There comes a time in our lives where we just want a break from everything and everyone. I felt the same way and I needed to energize myself (from mind to body). Hence, I decided to learn the oldest Indian meditation techniques - Vipassana Meditation, which aims for the total eradication of mental impurities and the resultant highest happiness of full liberation.
No talking - No gestures - No eye contact - No physical contact - No reading - No music - No writing - No electronic devices - No lying - No killing - No running - No physical exercises - No stealing - No sexual activities - No intoxicants.
I am a quiet and calm person who enjoys being on her own. How can a silent experience scare me?
It should not be a big deal — I used to tell my mind when the days were closely approaching my Vipassana journey. Well, I was partly wrong. It was much more than being in silence. It was being with my mind. It was dealing with my thoughts, running away from myself, finding inner excuses and new stimuli to not meditate. It was a face to face encounter the big inner battle.
Everything was finally ready. My luggage was all packed for the next 10 days. I took the local train and a few hours later, I arrived at “Vipassana Centre”. I met with the other new students with whom I was going to share this life-changing experience.
Done! I signed my life away!
That marks the beginning of my 10 days Vipassana Meditation experience in a small village called Titwala in India.
It means silence of body, speech, and mind. Any form of communication with fellow students, whether by gestures, sign language, written notes, etc. is prohibited. All students must observe Noble Silence from the beginning of the course until the morning of the last full day. We should cultivate the feeling that they are working in isolation. Every single day starts at 04:00 a.m. with the sound of the gong — your best (and worst) friend (after yourself) throughout the course.
The Daily Schedule:
All the vegetarian food was amazing and delicious. Every day, the meditation activities were located between the hall and your own room. Three times per day in the hall, precisely. During this time, I was not allowed to change my position for the whole hour (even if I could experience painful sensations in the body).
In the evening, after the group meditation in the hall, I have to listen to the Teacher’s Discourse. Basically, a series of recorded (life) stories from S.N.Goenka, the Indian teacher of Vipassana meditation who passed away in 2013. It is inspirational and began to help me to see things from a different perspective.
I was taught to learn how to see things as they are. To be objective and accept what happens around us and learn there is nothing permanent in life and we must be able to be detached from emotions and feelings. On the other hand, I need to observe them in order to act properly by developing a sense of equanimity. Nothing is permanent, that’s life.
Anger, happiness, love, sadness and any other kind of sensations are not forever. They come and go. We cannot be attached to something which will soon disappear. It is the attachment which makes us miserable. It is the attachment which makes our minds unbalanced. “The thing that hurts you the most in life is your own untamed mind. The thing that can help you the most in life is a disciplined mind. When the wild mind is untamed, it can be very harmful. If we learn to tame our minds, then it can help us by reducing our suffering and misery.”
One important lesson I learnt from S.N. Goenka:
“Learn to observe objectively whatever is happening. If someone is angry and tries to hide his anger, to swallow it, then it’s suppression. But, by observing the anger, you will find that automatically it passes away. You become free from the anger if you learn how to observe it objectively.”
Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4.
During the first days of the course, I was taught a breathing technique called Anapana. Everyone has to put aside the thoughts and focus on the breath. You should be able to feel it, getting inside and outside of your nose. You should strongly focus in order to feel the touch of the air which goes inside and outside.
It seemed easy but it was challenging.
There were two issues which hindered me:
- Being motionless: I was unable to sit down for more than 10 minutes in a row. I always felt the need to stand up and do something else. I could not stay quiet, I needed to do things. I am a super proactive person and I cannot really stop a moment. Moving, moving, moving. Escaping, escaping, escaping. My mind talking.
- The vortex of thoughts: I have never realised how much my mind has to say. The first days were terrible since I could not stop the flow of thoughts. My brain was thinking, continuously: past, future, future, past again, breath, past, future, future, future of the future, back to the past and then a jump to the future again. It was incredible. I could not focus on the present, at the moment. I could not focus on my breath for more than 3 minutes. I could not pay attention to the most natural sensation of my being.
Day 5, Day 6, Day 7.
I finally reached half of the course. God, I could not believe I had been able to go so far! In these days we started to learn Vipassana. It is basically a very powerful meditation technique which consists of feeling the emotions of the body without reacting to them. It was taught in India more than 2500 years ago as a universal remedy for universal ills.
What does all this mean? What is it about so far?
