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So, you’ve heard about Vipassana meditation and you’re thinking about doing it yourself?
But then you’ve also got a lot of fear and doubt whether this is something for you or not. Plus, it all sounds a little too spiritual to you, right?
Well, that’s exactly where I’ve been a couple of years ago.
I first heard about Vipassana back in about 2012. But it took me another 3 years until I felt ready.
And so in 2015 I took my first 10-day silent meditation retreat. And now, I just finished my second course a few days ago.
Let me just tell you: it changed my life!
And once you taste how good real happiness and real joy can be, you simply need to tell as many people as possible!
This is why I’d like to share my experience of Vipassana meditation with you.
Now, before we get started just a quick disclaimer: this is my own personal experience and your experience is going to be different if you’re going to take the course as well. So, don’t get too hung up on what you’re reading here and that you should experience the same. It’s a very personal thing and it’s going to be different for everyone!
Btw, if you prefer to listen to my experience, here’s the corresponding video:
What is Vipassana meditation technique?
Vipassana is a Pali-word and it means to see things as they really are or to see life clearly. That’s more or less the closest translation.
It’s a non-sectarian technique, which means that it doesn’t have anything to do with any kind of organized religion.
However, it actually got discovered by Gotama the Buddha. Siddartha Gotama was his name and Buddha means “the enlightened one”. So, that’s the same person that is the center of the religion called Buddhism.
So, both the religion and Vipassana meditation actually go back to the same person. However, in Buddhism, you don’t practice the technique, but you rather worship the enlightened one.
Vipassana is pure science actually. And Buddhism just takes the theory and tries to live by it. But Buddhists generally don’t practice this kind of meditation.
Gotama practiced meditation for about 30 years until he became fully enlightened at the age of 35.
After that, he kept teaching other people this technique until he passed away at the age of 80.
Don’t worry, you don’t need to become fully enlightened to gain something from Vipassana!
Just by taking a 10-day course, you’ll learn so much that you can apply in your day to day life. And that will get you so much further and so much happier and lighter, basically.
The technique then gradually started to disappear until there was only one group of monks in Myanmar left that kept up the practice.
And that’s where S.N. Goenka came in contact with it. He was so amazed by it that he made it his lifelong duty to teach as many people as possible.
To learn more about the technique, visit dhamma.org.
What happens during Vipassana meditation?
Vipassana is based on the law of nature of constant change.
Everything is changing constantly. A thought comes up, a thought goes away. A person is born, changes every day and will eventually die.
The same is true for plants or animals. The weather changes constantly. Everything undergoes constant change.
Now, the great thing about this law is that you can actually apply it to your thoughts and to your own wellbeing as well.
And you do that by observing sensations in your body.
It doesn’t matter what kind of sensations, they can be comfortable or uncomfortable.
Your only job is to observe them and remain perfectly equanimous.
All sensations follow the law of nature of constant change.
So, there’s no point in becoming attached to one sensation or having aversions against others. They all come and they’ll go again.
What is the 10-day Vipassana course like?
Okay. So that was the theory. Now let’s move on to what the course is actually like. So, as I’ve mentioned before, it’s a 10 day silent meditation retreat.
This means that you meditate for a full 10 days. It’s actually even a bit longer, I think it’s 10 and a half days.
And you meditate for about 10 hours a day. This is the daily timetable:
Yep, it’s hard!
But simply following this timetable will help you immensely at becoming more disciplined. If you’re looking for some other ways to improve your self-discipline, make sure to check out my article covering the question “why do I have no self-discipline?“.
But that’s only one of the many benefits. We’ll get to that in a bit.
During the whole course you must observe noble silence. This means that you’re not allowed to talk, nor to communicate in other other way, including eye contact.
This is very important because any kind of talking would just distract you from what you’re actually supposed to do.
And believe me, it’s hard enough! So, you’re lucky that no one’s talking to you and putting even more distractions in your mind.
Other than that, all other distractions are also not allowed during those 10 days. That means no writing, no reading, no Yoga, no exercise and obviously no phone. You’ll have to lock up all such distractions when you arrive at the center.
Nothing but meditation and silence.
You do have recession periods in between the meditation hours, where you’re free to walk in the park outside or sleep, or just relax.
The actual course is split up into two parts. The first part lasts for the first four days where you practice Anapana meditation. This is another kind of meditation that helps you sharpen your mind.
And then for the other six days, you’ll actually practice Vipassana.
During Anapana, you simply observe your breath, as it is, as it comes in, as it goes out, without forcing it.
And since you only observed your nasal area, your mind becomes very sharp. You get to experience very small sensations and that helps you for the next step.
As of the fourth day in the evening, you’re learning the new technique, where you move your attention through the entirety of your body.
You’ll be guided through this step by step, of course.
My own experience of Vipassana meditation
Okay, now let’s talk about my personal experience.
No day-to-day breakdown
Now, I’m not going to break it down day by day.
Because, honestly, there’s no point in doing that.
While I was taking the course, I kept thinking: oh wow, day 2 was so hard, I’ll have to tell everyone!
And I would have one such thing on a daily basis that I felt like I absolutely had to talk about.
The issue is, this is highly distracting!
You’re not allowed to take notes, so how are you supposed to remember all of it?
And also, it’s not about which day was difficult or at what point you experienced a certain sensation.
It’s in fact the exact opposite!
You’re supposed to stop your mental carousel of thoughts about the past and daydreams about the future. Because this is exactly what fuels your misery!
So, I’m not going to tell you what happened on each individual day and I encourage you to stay away from having such thoughts as much as possible.
Instead, I’ll tell you about my Vipassana journey, so to speak.
Okay, rant over. Let’s dive in!
