Days before heading off to do my first 10-day Vipassana meditation course my mind was furiously finding all the reasons not to go. Once I was on the plane I couldn’t wait to head into 10 days of silence, sensory deprivation, 11 hours of daily meditation, no possessions and responsibilities; I was excited. However, the thought of not being able to contact my loved ones, hadn’t fully settled, I was worried and scared.
Around five years ago I heard about Vipassana for the first time, two years into my meditation practice, I looked up what it is, I was curious, but I didn’t feel ready. Four years later I found myself in Indian Himalayas doing 200 hour yoga teacher training, quite a few of my fellow students had done or were planning to do Vipassana. I was curious once again. One year and six months later, mid-November, I found myself in Dhamma Sobhana, in Mjölby, Sweden, about to embark on my first 10-day Vipassana meditation course.
Vipassana is one of the strictest and most structured forms of meditation. The course is a residential course, for ten days you stay in the meditation centre, all days have a set schedule, and before the course starts you hand over all your valuables, keeping only clothes and toiletries. During the course you are not allowed:
- to talk;
- to read;
- to write;
- to listen to music;
- to exercise;
- to have eye contact or any physical contact with other meditators;
- female and male students are separated.
There are 2 vegetarian meals per day and in the evening there is a tea break, during which you can have tea and some fruit. There are assigned areas for walking, separate for male and female students. You must adhere to the meditation schedule, each day starts at 4 a.m. and ends at 9.30 p.m., with 11 hours of meditation each day and an hour long teachings in the evening. The evening teachings is a video material with S. N. Goenka explain the meditation technique. Thankfully Goenka was also a great storyteller, so from time to time there was a laughter in the meditation hall. This 10-day Vipassana course is the hardest thing I have ever done, it isn’t the best or the worst experience I have had, however it is the most valuable experience I have had. For ten days I was facing myself and no one else, I was put head to head with my mind. It kicked my ass, and brought out a lot of emotions. I am grateful that I had the strength and patience to finish the course.
Everyone comes out with a different experience of Vipassana, one word of advice, go in with no expectations; you cannot predict what might come up during this course. I had been practicing meditation, yoga and prānayāma for years, before I did the course. One of the main reasons I did Vipassana was because I wanted to reconnect with myself from within, I wanted to find silence within me and to have a ‘talk’ with my mind. I wasn’t expecting that so much will come up, the thoughts were coming in waves, like the opening of flood gates. It was loud in my head, really loud.
Day 1 was filled with excitement. Day 2 hit me hard, my mind was loud, the silence around and sensory deprivation really made me realise how loud my mind is. Day 3 was filled with realisation that I am here out of my own free will, I chose this, I chose this pain. It was hard mentally and physically. Day 4 was full of anger, it was the first day of Vipassana meditation with the first sitting of strong determination, during which you sit three times daily for an hour without moving and opening your eyes. It was hard and my mind wandered a lot, and went into really dark places. On this day my mind started to question everything. Though S. N. Goenka emphasises that Vipassana is non-sectarian, there were chants in Pāli language, which made me doubt the whole system. If it is non-sectarian, why there are chants in an ancient language.
Day 5 felt good, my mind started to quieten and I thoroughly enjoyed the breaks after each meal time and walks around the assigned area in the woods. Day 6 was difficult; the sittings of strong determination were hard, the hour seemed like it would never end. I was blaming everyone for torturing me – teachers, course manager, S. N. Goenka. I couldn’t wait for the Day 6 to end. I wanted to go home. I hated that I signed up for it; I didn’t see the point in it all. Day 7 was better, the pain persisted, but not as intense. I was running out of patience. I gave myself an internal pep talk in the mirror. Day 8 and 9 were good, my mind finally settled, the hour long sittings of strong determination felt actually short. My mind was sharper and quieter, and I enjoyed these days. I was grateful that I was there. I could finally meditate; scan my body with a free flow, sensing only subtle sensations, no gross or intensified sensations. My pain subsided, I was more composed. Finally I could say that after all, there might be some merit in this. Day 9 was also filled with excitement, because on the Day 10 silence between meditators would end after the morning’s meditation. On the Day 10 I was worried whether I will be able to actually communicate. Once the Noble silence ended I felt like a heavy lid has been lifted off my head, I was overwhelmed. I was happy that it is the last day and I was proud that I finished the course, I was really proud with myself. On the Day 11, the day of leaving, we got our valuables and phones back, the first calls were emotion filled, and I really didn’t know what to say, how to describe what I had just worked through and survived.
Now after a three week long reflection I still don’t know how to describe this experience. It was the worst and the best, I faced myself with nowhere to hide. I did take away a great lesson from it – the law of impermanence – nothing lasts, everything changes, stay objective and non-reactive. For each and every person this experience will be something else, our minds are so unique, you can’t really prepare yourself for Vipassana. One thing that I can say, it will be one of the best things you can do for yourself, it won’t be easy, it will be really difficult, but it will be rewarding. Use these ten days wisely.
In the end, be kind and smile more often, be grateful for all the good experiences in your life, know they will pass, so enjoy them; know also that the bad times will pass, don’t hang on to them, let them go and move on.