I went to Vipassana in a moment of quiet desperation
I decided to attend a Vipassana 10-day silent meditation retreat in a moment of quiet desperation. I was 26 and was preparing for the Bar Exam. During that time, I was studying law somewhere around 10 to 14 hours daily although I knew deep inside that I really didn’t want to become a lawyer *let’s not talk about my decision-making process, shall we?*.
As a result, panic attacks slowly started creeping up on me, without anybody noticing. I didn’t see myself practicing Law, yet had accumulated such an amount of debt that changing my field of study at this point seemed financially impossible. I felt stuck. I was under incredible levels of stress and as if it wasn’t enough, I had just discovered that my partner of 2 years was cheating on me while he was in Geneva, interning at the UN (eyes rolling).
I was in a bad place, was having silent anxiety attacks, had a broken heart, was left with a big apartment to pay for all by myself and somehow still had to hold everything together and continue to study all day, every day. Not my best year.
The second I heard about Vipassana, I just felt it’s calling.
Then one day I heard about this silent meditation retreat that lasted 10 days, where man and woman were separated, food was excellent and … was free. Vipassana had entered my awareness. I knew that it was exactly what I needed. ‘‘This would solve so much of my problems’’ I thought. And so, without giving it much more thought, I decided to skip classes for 2 weeks, reassured my mom who thought I was about to join a cult and packed my bags. Vipassana was calling and I had to go.
So, what is Vipassana ?
Vipassana is a word in Pali, an ancient language of India, that means to see things as they really are. Long lost to humanity, this very ancient meditation technique was rediscovered by Gautama Buddha 2 500 years ago and has been passed on from teacher to teacher ever since. The current Vipassana teacher, S.N. Goenka, was born and raised in Burma and who, after studying Vipassana for 14 years went on and taught tens of thousands of people across the world with no regards to religion, culture, age, gender. Although Goenka passed away in 2013, the Vipassana teachings continue. Indeed, today, Vipassana courses, are held at 310 locations in more than 90 countries.
Is Vipassana a cult ?
Rest assured tribe, contrary to what my mom and friends thought when I first told them I was going to spend 10 days meditating in total silence from dusk till dawn without any distraction nor contact with the exterior world, Vipassana is absolutely not a cult. It’s non-sectarian as Goenka explained that, “The Buddha never taught a sectarian religion; he taught Dhamma – the way to liberation — which is universal”. It’s not an intellectual nor is it a philosophical entertainment. It’s not a rest cure, a holiday, or an opportunity for socializing. And it’s certainly not an escape from the ups and downs of everyday life (as I initially thought, oups !).
Vipassana is just a meditation technique that requires dedication and hard work. You will learn to observe the sensations of your body in the present moment in order to learn how to let go of cravings and aversions to ultimately reach happiness and full liberation. By learning and applying this method, you will learn to purify your mind from old patterns which in return will allow you to face life with a calm and balanced state of mind. Simply put, Vipassana teaches you to be happy. Pretty sweet hu ?
How do you subscribe ?
Typically, Vipassana centers are far enough from big cities to not be in a very noisy environment, yet close enough to be accessible. On the website of the Vipassana center of your choice you will have to subscribe and I recommend checking the website frequently as the courses get full really really quickly ! If you are a beginner at Vipassana, meaning it is your first time, you will have no other choice than to attend the 10-day retreat. Only old student can choose to attend shorter classes because they already learned the technique.
What are the 5 precepts ?
During the whole Vipassana 10-days retreat, beginners will have to observe a Code of moral conduct comprised of 5 precepts which are :
- to abstain from killing any being ;
- to abstain from stealing ;
- to abstain from telling lies ;
- to abstain from all sexual misconduct ;
- to abstain from all intoxicants.
What is the ‘Noble Silence’ ?
All Vipassana students will have to follow the rule of ‘Noble Silence’ for the first 9 days of the retreat. The Noble Silence implies the silence of body, speech and mind. That’s right, no talking for 9 days ! You’ll see, it’s like a facelift for your throat. But just know that if you have any questions, preoccupations about technical or material stuff you can always talk to the person in charge of the center. Same goes for any question you might have about your meditation practice, in which case you can schedule a moment to talk with the teacher. On the 10th day, you will be allowed to talk again as a way of re-establishing the normal pattern of daily life.
The crazy schedule
Each Vipassana center is said to have its own schedule of courses. But in my experience, (I attended Vipassana in Canada, Switzerland and Peru) the schedule is pretty much always the same. The day begins at the sound of a gong at 4:00 am (I know, I know. It sounds horrible, but trust me, it’s not that bad) and ends at the sound of a gong at 9:00 pm. During the day, you meditate somewhere around 11 hours, with regular breaks, lunch (the food is so delicious I still dream about it) rest periods and even time to walk outside. Also, every day, around 7:00 pm you assist to a videotaped lecture by the Teacher S.N. Goenka. During that teaching you will get information to understand better your meditation practice. You will also laugh as Goenka is the most adorable men ever. And after a long day of meditation, his smile will do you lots of good.
When I first read about the Vipassana schedule, I was like No way I’m doing that, it’s crazy ! But in reality, I was surprised to see that it was actually easier to wake up at 4 am than my usual waking hour. Plus, this schedule has proved workable and beneficial for hundreds of thousands of students for decades. So, I guess it must be doing something right.
How much does it cost ?
Vipassana is free. Yes, free. There are no fees for the course, not even for the food (which is vegetarian and soo delicious), accommodation nor teachings. The whole experience is based on donations from old students who believe that Vipassana has brought something valuable in their lives and who now want to help somebody else to experience it. Whenever I attend a Vipassana retreat, I always take a little time to thank the students that have come before me for allowing me to receive this beautiful experience. Without them, there would be no Vipassana.
Should you attend a Vipassana 10-day meditation retreat ?
Attending a 10-day silent meditation retreat is something I wish everybody would do. I feel like the world would be such a better place if we all knew about this technique.
For me, Vipassana turned out to be something very different from what I initially thought it would be. During my first retreat, my mind brought me to a very very dark place. And I mean very dark. And while it was a hard moment at the time, I now know that is what I needed to come to the understanding that I am not my mind. I am not my body either. I am so much more. All these tools that I have gained from this experience have helped me to go through life with more equanimity. As a result, this equanimity helped me cope with not passing the bar exam a year later, it helped me with my relationships to others and to myself, it helped me with my anxiety which doesn’t have so much power over me now, it helped me with finding my Self and my purpose. And most of all, it helped me to be happy. And for all of that and so much more, I am forever grateful. So, beautiful tribe, know this, although everybody has a different experience, Vipassana remains hard for all. But it is well worth it and I deeply wish you get to learn this beautiful technique and practice it daily.
So, will you give Vipassana a try ? Let me know in the comment section below !
Want to start meditating but confused about how to do it ? Read here about my 5 easy steps to mindfulness
May you all be happy