Vipassana – an Indian Brain surgery

McLeod Ganj Travel Blog

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All I knew about vipassana was this: 10 days meditation course in an isolated retreat. You are expected to avoid any contact with others (Including eye contact) and remain within a small area of the course site. You are not allowed to speak, read, hear music or write, and have to spend all day from 4:30 am till 9:00 pm in total silence, sitting with your eyes closed focusing on one object of attention. A complete withdrawal from the outside world, physically and mentally. Wonderful.

In return, Vipassana promises to free you from all dissatisfactions, any anger or vicious craving by experiencing the unseen truth beyond our sensory perception (Vipassana means “Insight” in one of India’s ancient languages). Originally taught by the Buddha himself, 25 centuries ago, the technique simply relies on observing the impermanent nature of our world while meditating. According to Vipassana theory, our mind is conditioned on unconscious level, causing us to react to external events with no ability to control it.

Anyway, I’m quite a happy person in my daily life and actually like the external world but I decided to give Vipassana a try. Part of me was intrigued by the actual experience, even more than the results it promises.

Vipassana centres are all around the world but it felt right to choose one in India, the origin country of this meditation technique, so just before I left Australia I’ve registered myself to a course in the small mountain town of Dharamkot.

After short registration and handing in all my electronic devices, I get a first look of the centre. It is not that depressing as I thought - small cottages surrounded by tall pine trees give it a peaceful and tranquil feel. I’m given an “apartment” number which is actually a tiny room in a big tent with 20 beds .There is hardly any light and a foul smell emitted from the plastic walls and ground. I sit on my new bed, its hard like concrete. I had worse. I try to encourage myself.

Silence will be imposed in few hours so I socialize as much as I can with my fellow “prisoners” and go for last cake in the coffee shop outside the centre. There are only 2 meals a day during the course, small breakfast and basic lunch. Ouch! I love my dinners. Guess this will be another challenge for my active stomach and strong appetite…

The course officially begins the next day at 4:00 am. A loud Gong breaks the silence and we head to a dark hall. A tape recorder voice tells us to focus on our breath and nothing else. For the whole day that is the only thing we do….

I realize how hard this simple task is. I can’t focus on my breath for more than 2 minutes without switching to some past image. One thought leads to another in unrelated manner. It’s like having a cable TV inside my head with someone else holding the remote control.

On The 2nd day, we are told to do the same and keep focusing on our breath in the nostrils area. My mind protests loudly inside: B-O-R-I-N-G. I try to go beyond my mind, it’s a constant fight but in some stage I manage to keep my focus on one single area for almost half an hour. I’m impressed but exhausted. This meditation thing is NOT a mental relaxation technique and it’s extremely intense. There are no free associations (which is usually my favourite part in meditations). Everyone around me looks very weak (and depressed I must say). Apparently spending time in our skull while sitting with closed eyes can be a hard workout.

Third day begins with a new task, observing sensation in our bodies as deep as we can without reacting to it. At this stage I’m excited from any task which is not related to breathing.

The theory says that every unconscious thought creates physical sensation in our body and by observing it without reaction we librate ourselves from conditioning and attachments. I give it a try.

At first I’m able to perceive sensations in some parts of my body but in my second meditation I feel it all over my body. Vibrations are arising and falling with great rapidity. Every part in my body is constantly on the move.

The impermanent nature of my own form is something that I was well aware of before the start of the journey but experiencing it myself provided a deeper level learning.

I also realized that I haven’t moved for one hour and focused the whole time on the present moment. I was in total control over my mind. The remote control was in my hand.

On the next meditation I experienced something I have never experienced before. While focusing on body’s sensation I suddenly felt how my body is starting to disappear. I couldn’t sense where I ended and the dark space around me begins. “I” and my ego have just been evaporated and the essence of Buddha teaching has been revealed in its full colours.

I feel totally exhausted by mid day. My body is weak and during the break I feel very sick. A new food poisoning becomes worse. I crash on my bed shivering. At the end of the day I have high fever and I spend a night of nightmares and cold sweat.

Day 4 begins and I’m not able to move out of my bed. I feel very hungry as well, not able to eat course’s food. I realize I’m not going to survive this without proper food and vitamins. I also realize that the only thing holds me is the pride in saying that I finished 10 days. My Ego in its true light. I decide to call it off and get better in the outside world.

Vipassana QA

I got quite a lot of questions before and after my Vipassana experience so decided to summarize it in a Q&A manner : ) .

Q: What did I learn?

A: Two things mainly. 1. That our body is mostly space and 2. That it moves & changes in great rapidity.

Q: Why is it important to learn this?

A: The above basically means that 1. “I” is an invention of our mind and we are all just a stream of consciousness that s connected to everyone else. 2. Everything changes - body, emotions, and sensations. Nothing is impermanent.

Q: OK and why is this important?

A: 1. it makes you think how much fakeness is created on the surface level -Ego, identity, etc. Taking control over our mind from time to time can be nice. 2. We should also remind ourselves that everything is impermanent, our body, our things, our emotions. It reduces attachments and materialism right away. 3. Last but not least, we are all connected, and this means quite a lot….

Q: Am I going to do Vipassana course again?

A: No, experiencing it once was enough for me. Vipassana is definitely rewording and overall I’m happy I went through its challenging process; However, It’s too extreme. I usually don’t mind extreme staff but I have to enjoy the process in order to go through it again.

Q: So, you’re willing to miss enlightenment?

A: Yes I’m probably going to miss it : ) Of all the realizations I’ve learnt through Vipassana, perhaps the most beneficial one for me is that I’m actually OK with high and lows, some humanly impulsive reactions and perhaps apologies as a result of them. I’m not going to dedicate my life for total eradication of reactiveness. I accept this.

Q: Would I recommend trying it?

A: My Vipassana was MY experience and every person’s is unique. Its worth trying.

Q: Am I going to adopt Vipassana’s Meditation techniques in my daily life?

A: Maybe but probably not. Perhaps true nature of reality is hidden from our own eyes and the only way to see it is through Vipassana meditation but I prefer to live my life outside of our mind. Not Inside. Vipassana’s method requires you to keep meditating 2 hours on daily basis after completing the course. Not something that I desire to adopt. In fact, none of Vipassana graduates I know (who were all positive about the course) meditate on daily basis.

Q: So what kind of meditation am I going to adopt in my daily life, if any?

A: Short unplanned sessions of meditations during the day seem to work very well for my lifestyle. Meditation is merely a tool to live our life in a more fruitful and productive way. The end goal in my opinion is not meditation but perhaps it is to keep a meditative state during the day, to be more present, more peaceful, while we eat, speak, rest, etc.

Q: So you’re back to Square one?

Yes, It feels like getting back to square one before I started this spiritual journey but with one addition: More self acceptance.

Q: Anything else?

Yes, Not everyone have been designed to live a saintly monk…

Be happy : )))

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photo by: Stevie_Wes