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Daraius: Ten of the toughest days of my life were completing a Vipassana meditation course. And they were also the 10 best days of my life!
I asked if he’d be willing to share his experience so more folks can learn about the benefits of meditation. And find real peace, real happiness, and real harmony in their lives.
A big thank you to Harlan for sharing his story! This is my favorite post of the month!
Link: Vipassana Meditation
Harlan: Thank you, Daraius!
The centers are located near large cities or major airports. Close enough to be accessible, but far enough away to be peaceful.
Days begin at 4:00 am and end around 9:00 pm. Between those times, you’ll meditate up to 10 hours, with breaks for breakfast and lunch.
Simple vegetarian meals are served. And there is no dinner! Only a couple of pieces of fruit, and coffee or tea, are served in the evenings.
You are asked to stay for the entire 10-day period, and to closely follow the code of discipline.
Because what happens at during Vipassana meditation requires persistence and diligence.
When we sat down to watch the introduction video, the teacher, S. N. Goenka, used words like “battle” and “surgical operation” to describe what would unfold over the next 10 days.
The next day, after the morning bell was rung at 4:00 am (that’s when the days begin!), I wondered what I’d gotten myself into!
Why I Signed-Up
I signed-up for the course because I wanted many of the same things as Daraius:
- Mental calm
- A way to cope with daily stresses
- A spiritual journey
Meditation is something I’d always wanted to dedicate some time and attention to. Here was a chance to give it 10 whole days!
Like Daraius, I wanted to understand how I perceive my own reality. And simply observing the present moment, I knew, would be the key to unlocking that mystery.
Ten days sounds like a long time to set aside – especially without your phone, internet, or a computer. But in the larger view, it’s not a long time at all. And it’s well worth it to learn your own thought patterns, quiet your mind, and get to know yourself more deeply.
For all of these reasons, I decided to apply.
How Was It?
Something Goenka said stuck with me. “Your mind is like a disobedient puppy who needs to be trained.”
Days 1 Through 3
My mind was certainly disobedient! I couldn’t stop my thoughts from drifting.
We spent the first few days working with the breath. That was it.
Day 1 was spent watching the breath. Day 2 was about the breath going in and out. And Day 3 was about feeling the “touch” of the breath – sharpening the mind by focusing on a small area.
Over those days, my thoughts changed from entire ideas and imagined or repeated conversations, to phrases, and then to random words.
Daraius had pain in his back. Others report trouble with their shoulders. For me, it was the legs. I tried every position imaginable to stop them from hurting. At times, I thought they’d fall off because they ached so badly.
Getting used to the format of the sittings, and of the overall days, was shocking. The 1st day, in particular, felt like 1 of the longest days of my life!
Not only that, but you are expected to observe Noble Silence – no communication is allowed with anyone around you. Instead, you focus inward. It felt strange to wait in line, open doors, and walk around without speaking to anyone. But once I got used to it, my thoughts began to quiet down.
They called this “Vipassana Day.” It’s when you’re introduced to the technique after the 1st few days of training your mind.
In “seeing things as they really are,” you turn your attention to your own body. You simply observe it. Observe the sensations. The pain, itching, pulsing, vibrating, even your own heartbeat: anything and everything.
You sit inside your mind and watch each sensation arise and pass away, without reacting to it. You learn that every sensation fades away on its own, either slowly or quickly. If you have a big sensation, like a terrible itch or pain in your legs, you’re told to focus on something more subtle.
Once you find the most subtle sensation, you look for others that are even more subtle. In this way, you sink down in layers of subtlety within your own body, training your mind to sharpen further, and become more and more impersonal to your own sensations.
What’s the Point of This?
By isolating the mind-body connection, you realize your thoughts have biochemical implications in the body. By wishing for certain subtle sensations, or wanting to get rid of unpleasant ones, you are craving or avoiding something deeper. Craving and aversion, along with ignorance, are the 3 sources of all misery in your life.
By understanding this within your own mind and body, you are able to isolate the sources of misery from your external world, too.
