This post is part of a series that recounts the 10-day Vipassana meditation course that I attended recently. This series will consist of several posts that each discuss a particular part of the course.
Imagine giving up access to all of your electronic devices. This means no smart phone, computer, iPad, television or radio. No tweeting, FaceBooking, blogging, trash TV or Internet surfing. I’m not talking about giving them up forever, but for ten days straight. Could you do it? Does it sound like a vacation in a remote destination?
Now take it even further. Take away any physical or verbal contact with anyone else for those 10 days. Wake up at 4am every day to sit through a 2-hour meditation before breakfast and then proceed to meditate for about eight more hours over the remainder of the day following a strict schedule. Does it still sound appealing?
Now take away open access to food. You eat what is given to you when it is given to you. To top it all off, there is no food available after Noon each day except for fruit and tea at 5pm. In many parts of the world, this would be unthinkable. We have access to more food than we could ever possibly need whenever we want it. Could you give up that luxury?
In addition, take away any leisure activities such as reading, writing or musical instruments. The idea is to remove anything that could affect your attention to the task of learning the meditation techniques taught in this course. Could you live without all of these things for ten days.
You may be thinking, “Maybe I could, but why would I want to?” Well what if by doing all this you could learn an ancient mediation technique discovered 2,500 years ago that is touted as the path to remove all human suffering. Would that be worth giving all that up for 10 days?
I thought it would be and so I recently had the honor of attending a 10-day Vipassana meditation course. I know it seems like an extreme way to learn meditation and sounds more like hell week at Navy Seals training, but it all has a purpose, as I will describe in this post.
The course was a rollercoaster ride of high moments feeling like I was an enlightened being and low moments when I was fighting my mind and body to step out of past behavior patterns. It was full of twists and turns as new techniques were learned and new challenges were faced. As the website for the organization states, this is no vacation. It is a learning experience and one that significantly improves the lives of thousands of participants who are willing to endure the sacrifice to learn such a technique.
What do you mean it’s free?
This course is offered all over the world. It is offered free of charge and is run strictly on a donation and volunteer basis. As unrealistic as it may sound, it is all run off the generosity of those that have gone through the course previously and have felt so changed by its teachings that they were compelled to donate their money or their time so that others could also enjoy its benefits.
Since I am in America where people are always skeptical of anything free and where most people can’t handle of thought of anything that doesn’t fit into their little box called their view of the world, I received a lot of skepticism about my desire to attend such a course. I was peppered with questions like “Is it a cult?”, “Is it a religious thing?”, “Is this some sort of brainwashing?”, “Are they trying to sell you something?” People wondered if I would come back with a shaved head and goatee prepared to quit my job, leave my family and move to some shack in the woods. I already had a goatee, so I was clearly already on my way.
My response of course was that this is all ridiculous. Of course, none of this was true. Or was it? I must admit, there was a small part of me that was fearful that I would come back different and want to make drastic changes in my life. Ok, so maybe not so small. A big part of me had trepidation going into this course.
So, did any of this happen? Am I writing this from some remote jungle where I sit with nothing but a loose fitting robe listening to chanting going on around me? Let’s find out.
Deciding to take the plunge
I had been looking at different meditation courses for several years and had considered Vipassana as an option. However, the commitment of 10 days seemed daunting and the thought of leaving my family and my job for that long was hard to swallow.
I already had a somewhat regular meditation practice in place for years and was seeing definite benefits. When I was regularly meditating my depression, anxiety and panic attacks that I had suffered in the past had subsided considerably. My issues with anger and up and down feelings of dread with daily life had also started to melt away. Life on meditation was clearer and much more pleasant without the nasty side effects of the multitude of drugs that I could otherwise be prescribed.
The decision to take the plunge and go for the course came with a desire to take the benefits that I had experienced from meditation and thrust them forward. I wanted to enhance those benefits and fill myself with more love, peace and happiness and less anger, despair and reactivity to the waves from the ocean of life.
S.N. Goenka, the head of the Vipassana organization, calls the Vipassana 10-day course a major surgery. Instead of treating those ailments described above with a light salve (daily meditation, intoxicants, medications, addictions), this course was like going under the knife to make deep cuts to eradicate the cause of the suffering.
In the next post of this series, I will describe what is was like arriving at the course and what the first few days of the course was like.
- The Art of Living: Vipassana Meditation (peachflowergarden.wordpress.com)
- Vipassana, months after 10 day retreat (sheersh.wordpress.com)
- My state of mind pre-Vipassana meditation retreat (justtraveltryandtaste.org)
- Vipassana (mindfulness) meditation (beyondmeds.com)