The first time I heard about Vipassana was four years ago.
I didn’t entirely grasp what it is about. The only thing I heard from people who did it was that the course has changed them and their lives for the better.
To be honest, I never felt ready to undertake this type of meditation until recently.
On July 15th, I set foot in Dhamma Sikhara, a Vipassana center in Dharamkot, India. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I subconsciously expected the same smoothness I’d experienced in my previous “Introduction to Buddhism” course, which I took three days prior entering the Vipassana one.
I felt exhilarated to have a second chance to free myself of worldly opportunities for 12 days. However, reading the timetable and the instructions we had to follow made me ascertain that there is an incomparable effort that must be put into this course.
The timetable was as follows:
4:00 a.m. Morning wake-up bell
4:30-6:30 a.m. Meditate in the hall or in your room
6:30-8:00 a.m. Breakfast break
8:00-9:00 a.m. Group meditation in the hall
9:00-11:00 a.m. Meditate in the hall or in your room, according to the teacher’s instructions
11:00-12:00 p.m. Lunch break
12:00-1:00 p.m. Rest and interviews with the teacher
1:00-2:30 p.m. Meditate in the hall or in your room
2:30-3:30 p.m. Group meditation in the hall
3:30-5:00 p.m. Meditate in the hall or in your own room, according to the teacher’s instructions
5:00-6:00 p.m. Tea break
6:00-7:00 p.m. Group meditation in the hall
7:00-8:15 p.m. Teacher’s discourse in the hall
8:15-9:00 p.m. Group meditation in the hall
9:00-9:30 p.m. Question time in the hall
9:30 p.m. Retire to your own room—lights out
To meditate for nearly 11 hours a day isn’t an easy task. Nevertheless, I knew for a mental purification to take place, these 11 hours must be covered.
Vipassana meditation is about eradicating suffering. It teaches us how to face every day’s problems in a more conscious and balanced way. Instead of changing the action that’s taking place outside, we change the reaction that lies within us. In conclusion, Vipassana removes the three essential causes of suffering: craving, aversion and ignorance. Also, it removes many psychosomatic diseases that threaten our health.
I felt ready. I deeply, truly wanted these causes of suffering to vanish.
Everything was perfect…for the first couple of hours. (Honestly, I almost quit three times—but thankfully, I stayed.)
The course was held in silence and no human contact was allowed. We were asked to look downward when we cross paths with others and keep a distance of one meter when we stand in line for lunch. We were to refrain from reading, writing or practicing any religious practices.
No dinner was served at the site. We only had tea at 5:00 p.m. and if it was our lucky day, we’d get delicious biscuits. The food that was served for breakfast and lunch was Indian and quite spicy—and my stomach doesn’t tolerate spicy food.
The rooms were two meters by three meters, and they consisted of one bed and one wooden table.
The reason why I almost quit and why I stayed is the same: my ego was provoked.
The only difference is that my ego didn’t like it, but I did, and this is why I stayed. I knew the only way to kill my ego was to provoke it.
My ego didn’t enjoy being exposed. The first couple of days I went to my room and cried because I was starving. On day four, I craved human interaction. Over the next 10 days, I basically lived on boiled potatoes, rice, curd and porridge—whenever it was served.
Mostly, my ego didn’t like what was happening during the meditation sessions. What the Vipassana technique basically does is create an opening into our subconsciousness—and so, memories and thoughts which we’ve been oblivious to rise to the surface. The difference is there is no WiFi, no book, no person or any other escape to allow us to brush these memories under the rug. We have no other choice but to face them and eradicate them.
On day nine, my ego had no other choice but to accept what was happening. My body adapted to the fact that there is no dinner, and I started enjoying my tea and biscuits. In fact, I had a hard time having dinner again after leaving the course. I enjoyed my room and all the spiders that permeated it. Instead of thinking of a plan to escape the spiders, I would watch them for hours, weaving their webs on the window next to my bed.
Boiled potatoes, rice and curd became my favorite meal—some people have no food at all. The complete detachment from human beings, that at times bothered me, became enjoyable. Instead, I created a connection with insects. I was to spend my time during the breaks saving ladybugs on the floor, so no one would step on them.
Beautifully enough, I realized the nature of my body and mind. I have realized that whatever is rising is also passing, and this is what they call “anicca” or impermanence. Thoughts are like rivers. Their very nature is to flow, but the problem remains with us stopping at every memory and grasping at it.
Even diseases and sickness. Vipassana has taught me that all is man’s creation. On day one, I couldn’t sit in meditation for more than one hour. My knees would hurt badly, and my legs fell asleep. Around day six, I figured out that my pain was mental. The pain would still arise, but it would be rapidly eradicated once I accepted it and didn’t try to hold on to it.
Most importantly, I have learnt acceptance. I have realized that seldom do we have the power to change external factors. But what we can change is ourselves, the reactions that emanate from us, and the reactions that stem from our ego (which is constantly trying to control everything).
That being said, I learnt that my ego is an illusion that controls my life. I learnt that provoking it and facing it isn’t as bad as I thought. In fact, it’s fun. Eradicating it is a piece of cake once we realize that its sole purpose is to transform everything from good to bad.
So it becomes a challenge. It was indeed challenging to face my ego and to prove to myself that bad, ugly, gross, boring, sad—and any other negative adjective that the ego creates—don’t exist, except in our minds.
Now I appreciate food and spacious rooms. I appreciate the existence of other humans—and essentially, I appreciate my own existence.
In short, I have realized that the real world lies not on the outside, but inside me.
This world is inside you too.
Author: Elyane Youssef
Image: Instagram @elephantjournal
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina