The trials and tribulations continue on from Day 4. To read about the why I went to a 10 day silent meditation and about the first 3 days of the same, go to Part 1
Day 4 – 9 Sun – Fri, Vipassana
Vipassana – means to see things as they really are. This is meditation where you scan your body head to toe and back a few times and then you observe the sensations – tingling, heat , cold, sweat etc in the body part by part and traverse head to toe and back. In an hours’ sitting you may expect to do 2 rounds top to bottom and back
We were given the eponymous meditation on day 4. Each Vipassana sitting usually starts off with a few minutes of anapana by bringing the focus within. I was pretty committed to finishing the course on day 4 no matter what. One of the most interesting things for me in this phase was how many sexual thoughts came up. It was ridiculous! It was more vivid than any porn I have watched or sexual experiences I had encountered.
The intent of Vipassana is not to suppress any thoughts that come , nor let the thoughts take over you. It is for you to be merely an impartial observer, even to the most carnal of thoughts and that is what I did.
The way this meditation healed me over the long term mentally & physically was by bringing up deep rooted knots or ‘sankaras’ and with consistent practice the knots just open up and disappear and eventually lead you to nirvanic peace.
Goenkaji in his discourses told us that this was the meditation that was discovered by Gotama the Buddha under the Bodhi Tree in Bodh Gaya (which I’ve had the pleasure of visiting as a pilgrim and meditating close to the same spot his benevolence was) which led to his enlightenment. While there were many Buddhas (meaning the enlightened one) before Gotama, his destiny was to teach this to the rest of the world.
When I recommend people to try Vipassana or I am asked as to why I spent 10 silent days learning this? I always reply,”Well, if it was good enough for Buddha…”
Day 10 – Saturday, Metta and Noble Silence Ends. Party!
On this day, Goenkaji gave us the Metta, the loving kindness meditation which is done at the end of a Vipassana practice. Personally, and what I know from other practitioners this is a favorite meditation for many.
Additionally, in the afternoon meditation, the noble silence ends. Which is when I fully realized that I really didn’t miss talking, at all.
Anyhow, I finally got to interact with the people meditating around me in the breaks and it is a very light, party-like atmosphere with much bonhomie. Pretty joyful and not because I could talk again but because I was able to connect with people with whom I shared a meaningful experience for 10 whole days and could not talk about it before.
It is also in this day’s discourse that Goenkaji reminded us that Vipassana is a fully volunteer run organization around the world, while there are many ways to help – financially, administratively etc, the greatest donation is that of time. This encouraged me to come serve in a retreat. Only students who have completed at least one 10 day course can serve.
Day 11- Sunday, Cleanup and head out
After an early morning meditation I was given everything I needed to clean my quarters for 10 days and leave it the way it was before I came in (I couldn’t help but connect this to the Burning Man principle of ‘leave no trace behind’). We were told to divide the duties to clean the common area.
P.S. I believe Jack Dorsey, Twitter founder when he was at the same center, cleaned his own room too!
When I was checking out, there was a table at the reception accepting donations and here is the most fascinating part: no one asks you to give, neither tells you how much to give. You give what you can financially give or nothing at all – zero judgement!
Post Vipassana For Me
I came back to Austin and continued the practice. While the recommendation is 1 hour in the morning and another at night/ evening; I, with my yoga practice, meditated for an hour a day. I think this, combined with my 10 day immersion, was a potent combination to bring up all kinds of sankaras from god knows when & where and this resulted in extreme fatigue and rolling headaches. I did not, for whatever divine reason, stop the practice and kept going. I told the sankaras to keep coming up as the only way for them to go was – Out!
It was only after my time in Burning Man in 2019, which was another incredible healing and cathartic experience for me, 4 months after my Vipassana retreat that the headaches stopped and the fatigue subsided. The fact that it was the last official Burning Man before the pandemic is not lost on me. I have detailed my experience from the 2019 burn here.
I’m indebted to Vipassana for who I am today, even though I have been practising Ashtanga Yoga for 3 years prior to the Vipassana. In fact this was my first foray into the field of immersive mindfulness and it seeded the much needed healing I didn’t know I required. The headaches, fatigue, tribulations – all were completely worth it and in my case, necessary for my healing. It is certainly my wish that all of humanity is able to experience one 10 day session in their lifetime.
