When I decided to enroll for a ten-day Vipassana course I had no prior experience in meditation. I have always thought that I am more of an active person so I could not sit and be still- so I was more focused on breathing into the present moment. To be honest, I mostly was excited for the fact that we were supposed to keep the noble silence for the entire time of the course – which for me was pure bliss. I strongly believe that silence is so powerful in today’s world and it can do miracles even by itself! It was when I first saw the schedule, on the first day of the retreat, that I realized that this will be a challenge, but never have I even thought of giving up ( as some actually do due to the intense and long time of meditation). Needless to say that it was the most enriching experience I have ever been through and once done I was crying of happiness. Besides, the feeling was so utterly strong that I felt compelled to tell others about it – that peace of mind and state of serenity could be used by so many! That is why I continued my practice and decided to spread the word.
The Oldest Meditation Technique
Rediscovered 2500 years ago by Gautama Buddha, Vipassana is the oldest meditation technique and it literally means 'to see things as they really are', or 'insight into the true reality'. After that, the teaching was passed through a chain of teachers and culminated with the venerable S. N. Goenka. The course still maintains the guiding and structure that he gave ever since he started teaching in 1969.
One important aspect of the technique is that it is not connected with any religion – and it strongly focuses on each and everyone’s personal experience. People from every religion, belief and wake of life are welcomed to do a retreat as the practice itself helps you to be a better human being. Vipassana is a truly self-transforming experience. It is based on self-observation and its scientific approach lies on the connection between mind and body – by focusing on the physical sensations of the body which of course are deeply interconnected with the deepest levels of the mind. This equanimity – towards pleasure and pain – perfected through observation is the one that helps dissolve all mental impurities – and results into a mind that is balanced and full of compassion. It should be added that his technique involves no chanting, no visualization or prayer – generally speaking, nothing brought by the external as it only focuses on the body sensations.
We are creatures of habit – and most often we don’t even realize that we have a customary reaction pattern – we immediately jump to erroneous conclusions based on past experiences. We fail to listen and we victimize ourselves. We judge and accuse the others for our own misery. We are imbedded into a craving-aversion cycle in search for pleasure and avoidance of pain. On the other hand, the root level of our mind is in constant relation with our sensations. When observing our sensations and by not reacting to them – whichever they are – we break a pattern and realize at a deeper level that everything is changing, from moment to moment.
While Vipassana can be practiced at home, individually, there are centers throughout the world were the standard ten-day course is taught (the number of days varies though). Furthermore, there are no charges for the course and donations are accepted from those that have completed the course and wish to give others the opportunity to benefit from the practice.
The structure of the course is set – and throughout the length of it the participant must follow a code of discipline and very important – there is no connection with the outside world or any leisure activities allowed – such as writing, listening to music or reading. As for what the technique is concerned, the first three days one has to focus on the breath- without changing it- as it enters and leave the nostrils. This is done in order to sharpen one's attention and focus. From the fourth day on, the Vipassana technique is taught – observing the sensations throughout the body and learning how not to react to them. Although the long hours of meditation might seem a challenge, the truth is that the rewards are worth the effort. As you experience pleasure and pain throughout your body you eventually realize that same happens in your daily life when faced with situations that trigger negativity, anger, misery and unhappiness. Finally, on the last day of the course, the participants learn the practice of metta – which is the sharing of the purity, well-being and compassion with all beings.
The Art of Living
Personally, I have experienced many changes at the thought level – my thoughts have decreased – the monkey mind has lowered its tone- and I have learned to analyze each thought and see where it comes from. Besides introspection, one also gets better at how to handle conflictive situations. Instead of reacting, one learns to act – which is to wisely respond to a triggering moment – when you are so prone to be back to the habitual patterns of behavior. Furthermore, I have also started to smell, touch, listen and speak truly, without being caught up in the action-but realize their impermanence on one hand and their beauty on the other.
While Vipassana is a technique that is basic and simplistic, it is a thorough practice and it must be understood that the results are gradual, based on how much one meditates. This is a technique that only works through experience so forget about theorizing! On the other hand, joining a ten-day course will actually make you see consistent results and benefits that could already be applied in your everyday life. The goal, however is that one should live in a state of continuous meditation – by being aware of each moment and through maintaining detachment. On the long term, it will become a jewel that you will dearly cherish as the answer to all your problems.