Your mind is a big wound and Vipassana cuts it open to remove the pus, as described by the meditation teacher S.N. Goenka. If this hasn’t scared you and you’re interested in confrontation that’s good for you, let’s talk about not talking.
“Vipassana”, meaning to see things as they really are, is one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation. No beads, no chanting, no visualisations. Just purely you and your mind while sitting still, focusing on breath and bodily sensations. Over 10 days of intensive mental training out in nature, you can’t talk to anyone, touch anyone, make eye contact, play with your phone (damn it), read, write or even listen to music. Through videotaped lectures each evening, you’re guided to meditate throughout each entire day. “You are to feel like you’re working in complete isolation,” they warn.
I recently completed the ‘surgical operation’ at Dhamma Bhumi in the Blue Mountains, NSW, the second Vipassana centre in the world outside of India. Why on Earth, you ask?
- I love experimenting new ways in connecting with my mind, body and soul.
- I thought this could help me become selective with my thinking to tackle life with equanimity.
- I wanted to understand what it means to live happily without “the causes of all unhappiness: cravings, aversion and ignorance”. Really? Just these three for the entire world’s problems?
The verdict? It’s safe to say it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself! After time in “prison” (as Goenka ‘jokingly’ calls), I’ve stepped out feeling enlightened. I’m living a mindful life with inner peace and feel so much love and compassion (“metta”) for the universe. Just ask the people around me who’ve noticed the positive changes.
Women have cried, men have punched walls. Here’s what I most importantly discovered.
After the first Vipassana lesson, everyone left the meditation hall completely shaken – we had no idea we could feel these different sensations on our body.
Like ants crawling all over our body, pulses, throbbing, tingles, numbness, heat. I became so sensitive that I was able to mentally pick a random spot on my body and feel an imaginary finger pierce my skin. When I sat outdoors afterward, I had never felt so much pleasure: the sun lathered over my skin, each fine hair on my arm fluttering against sweeping waves of cool breeze. It’s mindfulness on a new level.
I’ve gained power over my mind in choosing not to react to unwanted thoughts and feelings that unavoidably rise.
While meditating the Vipassana technique, you witness and feel your thoughts and feelings whether pleasant or unpleasant – some which brought me to tears – simply come and go. This is the universal law of nature: impermanence. With this experiential knowledge, I resisted a toasted PBJ when I was clearly full after breakfast because I easily told myself it’s just a craving, it’ll go away. Yes, there’s bigger problems in life but there were already small behavioural changes.
I’m now able to immediately cut off an unhealthy thought before it turns into negative energy.
Observing my mind in long hours of silence helped me recognise whether thoughts were essentially good or harmful. We humans naturally crave, strongly dislike and yes, are ignorant too, without sometimes even knowing it. I asked myself on a deeper level: What purpose does this thought serve? Does it satisfy a craving or boost my ego? Is it out of love or ignorance? With honesty, you realise the person you are. Then with love and kindness for yourself, you start to only think out of good will.
When the operation cut deeper, some people quit. But you don’t sit up half-way through the procedure and tell your surgeon you just don’t feel like it anymore.
Fighting the battle patiently and persistently with hard concentration during meditation wakes up “sleeping volcanoes”, i.e. brings your strong undesirable reactions to the surface like bottled up anger, anxiety and sadness. You’re taught to remain unaffected and continue trying to think of absolutely nothing because remember the thing about impermanence? It’s just a feeling, it’ll go away. It’s too much for some, but you need to win over the war.
We need to align ourselves with the beauty of nature: purity and change.
I never paid that much attention to the ever-changing landscape surrounding me. The sun, rain, wind and clouds played dress ups with postcard perfect valleys bordered by cliffs – a worthy National Geographic time-lapse video. We – like nature – are moving forces. No second is the same, and for this you realise time is so precious. The difference? Nature exists in harmony without an ego while we get worked up with emotions. The Vipassana goal is to feel pure bliss blissful purity.
My favourite quote during the course was, “The truth is in the reality in which you are experiencing at this very moment.”
You’re not aware of the past, you just remember it; you’re not aware of the future, you’re envisioning it. Being truly aware means being aware right now. Why must we indulge in burden or nostalgia of the past, and fear or fantasies for the future? These ideas* in your head will never truly allow you to live in the present. Try exercising this: at every moment you encounter – down to the second – understand you’re a new person and react to your surroundings as if you’ve just woken up fresh after a good night’s rest. Because happiness is within the realm of nowness. *Keyword = ideas. Ideas are fragments of your imagination, hence the quote above. Without long philosophical discussions, let’s move on…
We even went as deep as asking ourselves, “What is considered beautiful“?
