#2 Vipassana Meditation — Living a Monk’s Life for 10 Days

Vipassana is a meditation technique of seeing things as they really are. Through stark observation and concentration, the focus remains on the sensations of the body and through this, one develops non-reactive understanding and insight into the subtle and gross changes that the body exhibits during meditation.

If this definition seems a little confusing, don’t worry. My experience will be a small gateway of understanding into something you can experience if you choose to take advantage of this tool.

In essence, Vipassana teaches us nothing. Instead it helps us observe reality as it is without the chatter of the wandering mind. It’s as if we’re watching a movie of our life while also observing yourself in the movie theater.

Why a 10 day course?

How many times in your life have you observed the self? I’m guessing not that often. The proprietors of this course created an environment where all distractions are taken away so as students, we can learn more about the nature of the mind and body.

Our mind is constantly playing a game of thoughts. We think about the future and past way more than we need to. I’m in no way nullifying the need to set goals and plan for the future (careers, pay bills, raise children, take trips), but these actions need only a little attention. Memory is also useful, but when thinking of negative past woes, it’s pointless. The majority of our time is spent playing a narrative in our head about what is to come and what has not happened yet. Essentially we are walking corpses, void of the simple awareness that is required to be here.

It’s almost become cliche to be present. I’ve heard many people say, “I need to be more present.” In reality, you cannot be something that is already here. It’s like saying, “I need to breathe more.” You breathe because it just happens. The mind has created a mental roadblock for many of us to experience reality as it is.

In the real world, we have the illusion of worry and the things that we deem important constantly keep our mind occupied. This depletes the energy needed to live life with joy and peace.

For 10 days, my only job was to explore the hidden depths of my own mind and body to see if I could learn something about the self. Food was taken care of, amenities were basic, and none of this cost me a dime.

In return, I observed the following precepts that are fundamental to Buddhism.

  1. To abstain from killing any being
  2. To abstain from stealing
  3. To abstain from all sexual activity
  4. To abstain from telling lies
  5. To abstain from all intoxicants

In addition, the course separated the men and women, and we all took a vow of silence until the last day. The aim was to have all energy focused on meditation. From 4:30 am — 9:30 pm, I was tasked to be the observer of my mind. I was tasked with looking at life as it is and not the mental marathon that the mind gives us daily. This was our schedule:

4:00 am — Morning wake-up bell
4:30–6:30 am — Meditate in the hall or in your room
6:30–8:00 am — Breakfast break
8:00–9:00 am — Group meditation in the hall
9:00–11:00 am — Meditate in the hall or in your room
11:00 –12 noon — Lunch break
12:00 –1:00 pm — Rest, and interviews with the teacher
1:00 –2:30 pm — Meditate in the hall or in your room
2:30 –3:30 pm — Group meditation in the hall
3:30 –5:00 pm — Meditate in the hall or in your room
5:00 –6:00 pm — Tea break
6:00 –7:00 pm — Group meditation in the hall
7:00 –8:15 pm — Teacher’s discourse in the hall
8:15 –9:00 pm — Group meditation in the hall
9:00 –9:30 pm — Question time in the hall
9:30 pm — Retire to your room; lights out

Yeah, this was no ordinary re-treat. No peace signs, tie-dye shirts, unity chants, and campfire sits. This was serious work. Vipassana is meditation boot camp. You are the solider and the drill sergeant.

My reason to do something like this required little thought. I knew this was something I needed to partake in if I was to learn more about human nature.

My story is similar to many where something catastrophic happened in life that required a paradigm shift of consciousness.

Why am I here, where did I come, and where will I go after death? These are questions that started to become more prevalent in the past 3 years. Intellectually, I’ve done lots of research on spirituality, mindfulness, philosophy, and metaphysics, but even these schools of thought are driven at the surface level.

I wanted to know what Siddhartha (Buddha) knew. A man who renounced all this royal possessions, wife, son, mother, father, friends, and family to live a life of a lone seeker. He understood impermanence clearly. That the nature of the mind, body, and everything around us is in constant flux.

Despite understanding impermanence on the surface, despite understanding that life will eventually end for all, many of us continue to live in anger, worry, resentment, sadness, jealousy, attachment, depression, anxiety, and a whole host of other conditions that can best be characterized as elected suffering.