Days 5 Through 8
The pain in my legs faded as the days unfolded. This was due in no small part to sittings of “Strong Determination.” Beginning Day 5, we had to sit completely still for an hour 3 times per day. No moving, twitching, or adjusting – you couldn’t even open your eyes.
The 1st sitting like this caused both my legs to fall asleep! But I did not react or readjust my position. After many agonizing minutes that felt like hours, the pain began to disappear on its own.
On Day 7, I was assigned a cell in the Pagoda.
The “cell” was an empty room, big enough for cushion. And that’s it!
It was here that I experienced some of the calmest and most transformative moments of my life.
With the Vipassana technique learned, you spend the next few days refining it. You scan your body over and over. And over. At times, I grew bored of my own body.
Other times, I felt giddy and euphoric, like I was flying into space even though I was sitting on a cushion in the Meditation Hall.
I also thought of the past. The future. Some sad thoughts popped up. Happy ones, too.
Each feeling I had, which also included sleepiness, guilt, lightness, and many other emotions, rose inside me – and then gave way to something else. Time after time, I watched the universal law of impermanence take place within myself.
Then, I was able to think of nothing. No words, images, or feelings came to me. Just perfect calm. I focused on making these moments last several minutes. If a thought popped up, I acknowledged it and sent it away.
I could control this so well, I felt like I’d acquired a superpower! This was the 1st time in my life I’ve ever been able to do this. There were many “firsts” at the Vipassana Center. Each felt very special and personal.
Days 9 & 10
Near the end, I stopped counting the days, stopped counting the minutes. I knew I’d been at the Center for over a week, and that it would end soon. Suddenly, each moment felt valuable.
I couldn’t wait to put Vipassana into practice in “the real world,” but for these last days, I focused on being completely present.
As the pain in my legs faded completely, I was able to sit quietly for the entire hour of Strong Determination. When it was over, I sprang right up!
I felt lighter than ever before – and not just because I’d not had dinner for several days. It felt like my body had been holding on to so many thoughts – thoughts that were literally “weighing me down” – that I could actually feel them leaving me.
I started to get “ahead” of my own thought patterns. When I felt a drift start up, I could immediately send it away. And that was it – the thoughts left when I wanted them to!
I experienced several calm and quiet moments that stretched out for quite a while. I was grateful for the Center, for Vipassana, to the servers and administration, to Goenka for teaching me the way.
What a gift that was unlocked! To receive it, I didn’t have to do anything – literally. All I had to do was listen quietly and patiently.
These wonderful, calm feelings were already inside me, ready to come forward. It was everything else that was getting in the way of experiencing my own true peace!
Should You Consider a Vipassana Course?
As you’ll note, much of what Daraius and I discussed is completely intangible. You can’t see a difference, just like you can’t see a thought. But you can feel it.
Vipassana is the 1st stop in Dhamma – the overall path. But it’s a very important one. The cliche is true – the journey begins with a single step.
Learning to meditate in this way is challenging.
Even though you’re “just” sitting on a cushion the whole time, it’s draining. Draining physically, mentally, and emotionally. After returning to work, I felt like I hadn’t had a break at all. In fact, I worked harder during those 10 days than I ever have in my life!
There’s no cost for the 10-day course. But you can donate whatever you’re able to afford once you complete it.
Now that I’m back, I feel pockets of peace where I used to feel impatience, annoyance, or negativity. I still have a long way to go, but I wouldn’t swap my 10 days learning Vipassana for anything. I’ve taken the 1st steps.
It takes a while to understand why and how it works. Even if you don’t understand, you can feel the effects nearly immediately.
Here’s an introduction to Vipassana from S. N. Goenka. Again, it’s hard to describe what occurs during the 10-day course because everyone’s experience is so personal and different. I recommend reading about it as much as you can. And then, take the leap!
It’s hard work to remove your own thoughts, ego, and baggage out of your own way. Be ready to commit to 10 tough days of doing this. Learning the technique partially won’t help. Only sign-up when you’re truly ready.
But when you are, what a gift you choose to give to yourself: the tools to counteract stress, live more calmly, and find real joy in the present moment.
Harlan – Thanks for sharing your Vipassana story! Click here to find the Vipassana Center closest to you. Application links are available on each’s Center’s individual page.