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Sometimes, I feel that we get introduced to certain important concepts late in life.
Nonetheless, as they say, “it’s better late than never.”
I heard of Vipassana for the first time from a friend who claimed that his life had changed immensely after he tried out this particular form of meditation. He went for the 10-days rigorous meditation practice after his mother passed away, and he was having difficulty accepting the futility of life. As I listened to his experiences, I was moved by one fact, how he talked about being mindful about the moment—this particular moment—and our breath which we are barely conscious of.
To be honest, I opted instead to attend the Vipassana Meditation Course, just for the sake of experiencing it. I had no idea how it would impact my life. In fact, I didn’t really think much before signing up for it. I just went with the flow and jumped into the deeper waters that brought me closer to myself.
Before I share my experience, I would like to tell you a bit about what exactly Vipassana is. It is known to be one of the oldest Buddhist meditation practices, where one has cut themselves from the external world, training one’s mind to focus on the present, and it entails a set of exercises that are dedicated to making one more and more aware of their experiences.
To put it simply, it’s an inward journey that helps us to know ourselves in better light, and to understand the biggest fact of life, impermanence.
Vipassana, as a meditation practice, has skyrocketed in popularity over the last few years. While the tradition dates back to ancient times, the modern technique of Vipassana was popularized by S.N. Goenka, who not only spread the word in India, but across the globe as well. I chose the Jaipur Center in Rajasthan, India, which is also known as Dhamma Thali, a pristine location surrounded by the Aravalli mountain range on all sides.
On arrival, I was asked to fill a form stating that I’ll abide by the guidelines of the Vipassana center, respect the path of Buddhism, and maintain silence. We were given lockers to keep our mobile phones and other belongings that could distract our minds. It was just clothes that we were allowed to take with us, and everyone was allotted a separate room with a bathroom. It was the perfect example of simple living that was supposed to be the main ingredient of being mindful.
Also, we were instructed to not look at anyone (as eye contact can lead to an exchange of emotions) or even smile at someone. To let out our emotions, we weren’t allowed to read or write. Instead, the idea was to feel those emotions and deal with them, internally.
Being human, we always keep seeking peace from the outside world; we look for a shoulder to cry on or head out for vacations to recover from heartbreak. This was the first time when I was realizing that the solutions to the hardest problems are within me. I can be my own problem solver. All I needed was to awaken the power within myself.
It’s not just mental health that we had to focus on, but physical health as well. We were served what they called Sattvik food. Which is basically a low-calorie plant-based diet. Generally, in life, we don’t pay much attention to what we consume, especially today when many of us are hugely dependent on junk food. During the Vipassana course, we had lighter meals with less salt and sugar.
It wasn’t just simple living, but minimalist living as well.
For 10 days, our daily routine was like this:
4:00 a.m.: morning wake-up bell
4:30-6:30 a.m.: meditation
6:30-8:00 a.m.: breakfast
8:00-11:00 a.m.: guided meditation
11:00- 2:00 p.m.: lunch break
12:00-1:00 p.m.: resting time (one could talk to the Masters during this time)
1:00-2:30 p.m.: guided meditation
5:00-6:00 p.m.: dinner
6:00-7:00 p.m.: guided meditation
7:00-8:15 p.m.: teacher’s discourse
8:15-9:00 p.m.: guided meditation
9:00-9:30 p.m.: talking to the masters (optional)
9:30 p.m.: retire to your room
For someone like me, who had never meditated before in life, sitting for more than 10 hours at a stretch, on a daily basis seemed difficult in the beginning. But soon, I realized that it wasn’t impossible.
Every morning, they rang bells outside our rooms to wake us up. I shall not lie, but there were a couple of days (or maybe more) when I had slept off the morning meditation session.
But slowly, I was learning how to get hold of my breath in a way I never did. Just imagine, I was 22 years old and this was the first time that I was feeling good about being alive. I learned to appreciate my breathing patterns as I consciously inhaled and exhaled. I was becoming more conscious of myself—of my mind, body, and soul.
Each day’s meditation had a deeper meaning and by the end of the day, the focus was on impermanence. Throughout those 10 days, we were taught that now is the moment when we are breathing, and we are alive—and no one knows what the next moment holds for us. What is there now, might not be there in the next moment. So all we can do is, live this moment.
The guided meditations were a blessing, especially for someone like me who was a novice to the entire concept.
Let me share one interesting incident with you. One day, during the discourse, I was trying to be extremely mindful but felt weird cramps in my legs. It seemed like I could sit no longer and coincidentally, the discourse mentioned that we all suffer from pain, but mostly, we think that it’s just me who’s suffering as we look around and find others at peace. But that’s not the truth. Everyone has their own problems (and pains), so we should be more empathetic toward others.
They say that the 3rd and the 7th day of those 10 days are the hardest, and if you survive those days, you’re stronger than you consider yourself to be.
As I sat there, silent and still, looking within myself, my whole life flashed in front of me. I relived all those beautiful days with my grandparents, a childhood that was filled with love and laughter, my school days when I excelled in my studies, falling in love and having heartbreak, my father’s death, and how life changed over the years.
I slowly started accepting that we can’t hold onto things, and we should learn to let go. It wouldn’t be an easy process, but through practice we can excel. We learned about cultivating inner peace which rests at the core of our being, and the process of quieting the mind and detaching from the world around us, leading to a greater awareness of this peace.
However, in spite of all those beautiful changes that knocked on my door, I did have bad thoughts too. I felt broken at times and cried my heart out. I bathed for hours late at night. But then again, I came to terms with the one fact of life: nothing’s gonna last forever!
Vipassana is a path toward self-liberation and it follows what is known as, “The Middle Way.”
While there is no right or wrong path to follow, the aim is always to raise your awareness and become more mindful of your thoughts and experiences in the present moment.
As they say, forever is now.