worst-case scenario, I was able to accept that thought with equanimity, realize that I was projecting into the future, and then come back to the present moment.
My mind was sharp. Whip-sharp and clear. I watched the moon very closely at night. It was beautiful, and round, and was glowing with a golden white light which bathed the dark sky.
I watched the bees flit from flower to flower with new-found fascination. I watched the streaks of sunshine in the sky with amazement and gratitude.
As another wise man said:
“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” – Ferris Bueller
I could sit still for an hour (I didn’t need to sit on the chair) without moving much and I felt a calmness and peace which I’ve never experienced before when I finally opened my eyes.
There were sensations inside me (which I could feel) and that my mind wasn’t wandering to the past or present. If I thought about something which made me angry, I could hear my heart pound faster and the blood quickening its step through my arteries.
I felt love and happiness towards everyone, including those to whom I had previously felt anger and resentment.
No “problem” seemed insurmountable. It was all impermanent and remaining equanimous is the best I can do. Clinging onto the good experiences is just a route to misery.
A few times, I felt that I was flying even though I was just sitting on the cushions.
Another key learning was that I have to do the work myself – no one else can do it for me. I have to walk the path myself.
Day 10 & 11
The noble silence was lifted in the middle of the 10th day. And even though we hadn’t talked to everyone in the class, we felt connected to everyone. Over lunch, I learned that all of us had given each other nicknames – and concocted – entire life histories based on a person’s t-shirts or demeanor!
The guy wearing t-shirts adorned with images of Malibu and Venice Beach became, “California Guy.” The person in the t-shirts with medical devices and drugs was quite obviously a doctor! And so on…
I found it quite amusing that someone had nicknamed me “Oasis” claiming that I resembled one of the Gallagher brothers!
At the end of 10 days, I had much better awareness of the sensations in my body.
I experienced first-hand that:
- Everything is ephemeral – arising and passing away. That “this, too, will pass” or annica (impermanence) of both the pleasant and unpleasant sensations
- Much of my physical discomfort is actually mental pain, and it didn’t need to be that way
- God is truth, and love, and purity. And that there is a seed of God in each of us
- My thoughts and emotions have no pattern to them and they come and go
- Extreme physical discomfort fades away after a while
- I can be a vegetarian if I want to be one
- Joy and compassion and love is a happier path than anger and resentment
- Life goes on without cell phones and the internet and I don’t have to be addicted to the web
I can’t wait to go back for another 10-day Vipassana course next year!!
And I encourage everyone to take part in a Vipassana course. May all beings find real peace, real happiness, and real harmony in life.