‘Vipassana’ which was rediscovered by Gotama Buddha more than 2500 years ago is a meditation teaching on the ‘Art of Living’. A non sectarian technique of meditation which aims for the total eradication of mental impurities and resulting in the highest form of happiness and full liberation. Vipassana is a way of self transformation through self- observation. It focuses on breath and the deep interconnection between body and mind, which can be experienced directly by discipline and attention to the physical sensations that form the life of the body. It is this observation based, self exploratory journey to the common root of the mind and body that dissolves mental impurities, resulting in a balanced mind full of love and compassion.
So by observing the breath continuously and the sensations in our body we are learning and knowing the reality of what really is, to see things are they really are. Not of as what we know due to our beliefs and ‘education’
And so off I went for 10 days of Vipassana. Located in the mountains 12kms behind the city of Kathmandu Dharma Shringa is a 34 year old centre which accommodates for up to 250 people. A concrete jungle with segregated areas for females and males. Dorm rooms with 11 -18 small hard beds, in my case 22 people shared two toilets and one shower. A shower of which didn’t work and there was only cold water. There were more bathroom facilities downstairs but then you may have shared with the other 100 people waiting. An introduction that night from Mr Goenka (via recorded video) -our teacher for the next 10 days aswell as the founder of teaching Vippasana since Gotama Buddha passed.
The strict ‘noble silence’ (silence of the body, speech and mind) and daily schedule started the next morning at 4am when the bell went. Our 10 days were to look like this – 4am – Wake up 4.30-6.30am meditation 6.30 -8am breakfast, rest, shower 8-11 meditation 11-1 lunch rest or shower 1-5 meditation 5-6pm light meal of fruit/tea, rest 6-7 meditation 7-8.30 discourse ‘mr Vipasana’ talking about the day, what we are feeling is normal and about the philosophy of ‘this’ technique 8.30-9.30 meditation and time to ask your teacher questions if any… 9.30 rest Day 1 – The first day we purely focused on the respiration coming in and out of the nostrils (called ‘anapana’) When the mind wandered which for me was after every second inhale I was to bring my awareness back. This day was not so bad as it was all new and my understanding of what it was like to sit for 3- 4 hours at a time was not there. Body pain was there but mentally I was strong. Day 2 – Waking again at early hours after 6.5 hours sleep was tough, my mind wandered this day a lot as I was bored of the technique of only focusing on the point of my nose. Although we were now able to move to the top of the nose – focusing on the triangle area if the nose only. Instead of rushing to breakfast with what was apple and tea for me (as my gluten intolerance was too hard to be understood) I took the first shower with slightly warmish water. I was enjoying the silence, although my body ached and mind wandered I had done about 5 yoga classes in my head and ideas of sequences and transitions were flowing, haha. Day 3- It dawned on me this day that I still had 7 to go and that frightened me, I was weak, mentally emotionally and I wanted to escape from this hellish prison. We were now observing the same area with the breath but now also the upper lip and observing any sensations passing through this area only. Mind was still wandering and I felt I was only getting 3 good solid hours of mediation in- well with the correct mediation technique being taught. I started to shower in my quarters with a bucket and warmish water because the previous shower with warm water stopped. I was sick of having apple for breakfast and tea in the afternoons along with 3 milk teas. Served at lunch was always chapati, rice, potatoes, beans and sometimes wilted lettuce or chard and beans. Refusing to eat the chapati (gluten) white rice and potatoes I was eating very little because of lack of provided nutrition and I couldn’t sit for hours after eating rice. So I requested that maybe I could have vege and maybe another option of fruit in the afternoon so I wasn’t having just apple and banana. This was apparently fine and the next day would be different. This day I noticed how clear my vision was, the colour of the trees, the flowers, the insects, I lay amongst the long dandelions and watched the bees buzz and butterflies float around me, the sky provided me with beautiful clouds, visible sun rays and sunsets over the mountains. The gratitude and peace was truely nice. Day 4- I slept in as I didn’t want to get out of bed and surely enough the volunteer assistant teacher found me to wake me at 4.32. Resistantly I got to the hall to meditate on my thin cushion and this day we moved from focusing our awareness on our nose to our face and slowly moving to the rest of our body. Now for 3 set strict hours per day we were required to sit in the same position without moving while scanning the body slowly observing ‘objectively’ with ‘equanimity’ the sensations – ‘observing the gross intense sensations’ and not reacting, ‘no evotion, no craving’, when a sensation comes up to just observe and learn about impermanency – ‘Anitcha’ ‘Anitcha’ watch as the sensations rise and as they pass’ sensations of numbness, tingling, heat, cold, pain came and went and it finally allowed me to find a still mind by being so focused on these. As I was preparing for something different to eat – of more nutrition this was the changes made. Breakfast – half apple and tea Lunch – they tried to give me a apple, banana and some boiled potatoes after I had asked for some vege the night