Meditation – Vipassana Style
In Part 1 I talk about my personal journey as a meditator. If you haven't read the first article yet, you can do so by clicking HERE. In this article I want to focus on just one meditation itself, a most important one – Vipassana Dhamma.
Based on the Dhamma website, Vipassana means “to see things as they really are.” Vipassana has been taught for over 2,500 years and is available to anyone today, no matter their status or religion.
What intrigued me about Vipassana is that you don't need to complete a special rite or ceremony to ‘belong.' There is no fee or membership amount to pay in order to participate or once again – ‘belong.' This is huge! The moment anything or anyone makes you go through a ritual, rite, ceremony or requests a certificate for you to participate or belong or you must be a member of something – then you belong to a cult, an organization or group. Put in other words, if you don't participate in the rites or ceremonies or don't pay your membership fee, you don't belong.
It shouldn't be this way. Even though Vipassana was introduced by Buddha, you don't have to be buddhist to learn the technique. I'm not religious, I'm spirit housing a body (a prison of sorts) and while I house this temple my spirit longs to be as free as possible. The last thing we need is some religious, legal or organization committee telling us when, how and who can ‘belong.'
I call this SPIRITUAL COMMON SENSE.
Today there are over 150 Vipassana centers around the world, all run by volunteers. No one owns them, no one specific person or organization manages them. Completely run with the efforts of volunteers makes any Vipassana center YOUR center. You learn what you put in. You cannot volunteer at a Vipassana center unless you have participated in your first 10-day silent retreat. You are also not allowed to pay for your first retreat, although at the end of the course you are encouraged to leave a donation to keep things running. You get 3 meals a day for 11 days, to help replenish the food for the next group who comes in is only fair and a great energy exchange. Equally as appreciated is the donation of time (coming back as a server). This is how the centers continue to be run by volunteers.
Why Vipassana Needs to be FREE
You participate in a 10-day silent retreat and then you serve a course. Then you ‘sit' another course, and you serve the next. And on and on the cycle of give and re-give goes. A beautiful way!
CAUTION: There are Vipassana centers that were not started by Mr. Goenka and they do charge enormous fees to participate. I heard of a place called Spirit Rock, which charges $3,000 for a 10-day silent retreat. Please do NOT participate if you have to pay ahead of time and if it is not donation based. The reason is explained by Mr. Goenka.
In a nutshell here is why. When you pay for something, anything, you place an enormous amount of expectation on the person/organization providing the service. This is an attachment, which is exactly contrary to what true Vipassana teaches. When you pay $3,000 for a 10-day silent retreat you have expectations that the food is going to be a certain way, your accommodations are going to be like this or like that, and when your expectations are not met you will be disappointed. If you get nothing out of the meditation retreat you may even ask for a refund, which starts a whole new cycle of cause and effect. All of these energies are so contrary to what Vipassana teaches. And therefore, in my humble opinion, no matter how great the teachers are in these paid Vipassana centers, you will not have been given the non-expectation-based foundation to even learn Vipassana properly. The whole point of Vipassana is to detach and to have no attachements. When you come in with attachments, especially those tied to money, you are building upon the wrong foundation. So don't rob yourself of this opportunity to learn Vipassana from a true Goenka Vipasssana center.
For a list of worldwide Vipassana centers that were initiated by Goenkaji, please click HERE.
My 10 Day Vipassana Silent Retreat
I have loved silence and solitude since I was a little girl and it was only a matter of time until I would participate in a silent retreat. 17 hour days, meditating for nearly 12-13 hours a day – what bliss! At least so I thought. After barely making it through the first day I handed my Self over to the higher powers. I just didn't think my body could make it another hour, let alone another day, and definitely not another 9 days.
What had I gotten myself into? The mind and heart were willing, the body was not…
You see, I had back surgery with permanent nerve damage going down both my butt cheeks, a painful right hip, tumors in both knees and an ankle injury.
To say I was on the brink of tears after the first day would be an understatement.
If you have any injuries and you are attempting a 10-day silent retreat, be wise and ask for a chair. It's hard enough for anyone to sit for 13 hours a day, even in a regular chair. There is no need to be a hero and force yourself to sit on the floor. Remember, this is not about ego. Vipassana is not about torture, it is about connecting the mind to the body and the body to the mind.
