WOW. I completed my first 10 day Vipassana course in Khon Kaen Thailand and it was by far one of the best things I have done for both myself and anyone who comes in contact with me.
Taking a step back, what is Vipassana? Vipassana is one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation. It means to see things as they really are (not how you want them to be) and it is the process of self purification by self observation. For 10 days, I didn’t practice any prior meditation techniques (i.e. mantras & visualization) and adhered to the schedule and 5 precepts listed below. In truth, I broke the first precept at the beginning of the retreat during an ant infestation in my room. After a couple days of silence and meditation under my belt, the incident temporarily consumed my mind and almost put me over the edge 🙂 I was however, able to pull it together and peacefully resolved the problem after my initial overreaction. I have not intentionally killed any living creatures since.
- To abstain from killing any living creatures
- To abstain from stealing
- To abstain from all sexual activity
- To abstain from telling lies
- To abstain from all intoxicants
4:00am: Morning wake up bell
4:30-6:30am: Meditate in the hall or own place
6:30-8:00am: Breakfast & rest
8:00-9:00am: Group meditation in the hall
9:00-11:00am: Mediate in the hall or own place depending on teachers instructions
Noon-1:00pm: Rest & interviews with teacher
1:00-2:30pm: Meditate in the hall or own place
2:30-3:30pm: Group meditation in the hall
3:30-5:00pm: Mediate in the hall or own place depending on teachers instructions
5:00-6:00pm: Tea break
6:00-7:00pm: Group meditation in the hall
7:00-8:15pm: Dhamma discourse
After discourse-9:00pm: Group meditation in the hall
9:00pm: Take rest
10:00pm: Lights out
Going into the course, I was fixated on the fact that the retreat was silent. After completing the course, I realize that the silence was the easy part. It was the 10+ hours of meditation a day that was hard. Observing and accepting my mind, body, and feelings exactly as they were in that moment was hard. I saw how active my mind was. It was so difficult to stay present. My mind was always running to the future, creating these dramatic stories and fantasies. It became comical. I began laughing to myself, “here comes Jenna the storyteller…” How quickly the storyteller slips in if you’re not paying attention.
The meditation technique we practiced built on itself, I spent the first couple of days simply observing my natural breath. Watching it come in and out. Then I was instructed to observe it more closely. What part of the body does it first touch as it enters? Does it pass through the right nostril, the left nostril or both? Is it deep? Is it shallow? Again just observing it as it is, not wanting it to be any different than it is, and not changing it. After, I was told to pay attention to any sensations on the nose and upper lip. We eventually worked up to scanning the entire body for sensations (there was a specific process that I will not get into). We practiced remaining equanimous (calm & composed) and not reacting to any of the sensations, just observing. The “rationale” behind this method is the following…we (humans) use our senses (i.e. hearing, taste, sight, smell, touch, ESP 🙂 ) to observe the world around us. In turn, we interpret these observations, then our body (based on our interpretation) generates either a pleasant or unpleasant sensation on some part of the body (sometimes the sensation is so subtle we are not consciously aware). Our unconscious reacts to that sensation with either craving or aversion depending on whether the sensation is pleasant or unpleasant. This craving or aversion drives us to react. When we react from a place of craving or aversion it ultimately causes misery for ourselves and potentially others. The practice of becoming aware of sensations on the body and remaining equanimous to them (aka Vipassana) trains your unconscious mind not to react to sensations. As the ups and downs of life occur (as they do and always will) you are able to take action (or not) in a peaceful way. You reduce and hopefully eventually eliminate the creation of negativity within, liberating yourself from misery.
I used my body as a framework to observe the changing nature of my mind, feelings, and body. I saw how impermanent everything is. Everything in the universe, including all things within have the same characteristic. They arise and then they pass away. Of course intellectually I already knew that everything is impermanent but simply knowing that fact does not make it any easier when “shit hits the fan” or when you are overwhelmed with euphoria. At the beginning of the 10 days I could not sit for more than 10 minutes without moving or adjusting. By the end of the course I could sit for 50 minutes without moving. That alone does not signify that I am a happier person but this is one example of how I used this technique to generate more patience, discipline, and acceptance. I learned to look at the pain I experienced differently, more objectively. I became aware that I had an attachment to the pain, it was “my” pain. I shifted my mindset realizing that the pain was passing through me. I started to look more closely at the pain: where did it start, how deep did it run, what were the specific sensations (e.g. heat, numbness, throbbing etc.). The same applied to the pleasant sensations that pulsed through me at times. They too were impermanent and I didn’t get attached. I was not sad when they ended or generate craving for more good sensations. I knew that they too would arise and pass just like the unpleasant sensations. I was present with them while they lasted. I want to acknowledge that some pain takes a long time to pass and that I am in no way saying that pain isn’t real because it is…this was the practice of observing a sensation objectively and not identifying with it.
I had many realizations during the 10 days about my own attachment to things, specifically other people’s reactions. This attachment has caused me to generate aversion to people’s reactions and become dissatisfied when others do not behave as I would expect them to. So many instances from the past flashed before me demonstrating how I generated misery for myself because of attachment to others reactions. For example (a trivial example, I know 🙂 ), when entering Sri Lanka in August 2017 I greeted the immigration officer with enthusiasm and a smile. He was unfriendly and pretty much ignored me. I was so attached to his reaction that I vented about it to my friend Shannon for a good 5 minutes (at least), getting really worked up about it. This is a basic example of how I, because of my aversion to his reaction created suffering for myself. It seems so ridiculous now! During the 10 days I realized how cravings cause me often to overeat. When I really love something I will usually serve myself to a second helping, even if I am full. As I became aware of this, through my meditation and the evening video lectures by S.N. Goenka, I saw my consumption of food decrease. I took joy in the food I had, was more alert during my meditation, and was satisfied. These are just two very small examples of the many insights I uncovered about myself. I am more than happy to share the juicer revelations 1:1.
At the beginning of this journey I set 4 intentions of things I wanted to accomplish, one of them to feel lighter at the end of this journey. I have in no way become enlightened but I have started down the path of Dhamma and I feel lighter after this course. I finished the course 5 days ago and I feel calmer. I am riding the waves of life and the universe is already giving positively back to me. This week alone I was invited into a Thai family’s home, they were so generous with me. They gave with no expectations. It was beautiful. Yesterday, I was eating alone and a stranger gave me flowers, shared with me a festival from her Chinese culture, and then went on her way with her boyfriend. Again these are just 2 of many examples… I have made Vipassana meditation a part of my daily life and plan to do a second course. I understand every soul has to find their own way, that being said I highly recommend spending the time to take the course. There is no money involved, other than a donation of your choosing at the end of the course. Courses are all over the world (see link below). Although the philosophy and practice is based on the teachings of Buddha, it is not affiliated with any organized religion, sect, dogma, or denomination. These 10 days were eye opening for me and generated more peace in my life.
May all beings be happy, peaceful, and liberated from suffering!