Clearly, I loved the first experience so much that I went back again for 10 days! In the same year, in Dec 2019, 8 months after I finished my first Vipassana. This time in preparation to meet another teacher Ayahuasca in in the Peruvian jungles
Tips to get the most out of Your retreat:
- Make use of the teacher interviews – The patience and empathy with which the teachers who lead the course answer our silliest questions is nothing short of amazing. Sign up during breakfast and go to the teacher interviews if you feel you need assistance.
- Don’t be that asshole who breaks noble silence – Don’t be that guy who tries to gesture or make eye contact. You will see old students walking with their head down to avoid any accidental eye contact. Warning: Students have been asked to leave when they have repeatedly broken noble silence.
- Get the Dhamma app post retreat – It helps you maintain a consistent practice. It was my tool to keep me on track, with the recent updates, You can also see how many people are meditating concurrently with you using the app
- You actually don’t see many people in the morning between the 4.30 – 6.30 AM slot. I slept in a bit during my first time and was fashionably late for the morning slots on my second visit. You will also see people pretty much sleeping in seated positions in this morning slot
- The wake up bell rings sharp at 4 AM, it is always an old student who rings it. It is an old fashioned school bell. I always thought that the one who did in the morning did so with extra gusto.
- On day 7 or 8 of the discourse, Goenkaji talks about ‘Bhanga’ or total dissolution of senses. A community manager told me after the course that a fellow student came up to them and asked if they had experienced ‘Bhanga.’
- I think that is still excusable, an acquaintance I know who did the course told me soon after they experienced ‘enlightenment’ in the center. Facepalm!
- You will see fellow students trying to get as comfortable as possible using multiple cushions at their seat in the main meditation hall. I affectionately call them ‘Pillow Fortresses Builders.’
- While on the first visit, you are only served fruits in the evening, you will see fellow students, patiently cutting multiple fruits and making, well, a ‘Fruit Salad.’
- Returning students don’t even get fruits in the evening, only ginger water, while you are watching with forlorn eyes others eat fruit, you can’t help but be amused by the guy sitting in front of you getting another serving of fruit while he knows that all that you are having is ginger water.
What I learnt
- The most present thing ever is breath, and observing it brings you back to the present from anywhere. Not only while meditating, but also during meetings, client coaching sessions and even spending time with friends. I have used breath observation to stay present in whatever I’m doing.
- Same with observing sensation on the body even when I’m not meditating, Goenkaji asks you to do so during one of the discourses, even while you are in bed about to sleep, he naughtily reminds you not to do so while driving etc.
- Similarly, remember you are the master of the mind, it doesn’t control you and you master the control over mind through consistent meditation.
- Consistency is everything, even if you are able to spare a few mins a day to meditate, the compound interest reaped from it is many fold than doing nothing at all or doing it sporadically.
- Don’t give up on your mindfulness practices during periods of anguish, the body and mind are trying to work something out, give it support with your practice, while one may not be able to predict the time of relief, the relief is certain. It might have been 4 months, but my headaches left me and I felt better than ever before.
- When you have nothing better to say, keep quiet, silence is so much more powerful than what you think. Nobody misses hearing from me in the 10 days I was silent.
- And Finally, as I wrote in an article titled ‘Spiritual Masturbation’ earlier this year, mindfulness had seeped into my experiential self vs. being just a thing of knowledge and contemplation.
Whether this meditation becomes a part of your regular practice or note, I hope these articles have inspired you to attend your own 10 day Vipassana course – What you will learn about yourself will prove invaluable for the rest of your life.
At the time of writing these articles, about 3 years after my first Vipassana, the pain I sought much relief for, is still there in parts and I know its purpose is to impart more wisdom into me – Pain has been my greatest teacher and I will continue to learn from it & thankful for it. And since April 2019, I have attended 2 more courses, multiple day courses in my local dhamma center and am always planning my next 10 day course among the other immersive retreats I like to fuel my journey with. While I love all the retreats I attend and the learnings from them, one thing is certain – Vipassana will always be super special for me.
Bhavuta Sabba Mangalam
May all beings be happy
9th May, 2022