We have been taught to focus on our body, without letting the mind wondering. You have to start from the top of yourself and, minute by minute, you are asked to reach the feet. During this amount of time, you have to focus your attention to each part of your body. You have to be aware of the sensations. Once a sensation arises, you have to observe it for a while and then you have to move on. You are not allowed to be attached to any of the feelings (whatever they are positive or negative). By doing so you eradicate from your soul bad thoughts and bad energy which has been accumulated in yourself since the day you were born.
It can also happen that a sensation can bring up particular thoughts of your past. You cannot react to them, you can only observe them. If you react to them, you generate other negative energy which won’t help you feel better.
Overall the technique seems quite easy. In the beginning, you might feel just gross sensations in some parts of the body (such as pain, coldness, warmth, etc.). As you get more sensitive, you can experience subtle sensations (such as tingling, pulsations, energy throughout the body, etc). Once your body gets free from any sensations you reach the state in which you can experience a free flow of energy inside your body. That’s the state when your body completely dissolves.
Personally, I have mainly experienced gross sensations. Just a couple of times I have had the chance to feel more subtle feelings in my hands (such as a kind of electric discharge). When that happened I got scared and I immediately “woke up” from the meditation state. I do think you should feel completely ready to experiment such unusual “vibrations”. I was definitely not ready for such a strong experience.
Day 8, Day 9, Day 10.
The last two days of the course have been the most endless ones. I was tired of being there and I just wanted to go out, see my friends and my family. During these last days, I could not focus on meditation activities. I was too tired to keep going and I was not motivated in doing something that I did not want to do. The time seemed to not pass. Finally, on Day 10, the big news.
The Noble Silence is over, you can now start the Noble Speech. Be aware that you are not allowed to make any physical contact until the end of the course. It was amazing hearing the sound of my voice again. It was a bit shocking and weird being able to talk again with the people around me. Everyone started to tell about their experiences and everyone had different ones. It was inspiring and interesting coming back (partially) to the reality of the world after such a long time.
I finally had the chance to know my five roommates (one left on Day 4) with whom I never talked for the past nine days. We were strangers, sharing the same space. I recognised how weird was that!
At 06:30, breakfast time, the course was finally over!
We could get back our phones and devices which we left at the reception on Day 0 and we could finally contact our family and friends. Yes, we survived! Before leaving the centre we left a donation (which will cover the expenses for the next students who go to live the same experience). Moreover, we helped with the cleaning tasks. Everything should have been ready for the next course which was going to happen within 3 days.
Final thoughts and lessons learnt
Our mind is a powerful tool: We are so miserable. We act without thinking. We think without being present in the moment. We always think about the past and the future but we are not good at living the moment.
Living the moment is so difficult for us. We are so attached to what we lived that we want to live in some situations again or avoid others. We do not understand that, by doing so, we do not live now. Our mind is so complex. Living with a mind full of thoughts make it difficult to understand ourselves, our body and our feelings.
- Vipassana can make you fall crazy: There have been times, during the meditation state, I could not see things properly. My mind was just full of colours, pictures, videos. All related to my past and my future. It was weird. I thought I had some problems with my brain.
- We live, we have feelings: I experienced that abstract sensations are made more concrete by listening to the body. Every sensation is linked to a specific part of the body. By understanding these subtle and gross sensations we might be able to understand better ourselves … even living in a world full of chaos. I have experienced so many sensations (even the ones I have never felt before) throughout the course that anyone can even imagine.
- Insomnia and lack of sleep: One reason which made me choose Vipassana was the positive effect they say has on the sleep. Unfortunately, this did not work for me. During those 10 days, my brain could not understand anymore when to sleep and when to meditate. It was (almost) always aware. I used to sleep no more than 3/4 hours per night (when I was lucky). At the end of the course, I was exhausted.
- Focus: The days which follow the end of the course you will notice a more focused mind. The flow of thoughts will decrease and it will allow you to live a better life. You will start to see things from different prospectives and you will learn how to observe with equanimity.
Would I recommend this experience?
I believe it is an experience which needs to be practised at least once in life. It helps one understand their personality that they were not even aware of. Go for it when you feel ready. Vipassana Meditation retreats a powerful tool which will change your life, way of thinking and living.
How you are going to live is personal. Keep in mind the problems people have are always the same. They are linked to their past and to their future. An experience like this will help you to cope with thoughts. It will help one to accept that everything comes and goes. It does not make sense to be attached to anything. Everything is mutating in life, continuously. It is an experience which teaches you how to die and how to live.
1. Lonely Planet