Last month I headed up north to complete a 10 day Vipassana meditation course. This was 100% for me; it allowed me to disconnect from my normal everyday life and gave me some well needed mental space.
In this blog post I'm going to give a bit of an overview on my time at Medini-Vipassana, and in later blogs I will talk more about some specifics of my experience and the ongoing impacts.
I didn't really do too much research into Vipassana meditation or where I was going. I really didn't feel the need to, as I knew that I just needed to go.
So I turned up at the Medini-Vipassana centre in Kaukapakapa, read the code of discipline, completed the enrollment form, handed over my valuables, and unpacked in my new room for the next 12 days.
After months of anticipation building I was finally there.
We were given a hot soup for dinner, at which point I found out we would only have the option of fruit for dinner for the next 10 days. I was not aware of this, and to be honest I'm glad I wasn't. You see food has been a trigger for my anxiety for the last few years. This started when I ran the 12km round the bridges event and then panicked afterwards as I didn't know what to cook or eat to refuel my body. This escalated into some pretty horrific and intense panic attacks that afternoon - creating a trigger.
So I took it in my stride, and figured that they have run this course for millions of people around the world for 2,500 years, and they all came out of it fine, so I would too. Afterall their purpose wasn't to starve me to death.
On the first night at 8pm the gong was rung and we all headed to the meditation hall for noble silence to begin for the next 10 days, and to complete our first meditation session. Yup - we were going to live in pretty much complete silence for 10 days, only able to speak to the teacher or management if necessary.
At 9pm we all left the meditation hall and it felt very sombre and surreal walking back down the path to our rooms for bed.
On the first morning the gong was rung at 4am, so we could get ready for 4:30 meditation, the start of what was to come for the rest of our time. Each day we meditated for around 8-10 hours a day, with three 1 hour compulsory meditations in the meditation hall. For the remaining daily mediation time we had the option of staying in the meditation hall, or returning to our rooms.
For the first 3.5 days we did breath based meditation (anapana) to focus our attention and sharpen our minds. On the fourth day we moved onto Vipassana meditation, scanning the body to be aware of the sensations - tingling, itching, heat, cold etc. As we felt a sensation we needed to be aware of it and remain equanimous to the sensation - not perceiving or reacting to it as good or bad.
This technique teaches us to be equanimous towards everything that happens in life - being aware of what is occurring and remaining neutral rather than reacting and creating a sankara. Each time you react to a body sensation, you create a sankara, a positive or negative attachment. The goal of Vipassana is to stop creating new sankaras by staying totally and profoundly equanimous when observing them. Because every sensations is temporary, it arises and it passes.
The premise behind Vipassana is the all misery comes from within, through either craving or attachment.
Craving is when we desire things like; a new house, a promotion or new job, a partner, to buy things like clothes, things for our house, craving acceptance, respect, recognition etc. Through craving we are no longer equanimous, as we feel that we don't have something we should or could have, leading to misery.
Attachment is when we believe that something is ours like; my car, my home, my possessions, my partner etc. Because we believe these things are ours, we create misery when we no longer have them.
If we remove craving or attachment from our lives we become happier. The only thing we have control over is ourselves, remaining present in the current moment, not what has been or what might come, and practicing equanimity around what we are experiencing in this moment.
During our time at Medini-Vipassana we lived very modestly. We had simple rooms, simple meals, and no connection to the outside world. This was to help eliminate external influences, as well asn any craving or attachment; to live simply.
We also had to adhere to Sila - 5 precepts:
- to abstain from killing any being
- to abstain from stealing
- to abstain from sexual misconduct
- to abstain from wrong speech
- to abstain from all intoxicants
In order to abstain from wrong speech, and to keep our focus inward we practised noble silence - not talking during our time, unless we needed to speech to the teacher or management.
A lot of people who I tell about Vipassana can't believe that you have to remain silent for 10 days, but in all honesty this wasn't that difficult. It became pretty natural quickly, and it definitely helped with the meditation practice. I was able to focus entirely on my practice, sensations and thoughts, without hearing about other people's experiences and comparing mine to theirs.
This isn't to say that my time at Medini-Vipassana was easy, as it definitely wasn't. There were times where I would have quite happily packed my bags and slunk away home, but I knew that I would be so disappointed in myself if I gave up. I went in determined to stick it out, and the only way I was leaving early was if it was no longer safe for my mental health.
There were tears, both of physical and emotional pain. Trying to find a comfortable way to sit for an hour at a time was trying. Once we started Vipassana meditation on day four we were unable to move or change our position during 3x1 hour meditations each day, which became mind over matter.
Then on the second to last day noble silence finished and we were able to talk with each other. Many of the other participants sat and shared their experiences during the course, however I chose to find a quiet place in the sun to reflect on my experience. This was partly because I didn't want to hear about other people's experiences and compare them with my own. I wanted to remain in my bubble a bit longer I guess.
However as the day progressed it was nice to chat with some of the other people and get to know them and what brought them to Vipassana.
At the end of the course I felt the weight of my misery lift. I feel like this experience gave me a new outlook on things, and skills that I will draw on for the rest of my life to deal with both everyday life, and any curve balls that may come my way. I had become such a reactive person to everything around me, and what I have learnt has helped me become aware of this behaviour, and through being aware of it I can change it.
Although we didn't get to talk to each other during most of our time, I feel like I truly connected with some of the ladies and know they will be lifelong friends. They are beautiful souls full of love and we shared some deep and personal things with each other at the end.
So, if you have any interest in experiencing Vipassana do it. And if this sounds a bit out there for you let the idea sit and see if it grows on you, as this is what happened for me.
I'm eternally grateful x