“Liberation can be gained only by practice…” – S.N. Goenka
Yesterday morning at 6:30am, I completed my first Vipassana Meditation course. When my couchsurfer, Aushutosh, dropped me off 10 days prior, I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. Meditation sounds harmless yet when he hugged me good-bye and wished me good luck, not only was I fighting tears but my hands trembled in fear. 10 days with nothing but your mind doesn’t seem THAT threatening, but once in an environment to support the practice of ‘liberating oneself’ with NOOOO distractions, one quickly learns how wild and untamed the mind is.
At registration, participants must surrender to a list of precepts, adhere to the strict code of conduct and agree to follow the course schedule.
|4:00 am||Morning wake-up bell|
|4:30-6:30 am||Meditate in the hall|
|6:30-8:00 am||Breakfast break|
|8:00-9:00 am||Group meditation in the hall|
|9:00-11:00 am||Meditate in the hall or in your room according to the teacher’s instructions|
|11:00-12:00 noon||Lunch break|
|12noon-1:00 pm||Rest and interviews with the teacher|
|1:00-2:30 pm||Meditate in the hall or in your room|
|2:30-3:30 pm||Group meditation in the hall|
|3:30-5:00 pm||Meditate in the hall or in your own room according to the teacher’s instructions|
|5:00-6:00 pm||Tea break|
|6:00-7:00 pm||Group meditation in the hall|
|7:00-8:15 pm||Teacher’s Discourse in the hall|
|8:15-9:00 pm||Group meditation in the hall|
|9:00-9:30 pm||Question time in the hall|
|9:30 pm||Retire to your own room–Lights out|
In summary: 10 hours of meditating every day for 10 days.
The first day I was very optimistic about the experience. Having done a lot of self-work the last 15 months, I thought I was ahead of the game in ‘knowing thyself’ and had already developed a misery-free, pure mind. But I did agree to abstain from mixing ‘what I know’ with their technique in order to learn ‘the art of living peacefully and harmoniously’. So, I willing retired my ego at the door and agreed to fully comply with their rules for the duration of the course.
Day One—The 4:00am wake up bell rings. Waking up at 4:00am was never a problem; however, staying awake at 4:00am with closed eyes was literally backbreaking! For two hours, I swayed left and right; barely catching myself before smashing into another student. If not battling slumber, I was intently focused on the sounds of my stomach and the slow moving hands on the clock; all while sampling every possible sitting position.
Two hours later, the breakfast bell rang. “THANK GOD,” I thought. I shot up like a rocket, but was instantly overcome with pain and discomfort as sitting for 2 hours at 4:00am was not something my body was accustom too. After gaining my balance, I silently stumbled out of the hall and made my way over to the dining hall. After finding a seat and sipping the warm chai I told myself not to be upset—surely I wasn’t the first person on the planet to fall asleep during morning meditation. After a warm shower and a brisk walk around the small quarters, I told myself all would be well, so ‘shake it off’ Taylor Swift, it’s only the first day!
Despite my gung-ho attitude, the remaining 8 hours were as tortuous as the first two. Not only that, you quickly realize your mind is a never-ending parade of thoughts. Every possible situation, circumstance, person, reason, outcome, colour, food, idea, movie, shape, animal, invention at one point or another WILL pop into your head. Your brain is like the Energizer Bunny— it just keeps ‘going and going and going…’ and by 9:00pm, you’ve literally exhausted yourself! Your head seizes with pain and your body aches as if you had just ran a marathon, though your step count was likely under 100 for the day.
As I, and my aching body, crawled into bed that evening, my eyes started to well-up with tears. I screamed to my internal mind “What am I doing here?!? I can’t do this for 9 more days!!!” Frustrated, I clenched my retainers fearing that my blubbering sobs would break the noble silence and get me in trouble. But at that point in time, I gravely considered what rules I could break in order to get expelled from the centre! Realizing my mind could spend the next 5 hours formulating an inconceivable expulsion plan, I instead decided to calm down and shut it down. I took a deep breath in, and like a baby I suckled on the plastic mouth appliances for soothing relief. The lights went out, the dorm fell silent and as I closed my eyes, I whispered to myself “worst idea ever”!
Ultimately, my time at the centre was filled with up’s and down’s, break-throughs and upsets, arduous pain and utter bliss! The best way for me to summarize the remaining 9 days is by utilizing The Matrix movie as a metaphor.
When Neo takes the red pill he discovers life is a ‘wonder’land— booming with endless possibilities! This is similar to how I felt after taking the Landmark Worldwide seminars. A dose of that program provided one with a practical methodology and tools to produce extraordinary and unpredictable results in their life. And like Neo, there’s no going back after having the awakening!
Vipassana, can be compared to The Matrix scenes which highlight Neo’s Kung Fu training. Neo spends hours and hours in a chair physically motionless, yet he learns how to ‘train and free his mind’. This is very much what Vipassana does. One spends hours and hours motionless on a cushion, yet learns scientific laws in order to operate one’s thoughts, feelings, judgements and sensations in order to achieve self-control and inner peace.
The mind perpetually wanders—that we know, and often it wanders in the past or in the future; rarely staying in the present. Because of this, the mind remains wild, agitated and miserable. Misery is a universal malady and breath is common to all. In order to stay present and be in the reality of the moment one has to focus on the only thing that is constantly present, which BREATH is.
With proper training, Neo manages to eradicate mental defilements, negativities within and thus attains liberation from misery and full enlightenment. Essentially, Vipassana is supporting the same idea; through training one learns how to extract all impurities of the mind in order to experience REAL joy, peace, harmony, happiness and liberation.
What often happens is while most people in society know this, no one wants to DO the work and practice in order to be fully liberated. For example, most people stand around whining and complaining about how thirsty they are, yet they don’t want to get up to get themselves a glass of water. Instead they continue to stand in their misery and watch other people drink water and quench their thirst. NEWS FLASH: watching other people drink water doesn’t satisfy YOUR need. Ultimately, YOU have to do the work, get up and drink the water yourself in order to live!
After the first day, I quickly realized I had two choices; sit with eyes closed and let time pass OR be active in my time, do the work and see where the path leads me. They say “time heals”, but time passing doesn’t heal anything! One has to be active with their time in order to achieve results. When in a space free from distraction one really sees how we’re all working from the same source. We’re all equal, and either you’re choosing to do the work and practice with the tool that we were all given or you’re not.
At the end of the 10 days, how you felt was a result of YOUR work since we were all working from the same source – our breath. It wasn’t easy, but I realized it was easier to be patient and persistent then to resist doing the work and waste precious time.
During the last group meditation on the 10th day, I sat comfortably and motionless for the entire session. My stomach wasn’t full, time didn’t speed up and the cushion didn’t change, it was me who had changed. In doing the work I got to experience the results. And although I only took one step on this journey AND I fully recognize there is more work to be done, tears streaming down my cheeks served as a reminder that you will only ever experience the results of YOUR actions.
Below is a photo of myself with the fabulous women I shared this experience with! We started a Vipassana What’s App group so that we can continue to support eachother on our journey’s of liberation!