Blue or brown eyes, blonde or brunette, light-skinned or dark. Yes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But I’ll tell you what, when you learn to see things (including humans) as they really are, you’ll see that deep down we’re all the same – hey, we’re all beautiful! So be nice to everyone. Having learned to master practising unconditional, universal love feels almost like the time in my teenage years when I truly let go and didn’t care what others thought of me anymore. There’s just a massive weight off your back and an empowering inner force to be reckoned with.
I can’t believe I was able to sit still for hours – was I getting used to sitting cross-legged or was I getting better at ignoring the pain?
You learn to separate your mind from your body, to look at yourself as if you were looking at someone else experiencing the pain, so you don’t feel it. A guy asked me: “Were you the girl that sneezed often?” Yes, I was. “Excuse the language but at one point during meditation, I was going f*cking mental. My entire back felt like it was chain sawed in half… then I heard your sneeze and it sounded so hilarious, I almost burst into laughter. Suddenly, I forgot about the pain and I got a free flow down my spine! You saved my life!” Learned something new: my sneezes sound funny. But ultimately: mind over matter.
What bugged me was fully grasping how cravings (“wanting something that’s not there”) create unhappiness.
Cravings can be good too! It makes you push yourself to get what you want. Didn’t Steve Jobs once say, “Stay hungry, stay foolish.”? Hungry = crave. Here’s the thing. We’re always wanting more: we want something, we get it, we want something else. In the consumer world, we’re not craving the object, we’re addicted to the sensations we receive from getting it. It’s fine to desire but it’s when you become obsessive that it becomes harmful. A life full of cravings means you’ll never be satisfied. Ohh, so Steve meant stay determined.
If you mostly feed on external stimulus (i.e. extroversion), you’ll feel extremely bored and mentally deprived.
Upon completion, a lovely and bright Lisa who works in Marketing (so clearly an extrovert) could not stop talking: “I can’t believe how small my mind was! I thought all this quiet time meant I could think of big ideas when in reality I stared at flowers and thought, you look so freakin’ symmetrical.” In contrast, I (#teamintrovert) was overflowing with creative juices, fantasising during meditation about my exciting To-Do List once I get to escape – oops, back to the breath!
I feel like a silent warrior.
I feel like I’ve never felt before, and I haven’t stopped smiling on the inside since. I feel aware, tolerant and patient. No day was easy but the beautiful surroundings with small bushwalking trails, the most compassionate teachers who are there for you 24/7 if needed (yes, you can bang on their door at 3am for serious problems) and surprisingly delicious and wholesome vegetarian meals created an encouraging environment to work in.
My biggest lesson? Happiness and suffering isn’t from our environment but rather from our attitude and reactions toward what we encounter.
To be human is to feel, but we learn how to react – at the very core: our bodily sensations – in the ups and downs of life. It then becomes clear that your mental state is a choice.
Surrendering yourself for 10 days to learn Vipassana isn’t for philosophical entertainment – for that, you can just read online articles about it (that includes this piece). Understanding it on an intellectual level is important but actually experiencing it is where the benefits shine. I’ve been left with a new perspective of an art of living. So hi, I’m Tiffany and I’m a Vipassana meditator.
Strap yourself on tight and dive into that deep dark hole that is your mind. You’re living with it for the rest of your life so you two might as well become happily accustomed.
Light and love,
So tell me, do you think you can you last 10 days without talking? What other activities have you tried to help achieve mindfulness and more? Write me a comment below.
Love is giving without expecting anything in return. All courses are given as a gift (free) but continue with the help of donations from generous students. Click here to apply for upcoming courses in Australia.
RESIDENTIAL FACILITIES + FOOD
Women and men are separated into blocks of single and dormitory-style rooms with basic showers.
Healthy vegetarian food cooked by volunteers (previous Vipassana students) is provided for breakfast and lunch. New students are allowed pieces of fruit for dinner (old students can only drink tea).
There are Vipassana meditation centres in every Australian state. For more info, check out www.dhamma.org.au. For the centre in Blackheath, a village in Blue Mountains, NSW, visit www.bhumi.dhamma.org.