The experience may be summed up as the most challenging, but possibly the most rewarding, experience of my life to date. I expected it to be challenging, but ultimately had no idea how torturous 8-10 hours a day of meditation could be.
I also expected to spend lots of time contemplating my future, my relationships, and my past; instead, I was practicing a technique that brought me completely into the present and left little room or desire for contemplation. I was challenged immensely, but with the greatest challenges also come the greatest rewards, and I have come home now with a new sense of peace, less craving, less aversion, more presence, and an overall joy to be alive like I have never quite felt before.
Those taking the course commit to complete silence and mental pureness for the 10 days:
• No talking, eye contact, touching, or gestures towards other students
• Complete segregation between males and females
• No phones, no Internet
• No outside food, no books, no writing materials, no cameras
• No religious/superstitious symbols
• No yoga/jogging/exercise except walking
• No smoking, alcohol, or other drugs
Days 1-3: Observing our Breath
These were possibly the longest days of my life, going cold-turkey into no forms of communication and sitting in meditation for most hours of the day. I was like a horse that needed to be broken in; a rebellious colt, just dying to kick in some walls and break some mirrors.
The technique: observe your breathe and the sensation of your breathe in and around your nose. If your mind wanders, just observe it, and without judgement, bring your attention back to your breathe.
My goal became to sleep as much as possible and to just get through the 10 days. I began having lots of crazy dreams that carried into my meditation sessions and were my main distraction. My mind didn’t want to focus on my breathing, and so it resisted by any means possible; after a lifetime of buck-wild non-stop craziness, it didn’t want to be tamed.
I began to get irritated. I was often hungry all afternoon and evening as we only got a bit of fruit and tea for dinner. The prolonged silence caused every sound to become amplified. Every burp, sigh, cough, or sneeze in the meditation hall would send surges of irritation through my body.
I was lonely. I cried every one of these days. I was full of resistance to being there and all I could think about was how I wanted to go home.
Days 4-9: Observing sensations in the body
After spending 3 days observing our breathe, we had trained our minds to become more focused and thus were ready to learn the Vipassana meditation technique (more on the technique and my experience with it at the bottom of the e-mail for those who are interested).
Things improved somewhat on Day 4. I had a really great meditation session in the morning. For the first time, I feIt something similar to my entire body dissolving, with pleasant sensations running through every individual cell; all my senses were heightened, and I was completely alert and aware. I thought from then on this was what all my meditation sessions would be like, and so I experienced a couple hours of bliss, until the next time I sat down to meditate and was brought to tears in frustration as I was no longer able to meditate in the same way. This was how I learned my first lesson in non-attachment as a meditator.
From then on, I experienced numerous highs and lows: amazing meditation sessions, followed by torturous ones, followed by somewhat pleasant ones, followed by hardly bearable ones. I had to learn to remain unattached to any experience.
I slowed down a lot over these days too. I had been physically slow for the first three days (as there was no other option), but I eventually began to slow down mentally as well.
After a really good meditation session, I would walk around feeling like I was on a mild sort of drug; very alert, but subdued. I began observing things that I never normally would have noticed: the colours of food blending together on my plate, the ants crawling in the grass, the tilt of the daisies toward the sun, the intricate pattern of veins on the alder leaves, the early morning dew on the yarrow, the rainbow glint of a spider web high up in the trees. When I walked, I began to notice how the earth felt beneath my feet, and how my socks felt rubbing against my ankles. The breeze took on the characteristics of a silky river flowing past my skin, the air held the faint sweetness of berries and flowers, and I found myself taking extra care not to step on any plants or insects. Everything felt a little more alive and I began smiling for no particular reason. It’s amazing what there is to observe when you slow down – one morning, I even got to see two beetles having sex on top of a flower!
Day 10: Let the Chattering Begin
Excitement was in the air – the course was almost complete! We had survived!
Everyone was allowed to begin talking half way through the day, and the centre that had been so quiet for the past 9 days quickly started buzzing with the constant sound of chatter. After about an hour of talking and releasing the pent up laughter of 9 days in silence, I took my sore abs and spinning head to the garden to be by myself. After a bit of time alone, I could face the group again for about another hour, before having to go off on my own again. Many of us were finding the noise and chattering overwhelming, although it was amazing to be able to share our experiences with one another! Everyone I had come to know in silence and seriousness became a smiling, chatting person with a unique story to tell. An amazing and wonderful group of people I wish I had gotten to spend more time chattering with.
Coming home and being back in my normal atmosphere, I can really feel the effects of my time at the centre. I feel lighter, more at peace, less reactive, more present and more vibrant.
Since completing this course, I have now had just a taste of what it feels like to be free from the shackles of my mind. There is much more to learn and experience and I look forward to it all, and feel ever so grateful to have had this opportunity.
Anyone can attend the 10-day meditation course and it is completely free, including food and accommodation. Students can give a donation at the end of the course if they wish, to support the centre and to pay for a future student.
Lots of love!
For those interested, here is more about the Vipassana technique and my experience with it:
Vipassana means seeing things as they really are. It is a meditation technique that is considered to be scientific and non-sectarian; it is a technique that is completely universal, and can be used by a person of any beliefs or religion to relieve their suffering/dissatisfaction.
How it works: Sit, without moving, and observe the sensations in your body. Go through every part of your body and observe the subtle sensations of which you are not normally aware. A key part of this is not to judge the sensations; do not crave the pleasant sensations, and do not create aversion towards the unpleasant ones: just observe.
After the first 3 days spent sharpening the mind, by the time we started Vipassana meditation on Day 4, I was able to observe all sorts of sensations on the surface of my body: heat, cold, pressure, pain, throbbing and tingling, to name a few. I began to get into deeper meditations where I could feel tingling sensations throughout my whole body, and at times I could feel every cell in my body vibrating and tingling with aliveness.
We were to sit through one-hour Vipassana sessions without moving, and so sometimes they became quite torturous as different aches and pains arose. But the beauty of the technique is such that if you are able to successfully observe the pain in your body, without reacting to it, it simply dissolves.
I soon learned that all of our dissatisfaction, our misery, and suffering in life are due to our cravings and aversions. We become addicted to the sensation of craving – whether it be for something pleasant we have experienced in the past, or something pleasant we desire in the future. We also become addicted to the sensation of aversion by constantly creating aversions towards those things we consider to be unpleasant and wishing them to go away. All this craving and aversion causes us great dissatisfaction/suffering in life.
It was amazing to experience this at the level of sensations in my body. The pain in my body was amplified by my aversion towards it. As soon as I was able to just observe it, without any feelings of ‘like’ or ‘dislike’, the pain dissolved. All the pain in our life is similar – it takes on the appearance of being caused by some external factor, but it is our reaction to that external factor, our craving or aversion towards it, that is the true cause of our pain.
The practices of ‘non-reaction’, ‘observing’, and ‘being present’ are not new to most of us, and something many people would agree with on an intellectual level. What makes this meditation technique so powerful is that it goes beyond the intellectual level and delves into the experiential level. After having practiced Vipassana, I feel like I now know how to begin living these principles, instead of just trying or wishing to live by them.