Certainly 10 days is not enough to find liberation from all suffering, but it was enough for me to get a taste of the nature of human existence. It’s as if liberation is the sun and I am 93 million miles away on a deserted planet and finally stuck my head out of the ground and saw a ray of sunlight.

My apprehension

I debated many times if sharing my experience would de-value it or give rise to the ego, but I have a genuine love for people and want to help eradicate suffering in any way I can so I decided to share. I would like to emphasize that my experience is my own.

I can draw you an apple, write about an apple, describe an apple, but unless you taste and experience an apple, then it’s contents are useless. Similarly, Vipassana is to be experienced and the truth it yields is personal.

If you decide to take part in a 10 day course, you will have your own experience and each experience thereafter will be different. I’ve learned to be attached to nothing. To look at every moment as a new. Each moment in life you are dying and being born again and the same can be said about experience.

For example, the other day I walked to Baker Beach from my apartment. I took my shoes off, walked along the shore, and created lots of footprints. After about few minutes of walking I looked back to see the path that I created. It was gone. The ocean washed it away. The past is nothing more than an idea because in reality, it is gone.

I could write for hours on my full experience, but instead, I will share some of the major highlights. My experience is brought to you by the only emotion and feeling that is left after all the misery and suffering is gone — LOVE. This is the truth as I’ve experienced it.

Days 1–3

The first 3 days we practiced Anapana breathing. We focused on the nose down to the upper lip area. For 3 days we put all of our awareness in this small area. Towards the end of day 3, I had some level of awareness without my mind constantly interjecting with random thoughts.

*Try breathing for 5 minutes and focusing just on the inhale and exhale of air through the nostrils. It’s not that easy, huh? Now try it for 12–14 hours, straight.

Tears of bliss

Between 5:30–6:30 am there was some chanting on audio by the founder Mr. S.N .Goenka . It was one of my favorite parts of the day as some level of music was involved. The words tera mangal (may you be blessed), mera mangal (may I be blessed), and sabhika mangal (may we all be blessed), brought me to tears.

After hearing this on the 3rd day, the tears would not stop. I was crying so much that I had to walk away from everyone. I don’t recall the last time sobbing uncontrollably like this. That day, food lost taste and my appetite was gone, all the while trying to understand what happened to me. I won’t attribute my tears to any learned idea. I just cannot explain it.

All this crying and I find out the actual technique doesn’t start until Day 4. I was intrigued.

Day 4 — Vipassana starts

We practiced samadhi (concentration of the mind) for 3 days by focusing our awareness on the breath. With a concentrated mind we were finally able to unlock panna (insight) and practice Vipassana.

The sensations of the nostril area that we focused on moved to the rest of the body. I started to concentrate on each body part in succession, from the head to the toe. It was a sensory experience.

I could literally feel vibrations throughout my body. This is referred to as kalapas (Pali term for smallest unit of matter). On the atomic level our body is being born and dying at a rapid pace. Being aware of the body as I have taught enabled me to feel this taking place. Some vibrations had pronounced vibratory feelings and others were subtle.

That night I still felt the vibrations throughout my body except it was flowing in every part. If I could relate the sensations to anything it would be similar to my experience with MDMA (molly-pure form of ecstasy) or a heavy dose of cannabis.

Days 5–10

For the rest of the course I felt pleasure like vibrations. Some days they were pronounced and extremely powerful, and other days they weren’t. The same goes with pain. Sitting for an hour can be bothersome to the legs and back. For the first few hour long sits I reacted to the pain, but later became aware and equanimous to any sensation.

I started to invite the pleasure and pain I felt in a sit with the same non-reactive reverence. I started to understand that any pain or pleasure that my mind or body experiences is nothing more than an observation by the self and it will soon pass.

16 things I learned that you can also experience

Vipassana is not an escape from reality, rather it’s the confrontation with it. It’s the realization that the only thing happening in the world is where you are right now.

I am enough. In life, we’re always searching (this is important), but after all the searching, we come back to where we started. I’ve learned that I don’t need anything to be fulfilled because I have myself. I am capable of cultivating love, peace, and joy and I am also able to share this with others. Other than the basic necessities in life, I need very little. All the answers that I needed were right here.