I pushed through and each day got better. Goenkaji was right, the mind and the body are so intensely connected that if we only gave the two a real chance to connect, we could literally dissolve most of our physical pain simply by meditating. Most of my knots disappeared and it got easier and easier.
When the course was finished and noble silence was broken, I felt a sense of sadness to have to start talking again. I remembered what Mahatma Gandhi said:
“Do not speak unless you can improve upon the silence.”
How right he is!!
When I got home I signed up to serve (I will explain this later) and signed up for another silent retreat. Then I heard about their 20-day silent retreats and even 60-day silent retreats. I'm always aware of how little I truly know and how much there is still to learn. It's an endless cycle of growing, expanding, evolving – it never stops. Although I am far from being able to attend a 60-day silent retreat, there is a new goal for me. I learned so much about myself and look forward to learning even more.
Here is a 20 minute video of Mr. Goenka explaining more about Vipassana.
Why Vipassana Was So Different
For someone like me who somewhat disconnects from the body when I do my readings, including meditation, this was the exact opposite of what I had been doing all my life. This was about not getting lost in cyber space or alternate Universes. This was coming into my body and staying fully present.
Vipassana is about detachment. It is about realizing that “this too shall pass.” Whether it's a pleasant feeling or an unpleasant feeling. It is about equanimity and maintaining ones equilibrium. Staying fully present. Letting each thought and feeling pass by as you witness them arise and disappear – without attaching to any of it.
Vipassana is not about floating away into other lands and worlds and galaxies. It is not about astral traveling or traveling through time and space. It is about staying fully present at all times. I thought this would be a cake walk. Ha! To stay fully present 14 hours a day while sitting with eyes closed is much harder than it sounds. The mind wants to constantly run off. I felt like a parent constantly running after my unruly toddler who wanted nothing more than to be free.
I have my most amazing experiences when I meditate (and in my dreams). I always have. These experiences can become an addiction also because we want more of it. There is nothing wrong with having such experiences but when I really think about it, in a way it's like an escape. An escape from the moment of ‘now.' To stay fully present for prolonged periods of time with a mind sharper than a scalpel is why I wanted to learn this technique. Reality is happening in the mind, nowhere else. To learn to think right and to focus right and for prolonged periods of time is what we really ought to learn in school. Most people can't hold a thought for more than 3 seconds before another thought makes its way in. And yet it's with the power of concentration that we activate the law of cause and effect. The law of attraction is a spherical law, as opposed to the law of gravity, which is a vertical law. Both the law of attraction and the law of gravity are effectual laws, not causal laws. Cause is always within, effects are always outside. And for every one cause there are two effects. I will explain the law of cause and effect in a future article. For now what you must know is that your thoughts are creative. Most already know this. So to learn to focus thought, by actually letting them go, is one of the thoughest, most frustrating things we can do because it goes against the animation of our bodies, which want to do (rather than be).
The Use of Mantras
I'm familiar with the TM movement and using mantras and chants in meditations. And they work if they are done properly. Vipassana is not about mantras and in fact we vow not to mix or use other meditation techniques with Vipassana, because then Vipassana cannot be learned properly. When we use a mantra to concentrate or to change the energy field, we are using a lullaby for the mind. The mind becomes soothed and tends to run away less and less. However, when we use mantras we no longer focus on the now and the body, we focus on the mantra. We defeat the whole purpose of Vipassana, which is to detach. We cannot focus on a mantra and attach to it, soothe the mind with it and at the same time detach from it all. The two are on opposite spectrum of the same energy pole. One is attachment (to the mantra) and the other is letting go of it.
Someone asked if they can just think “one” when they breathe in and “two” when they breathe out. Although this may not be a mantra per se, it is still a soothing lullaby for the mind. Do you see how the mind wants something to do? And even if we give it something as simple as “one-two” it will be pleased? It's like giving the run-away toddler a candy to suck on just to appease it to stay.
Dedication and Discipline During Course
Silent retreats are an amazing learning experience. Not only what you learn about yourself but also what you learn about others. Especially when it comes to discipline. Starting on day 2 people already started to leave the retreat. They just couldn't do it. By the end of our retreat there were approximately 10% of both men and women, who left the course early. It was too much for them for one reason or another. I asked one of the servers if there is a statistic about how many people leave on average and he said that it varies. He had just attended a course in Mexico where 100 people attended and not one person left. And other times this is not the case at all.