before, so I refused the fruit and potato and it just continued the way it was… Starch and carbs Dinner -half apple, banana and milk tea The language barrier proved to be my barrier – vege to them means starchy potatoes and they didn’t understand why I didn’t want rice for breakfast and lunch, then 2 apples and 2 bananas a day were not so sufficient What I did enjoy about meal times was that I was now aware of the sensations in my body and warmth of tea was nice, I also could watch the habit patterns and behavior of people while eating, some people ate 4 chapatis, 3cups of white rice and a mound of potatoes in oil, or at breakfast rice or wheat between slices of more wheat bread and then fried wheat donuts with bean curry. ughhh it made me very aware of the lack of nutrition haha. It also made me understand why so many people there were sick, overweight, burping their guts up and maybe filling their pants when farting during meditation, which was very loud in a silent hall. It made me feel sick, knowing I was breathing this all in. Finding myself outside amongst nature in my free time was my healing therapy, being mindful and my awareness to my surroundings was heightened. Day 5- Bored of this technique now, mind is wandering again but making a conscious effort to really practice these 3 hours properly and then use the rest of mediation hours as an opportunity to day dream and manifest.. In a better frame of mind and looking forward to my rest time in sun and amongst nature. Day 6 & 7 They merged as I cannot remember much of these days. Although we graduated to being able to sweep the body with the flow of our breath and hopefully feel everything equanimously, otherwise you would scan body part by part, These days also consisted of pain physically, in the knees, bum back and shoulders. A bonus to this pain was that I could now sit in Buddhakonasana (seated posture with soles of feet together) for a lot longer and sometimes I secretly practiced a few Yin Yoga floor postures under my big blanket. I was getting better at being still and making the most of the set 3 hours, I started to see the ‘sensations’ (pain) ‘equanimously’ I guess u could say I enjoyed it, but not craved it Day 8- The hardest of them all, I hated this prison! I couldn’t sit still, my mind couldn’t be equanimous, I couldn’t handle the farting, burping and just rudeness of everyone. I left the hall many times and then refused to sit on the compulsory hour, instead sitting and mediating in my room even after many requests from the assistants to return to the hall. I slept that afternoon instead of sitting in the grass and I went to bed early after being stubborn as ever refusing to go. I had to laugh at myself as it was so easy for these sensations to make me react with evotion and I was not at all equanimous this day. Day 9- I was up as soon as the first bell went at 4am as I felt so guilty for not attending meditation properly the day before. Knowing that it was almost over gave me the energy to sit and meditate properly. Day 10- Silence was over after we learnt the final stage of Vipasasana- Metta Bhavana ‘Loving Kindness’ meditation which is used to conclude every 1hour sitting offering thoughts and vibrations of love happiness joy into all those lives that you are in contact with. So at 10am it seemed so strange to feel made to talk, at first I didn’t but secluding myself from a group of people I had spent the last 10 days with and knowing nothing about their personalities, nationalities or names (haha just their bad habits) felt wrong. I said ‘congratulations’ – feeling this was the most appropriate thing to say as it really was an accomplishment in which all deserved to be proud of them selves. Seeing smiles from the volunteer teachers as well as us students was so warming. It was very challenging to meditate after silence was broken but we were on the home stretch. Day 11- last 2 hours 4.30-6.30 of meditation and then I was on the first bus out of there at 7.30.
Overall – harder than I could have ever imagined, physically and mentally. I learnt a lot in a way which I can pass forward in my teachings on meditation aswell as I have set myself a challenge to do an hour a day of Vipassana mediation every day for the year and re do this experience next yr haha really.
Advice if you decide to do it after reading this – *Ear plugs so that you can block out a lot of the burps, farts and distractions while meditating with others. Or do a Vipassana with western culture as I believe our ‘manners’ are different. *Don’t bring a watch, I didn’t but I noticed how hard it was for others not to keep looking at theirs. *Be mindful- notice your surroundings, notice nature, plants, animals, insects and the sky. *Mindful eating, you are sitting all day so you don’t need much.
Some of what I really loved –
Buddha teaches about impermanency – everything around us is created by science, we are atoms that’s vibrate in such high frequencies that we sometimes see things not as they really are. What is real is that everything is impermanent, everything comes and goes so in understanding this we need to practice renunciation in order to not have ego, evotion or cravings. No negative association to pain and no cravings to what feels good. Being equanimous!
By following your respiration and observing the sensations we can see that they are impermanent and that they are just creations of our minds.
What we think about and generate in our minds has more power over our vocal and physical actions. If you think well you will be well. Have good intentions, no harming, no killing, no stealing, physically or mentally.
And I could continue but for now I have so much more to learn and so many more hours to sit! Forever grateful for this path. Namaste