We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. — T. S Elliot

As far as my life is concerned right now, I don’t see myself drinking as much, smoking or taking part in any type of psychedelic trips. I don’t condone any of these things since I’ve tried them and they’ve given me great experiences but through Vipassana, I’ve learned that the ecstasy of life is within me. I’m able to get high off my own supply of consciousness and it feels fucking wonderful.

I live in abundance. Wherever I am, that is where my world is. There is a story about Krishna (incarnation of God in Hinduism) that I want to share. One day Krishna was hungry and decided to sneak into his mom’s kitchen and eat all the kheer (sweet rice pudding). When his mom came to see all the madness, Krishna denied eating it. His mom told him to open his mouth. In it, she did not find a trace of kheer, rather she saw the world. With that being said, the world is within each of us.

I still don’t know what God is, but if God is love and compassion, then I will strive to be like that as much as I can.

I am more serious about eating consciously. I’ve already started on the vegetarian path. I’ve aimed to be vegan and fail from time to time, but I am not attached to the way I eat. Being kind and not inflicting pain to living beings is something I strive for. Suffering is a byproduct of existence. I imagine all the insects and habitats that have been ruined so I can have an apartment. With that being said, I am more serious about eradicating suffering and eating consciously as one way I can make a difference daily.

The self is an illusion. After those long meditation sits my knees would hurt, but I realized that it’s not me that is hurting but rather my body. I am not this body or the mindless chatter in it. I am an observer to it. This exercise slowly diminishes the idea of the ego. Whether physical or mental, the feeling of hurt is slowly departing.

My identity is washing away. With Vipassana I’ve learned that I’m nothing more than a breath. This breathe is what keeps me alive and enables me to experience reality as it is. The idea of who I thought I was does nothing for me. My race, cultural identity, political affiliation, beliefs, etc., are all labels that have been given to me. Everything the mind and body is, has been predicated upon chance. Whatever I experience right now is and will always be the truth.

Every experience in life is sensory. The other day I had a cathartic experience folding laundry. I’ll save you the exciting details but I was present while completing the task. When I was at the course, I spent one morning for about 10 minutes staring at the steam from my cup of tea. It looked like a tiny tornado. Needless to say, there are just too many beautiful things in life that we pass up everyday. I just pay attention more and enjoy the little things.

Love is not conditioned. I may say I love my mother, but what if she was not my mother? Would I love her the same? If not, then there is a condition to my love and it becomes a mere transaction. Presence and observing reality as it is has brought love to wherever I am.

Life is impermanent. Anything that will happen in my life will pass, so being attached to any particular feeling is pointless. I’ve learned to lean into those feelings of good and enjoy them and the ones that cause pain, I’ve learned to accept and endure them. I don’t have a need to escape from anything nor do I attach myself to any one experience. Every new moment in life is an experience that is coming and going.

I’ve become more confident. When you feel like you have everything you need, you start to feel invincible. Love has become my guiding force and compassion my right hand. Cultivating self-love unlocked the potential I see in myself.

I don’t use technology as much. During the meditation course, I was without a phone for 10 days. All the information that I deemed important is not so important now. Social media is a great way to connect but it’s the antithesis of self-awareness. Don’t forget that all technology companies have a vested interest in keeping your eyes glued to their service, so becoming self-aware will give you the insight to stay invested in reality.

I can only help myself. I am not immune to the problems of the world. They exist, but I cannot make them my problem because it’s not in my reality. I can only be here. I can extend compassion, love, and help. If I can be a vehicle for love, then I will start to eradicate suffering and bring peace to those around me, wherever I go.

Everyday is a new. Bringing yesterday’s life situations to today is useless. It is finished. I’ve started to live everyday like I’m born again. I’ve started to feel the air more. I’ve started to savor my food more. While working out, I’ve started to enjoy the pain that comes with weights. I look to life’s moments as a fun game.

Vipassana has reinforced the idea of gratitude. I recall how good lunch tasted every day during the course. I was so grateful that I started picking up garbage when I would see it. I would sweep the bathrooms and the front area everyday. I was just happy to be alive. Sometimes simply being alive is enough.

Vipassana taught me nothing. Instead, it helped me realize what was already here. For the first time I feel like I am experiencing life. I will never be the same again.

Thank you to all. Without you my experience would not be possible.

Please visit dhamma.org for more information on Vipassana. If I could be anything right now, it would be a lamp post in your journey through life.

With Love,

Anand Swamy

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