When you sign up for a Vipassana retreat online you are asked to verify that you will stay the entire course. When you get there and register you fill out a form and verify and sign it once more. During your orientation meeting you verbally vow, as a group, to stay for the entire course. Three times you place a vow that you will stay for the entire course. There is a reason why Goenkaji makes attendees place this vow. It is for you; you are making a promise to yourself. Yes, it is interruptive when people leave and it does leave an energetic hole when suddenly the person next to you is no longer there, but most importantly you will let yourself down if you have made a promise to yourself three times and then you don't keep it. Don't do this. Keep your vows.
Rules and Such
There were 6 of us in our cabin. The next day everyone got up at 4 a.m. and started to meditate at 4:30. On day two one person skipped the morning meditation. On day three two people skipped the morning meditation. On day four three people missed. By day five only one other woman (a 23 year old medical student) and myself were up and meditating by 4:30 a.m.
What happened to the rest of them?
Sleep became more important to them…
We also had to follow rules during the entire course. Obviously noble silence was key. Absolutely no talking, whispering, writing, reading, hinting, sign language – nothing of that sorts. Imagine 6 women sharing 1 toilet and 1 shower for 10 days and unable to talk. We pulled it off beautifully!
Noble silence is all about going inward. No eye contact, no physical contact. It sure makes holding someone's door for an interesting experience because you won't be saying ‘thank you' or even smile at them. It's really a great experience to be able to ‘ignore' people and not come across as rude.
We were also not allowed to meditate outside during meditation hours, for many reasons. By day four people started to skip meditation hours even during the day and instead spent time outside, walking on gravel, hanging laundry in the sun – and in doing so totally disrupted those who did want to meditate in complete silence. On the last day when speaking was permitted, one woman said she hadn't gotten any sun the entire time she was there, and yet she was sunbathing for the past four days outside my window. We make 5 vows at the beginning of the course, one of them being that we shall not lie. I thought it curious that there we were spending 10 days in silence with one another and yet on the 11th day she chose to lie.
Why do people do this to themselves?
There is this fabulous rule about not wearing anything scented. If people only knew how sensitive people's bodies get after they've been meditating for so long. People were asked not to wear scented bug spray or scented sun tanning lotions. When you sit with 80 people in silence only two feet apart from each other, the last thing you want is the stench of someone's scented tanning lotion. Did people listen? No. Most did but the few that didn't ruin the experience for the rest.
Humanity as a whole, including those who participate in 10-day silent retreats, which are to expand your Self, is learning self discipline too. It comes down to training your mind.
In my next article I will share more specifics about why silence is so essential for your spirit's evolution. Stay tuned!
Tips and Steps to Take
To check tips and steps to take from the first article, click HERE.
Free eBook: If you have never meditated before you may start by downloading this free eBook HERE.
20 Minutes: Learn how to sit for 20 minutes without your body moving. Then expand to controlling your mind to remain detached (this is the hardest part of meditating).
Mantras and Chants: Implement mantras and chants later when you have learned to sit in silence but do not mix any other technique with Vipassana. If you start out using mantras and chants, it will be even more difficult later on to go to complete noble silence.
Music, Incense and Drugs: Never, ever use sounds (music) or scents (incense) or drugs to manipulate your mind and body into a meditative trance. These things are only candy for the mind. Use the natural surrounding sounds, that's enough. All you will achieve in inducing smells, sounds and feelings is an attachment to these things, which is the exact opposite of what true meditation is all about. In other words, if you train your mind to meditate when it hears a certain sound, smells a certain scent or give the body a drug to feel a certain drug, then you are prepping your mind and body to become addicted to these things, which is contrary to what really should be happening. True meditation is about going within and you don't need anything to do that other than a willing mind.
Expand your Horizons: If you have been meditating for a while it may be time to expand your meditation skills and try new techniques. There is nothing wrong with trying to techniques unless you get attached and addicted to them.
Silent Retreats: If you want to sign up for a Vipassana silent retreat, click HERE. If you have never sat for 10 days, you may sign up for a 3-day retreat first and then increase to a 10-day course.
Stay tuned for the part 3 of 4 of this Vipassana Meditation article series.