The Book of Alternatives

Vipassana Meditation – An exhausting journey to profound experiences!

Before I put forth the unique experience of Vipassana, let me give a brief about what Vipassana Meditation is.

S.N. Goenka's quote

Vipassana is a complete meditation technique taught by Buddha in order to liberate yourself from the birth and death cycle, and find Moksha. You have train your mind to be sensitive enough to feel subtlest of the sensations in your body. And the most important, you have to be equanimous towards them. Neither to feel aversion towards them nor to feel caving. This changes your core not from the gross level but to the subtle level. It challenges your conditioning. You unlearn rather than learn which eventually makes you calm and composed all the time.

In the 10 days course, you will get the trailer of it. You are not allowed to communicate with anyone in any form. No reading, no mobile phones, no distractions. Basically, you get to live the life of a monk. A day includes 10 and a half hours of meditation, one and a half hour of video discourse, breakfast, lunch and evening snack and no dinner, Yes! No dinner, and it’s for good. You won’t miss it after few days.

never ending monotony - Vipassana

The never-ending monotony

The day starts at 4 A.M. and ends at 9:30 P.M.. For the first three and a half days, we were told to do Anna-Panna meditation, that includes concentrating mind on the breath and the sensations you feel within the nose while breathing. It sounds simple and fine but if you have to do it for 3 and half days, 10 and a half hours every day, it is exhausting- physically and mentally. Sitting for so many hours break every muscle of body from the legs to the back and neck. Mental exhaustion comes when you realize by meditation we meant feeling blissful but here it is continuous hard work to train the mind, and your mind is one big stubborn snob who won’t listen to you.

Things get calm while the days pass. The area of concentration reduces slowly and at last, we were told to concentrate on just one small area or a sensation below the nose. The mind becomes very sharp in three days that you could reach the meditative state in just a few minutes. Anna-Panna is necessary and the foundation for Vipassana meditation. After 3 and a half days, the Vipassana is given. In Anna-Panna you concentrate on one sensation of one particular area. Now, you have do it in the whole body. From head to toe. One by one, every cell of the body has the sensation, you have to train the mind and become sensitive enough to feel them. As exhausting and monotonous as it sounds, I remember sweating profusely on the very first session of Vipassana.

Vipassana meditation

The time that never passes

Ten days pass quickly when you are at work. They pass even quicker when you are on a vacation. But during the ten days Vipassana course, it felt like I have been there for weeks or even months as if a minute is an hour long. The meditation sessions are one hour long followed by 5 minutes break. During a general session, you hear Shri Late Goenka’s recordings. You follow the instructions, and try to give the best shot.

To give you a glimpse of the state of the mind and experience, imagine it – The session starts and you start to concentrate your mind according to the recording. In 20 minutes, you are done with how much you could do. The physical pain distracts and you are done. You try again and you feel lazy to start everything again but it is just 20 minutes, 40 minutes are still left. You try and stretch for some more time. 30 minutes passed, you start imagining something just to kill time, 10 minutes passed. You try for another cycle of concentration and this time you could do it for only 10 minutes. 10 minutes are still left. You see the watch every second. It runs so slow. 9 minutes left, 8 minutes left……1 minute. And the bell rings. You feel relieved. You go out and drink water. 5 minutes pass quicker than ever. And guess what, you have to start another one-hour session again. And the struggle continues.

But after a few days, we could concentrate easily. Not many things distract. But time passes even slower this time because what you used to do in 15 minutes, now you could do in fewer minutes. You can go deep this time. Understand a bit more. Can sit for hours without feeling the pain. Still, the time passes like a sloth bear. What you felt like hours were just a few minutes.

S.N. Goenka

The guru’s magic ointment

At the end of every day, between 7 pm to 8:30, the video discourse of Shri Late S.N. Goenka is played. Those one and a half hours are magical, like an ointment to the pain and frustration. He would tell you exactly what you felt each day, why it was necessary and what could you do better. Every time I watched the discourse I used to think if I would have listened to it before the day, my day would have been better, I would have coped it up very well with meditation, with extensive hours, with physical pain. But that is not the idea of Vipassana. It completely rely upon the experience. The theoretical part is just to make your intellect calm down so that you don’t think it is useless and run away. First, they make you experience whatever is coming from inside you and then give a theory of it.

Mindfulness - Vipassana

Glimpse of the inner beauty

The physical pain, mental exhaustion with the extensive meditation hours and really long days. I couldn’t take it anymore. I felt quitting easier at times. But I had few but profound experiences which made me believe or understand that something was changing, not just from gross level but from very subtle level.  Few of the incidents I could recall that made me feel blissful:

– One of them was when I wanted to quit. I didn’t meditate in that session. Kept on thinking I would go to the teacher and take permission to leave. I couldn’t pass 5 more days like this. I kept on preparing for questions, making dialogues in my mind. The moment the session ended. I went out, saw the trees and mountains, I started laughing. There was so much peace and calmness at that moment when I saw that majestic scenery. I have been seeing the same thing every day but I didn’t feel the same way before. That moment I wondered how come a few seconds ago I wanted to leave, I was furious, angry, scared, frustrated but now, not even a single trace of feeling was there that wanted me to quit.

– There was a time when I was coming down from the stairs after having lunch. I was walking slowly with a touch of the warm breeze on my cheek and thinking about how many days have passed being here. There was a mirror on the wall on the way. I used to see my face and check out my hair. But that day, I saw myself and there was no thought, no feeling, no sensation as if someone else is looking at his face, not me. That brief moment of silence was enough for me to realize something is changing from a subtler level.

– It was raining and I could feel the blissfulness inside me with every drop of water. A droplet fell on my finger and I felt heavenly. It wasn’t a small experience or a feeling for me. I know when I truly feel blissful and when I am faking a little. At that time, it was 100% bliss, and yes, due to just one droplet. What else you do need to be happy?

Sleeping Buddha

All’s well that ends well

The Vipassana Meditation is highly recommended, but it isn’t for everyone. To summarise the experience, I am glad I did it. I completed it. It was tough at times but I stayed there for 10 days. I am grateful to myself that I did not leave half way. I gave myself the opportunity to experience the uncertain, the unimaginable, the unique and profound. The memories, the agony, the restlessness, the boredom, the blissfulness, the calmness – I remember everything so vivid. It was worth it. I wouldn’t have experienced and appreciated the glimpse of what is and can be inside us, beyond the physical and psychological nature of human experience without the course.

Will I go again? I would want to but I don’t feel I am ready to experience it again as of now, though, If I go now, I know what exactly to expect. People have tough time because they join the course with pre-conceived notions and expectations with so many things running in their head.

A part of me wants to be ready, completely ready, to experience and make full use of that. I always remind myself that there is time for everything!

There are numerous centres in India, Nepal and other countries.I did it in Pokhara, Nepal. The place is mind-blowing. –  Here you have all the information about the centres, courses, timings etc.  It has been taught in Tihar Jail too. There is an amazing short film by Karuna Films on it that they show on the last day of the course, you can see it on YouTube here.

 Bhavata sarvadha mangele – S.N. Goenka!

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