Today I was sitting with a friend and recounting my Vipassana experience, when it struck me that I never shared in on my blog. While I was narrating instances from my time at the course, it all came back to me, and I though I’d put this up before I forget the highlights. I’ve kind of already forgotten the details of the meditation hours, which are a whole lot, btw, however, the overall experience and the joy of it is still fresh in my mind.
We were sitting with a bunch of friends, making small talk, when one of them mentioned her parents’ experience of Vipassana, and something about it struck me as appealing enough to want to try it. Being by yourself for 10 whole days… no talking, no eye contact, no physical contact, no phone, no computer, no TV, no books, no writing, no exercise…. essentially nothing but being with yourself… thinking, reviewing, evaluating, in essence taking stock of your life so far… and understanding how you fit into the overall scheme of things. Sounded challenging and exciting…
So I shot out an email applying for a place at the Dehradun center, and before I could start taking this thought seriously, they’d reverted, confirming a place for me in April 2009, with a firm instruction to be there no later than 4 pm. I had no clue at that point that this was going to be one of the really tough things I’ve done in my life. A couple of days later, I’d taken off, driving to Dehradun on a breezy morning, looking forward to the experience.
Vipassana is an ancient meditation technique which is taught at a residential center over a period of 10 days, where “noble silence” has to be maintained for the entire duration of the course. Each day consists of 10 hours of meditation in a hall or meditation cells, with breaks for nourishment, daily tasks (which are very few) and an audio-visual discourse every evening by S.N. Goenka, the master teacher.
I can’t say it way easy, in fact it was torturous for the first few days, and every time I would get a glimpse of my car parked outside my window, I would be tempted to sneak out of the place. Repeatedly, I would look at myself in the mirror, shake my head and laugh at the sheer craziness of having landed in a place like that. Each day I would tell myself to go through it a day at a time, and I promised myself that something good would come out of this too. During meditation, at times I would struggle with it, perspire endlessly, find myself in tears, doze off.. and at other times, I would be peaceful, get clarity of thought, feel the breathing and sensations completely and come away with a feeling of complete fulfillment.
I think I got the hang of the technique fairly quickly, because by day 4, I started to enjoy being there. The toughest part was figuring out what to do with myself in the free time. Being a busy and fairly hands-on person, I felt completely useless, I needed my hands to do something! Luckily, I’d taken my 5x eyebrow mirror and tweezers, so I spent a lot of time perfecting the shape of my eyebrows! I scrubbed the loo, bathed twice, washed my clothes even though they were clean, unfolded and folded them repeatedly, lay on my bed and thought of a 100 things, looked back at my life, thought of my family, made imaginary drawings out of all the cracks in the ceiling, walked, spent hours watching sparrows etc. etc.
Out of the 50 people attending the course, only 35 made it to the end. People quit each day, and the hall would get more and more sparse as we went along. What Vipassana gives you as “take home” is something each person there needs to figure out for themselves. By the time we were done, I didn’t feel like going home, I loved it there, I loved the silence, the disconnect, the “being-with-myself-and-happy-in-my-existence” feeling. I understood the need for equanimity, the concept of impermanence, the idea of doing justice to ones own existence and being happy in what one has and aspires for.
While I loved the experience, I am not sure I want to do it again in the near future, I am too much of a “I-need-to-work…give-me-something-to-do” person. I also find that I can pretty much take myself to a “state of vipassana” when I choose to. For anybody contemplating the course, I’d recommend it as an exceptional experience… Its tough, it can drive you nuts, it can disorient you completely, and its physically very difficult to go through… however, its akin to having a baby, all that pain is worth it!
Here are some pics. Take a look at www.dhamma.org for information on Vipassana
A view of the place in general..those are the living quarters
The tree under which I had my evening snack… a banana, puffed rice and some peanuts, and a glass of chai (last meal of the day)
The living quarters, rooms were on twin sharing basis, although I got mine to myself
The Pagoda, a round building with meditation cells along the outer wall
Self portrait, on day 2 or 3… don’t miss the eyebrows and the general misery on my face!
Group photo with some people I chatted with after “noble silence” was over