My Vipassana meditation journey
I took my first Vipassana course about five years ago. Back then I was traveling for six months. And at the end of this, I decided to do this retreat in Thailand.
I actually first heard about it a couple of years prior to that and I instantly knew: I want to do this too!
However, I was still reluctant because I wasn’t ready to just give up 10 days for an experiment.
I mean, it’s not holiday. It’s hard work actually! It’s mental work, which is probably even harder than physical exercise.
You’ll profit a lot from it afterwards. But during those 10 days it’s hard work!
But then when I decided to go traveling, I realized, it’s now or never! And so I finally booked a course.
Now, let me just tell you these 10 days have absolutely changed my life!
I don’t even know where to begin.
Before that I was pretty much stressed out about everything in my life.
I was a perfectionist and really frustrated about things not going my way. I tried to force things within myself but also with my friends. And I would often get really frustrated and angry with other people if something didn’t go as I planned it to be.
As you can imagine, that’s not a very nice way to treat other people.
The issue was that I absolutely couldn’t put myself in other people’s shoes because I was completely disconnected from myself!
Not only that, I would also constantly compare myself to others. I’ve always been very ambitious but I never really knew what to focus on. And I would get insanely frustrated if other people achieved one of my goals and I struggled to even start with it.
Speaking of goals, make sure you don’t miss out on these 7 tips to set goals and actually achieve them.
Here are a few examples of how this manifested:
Back in law school, I would always try to learn every little detail because I felt like I could never pass an exam if I didn’t know everything about the topic. But what actually happened was that I totally lost track what was relevant because I was in fact lost in some kind of little, irrelevant detail.
This meant that I spent about three times as much time studying than my friends, and still had worse grades!
So, obviously I was really frustrated and I had no idea what I was doing wrong!
Another example is that I would get really angry at my friends if we planned to meet up at a certain time and then they would cancel for whatever reason, like having a headache for instance.
I just couldn’t understand how this was possible.
I just basically had no empathy and I couldn’t imagine what that person is feeling.
So, as you can see, I really didn’t feel myself very well. And I was very unhappy about very many things in my life. And all of that despite the fact that I was actually a very positive person.
I had a positive mindset and I always tried to see the glass as half full. But deep inside, there was a lot of misery!
Then I took the course and let me tell you, it was very emotional.
It was a lot of ups and downs and I suddenly realized that I had it all wrong! I felt like my whole view on everything was wrong until this point.
Heck, what was I doing all these years?
So, I feel like the course really woke me up!
How Vipassana meditation helped me
While doing meditation and while listening to the instructions from the teacher, I really understood this law of nature of constant change. And I really understood it at the experiential level because that’s the whole concept of Vipassana.
You observe your sensations in your body while remaining equanimous. And since your mind and your body are connected this will transfer to your mind and will help you to also stay equanimous in situations that you either love and crave for more or that you dislike and feel aversion against.
And there I was: All my life I have been either craving for things that I wanted to have, or I had aversions against things that I disliked.
And this made me feel so miserable because it’s nothing that you can change! You won’t get the thing by craving for it.
For instance, let’s say you’d like to go on a holiday to Asia.
You can work for this money. And if you can talk to your boss to get two weeks off, that’s fine. You can look forward to it. That’s all good.
But the issue is if you don’t have the money for instance. Or if at the moment, it’s not possible to take a holiday. In those cases it doesn’t serve you any purpose to crave for this holiday that you can’t have right now.
All it does is it leaves you miserable. You don’t gain anything craving. Nor do you from having aversion against your job, your boss or any other circumstances that make it impossible for you to take that holiday.
On the other hand, you might have to deal with people that you don’t like, that you don’t understand. Or you might have to deal with situations that you don’t enjoy. But then again, if you can change it, fine, do that. That’s great.
But then maybe at work, for instance, you have to deal with a colleague that you find absolutely horrible and you don’t understand him or her at all.
Well, you still have to work with him or her! I mean, even, even if you can change that one person, there will be tons of other people you won’t like, and you won’t get along with.
So why waste your energy to only make other people frustrated with you when you can just accept it and go on with your life?
That totally resonated with me!
It really clicked when the teacher once said: you can’t change others. Or even if you can change one person, you can’t change all the others that will follow.
But you can change yourself!
You can change your view on things or your view on other people being different.
That totally blew my mind!
Because all my life I actually tried to change others. I never really searched for the fault in myself but I would always point at others.
So, I finally understood, look, Caroline, you have to change yourself. You have to change your view and most important, you have to stay equanimous with things that you can’t change.
And that gave me so much calmness and peace that I could start appreciating life as it really is!
Now, what I find really interesting about this is that I didn’t only experience it personally. But all my friends and family realized that too.
They saw that something has changed in me and that I seemed much happier and more relaxed.
And then I took the second course
Of course it’s not like everything’s perfect now. I mean, no one’s going to be enlightened after the first 10 day course. It takes constant practice! And even then, your equanimity will develop gradually.
I tried keeping up meditation after the first course for maybe half a year, when I’ve done it more or less daily. And it really helped me to keep this calm mind.
But then, well, life happened and I stopped meditating because I thought I didn’t have the time for it…
So, naturally, I lost more and more of the benefits I gained in my first Vipassana meditation retreat. I became more tense again and I felt like I was craving much more again.
And so, about a year ago I realized, ok, I think I’m getting a little off track again.
I didn’t feel so much in line with myself anymore.
And so I decided it was time for my next 10-day silent meditation retreat.
Now, I can’t tell you that much about this second 10 day course, actually. It was far less emotional and I felt like nothing much happened in my mind.
And in hindsight, I think that totally makes sense.
I still had a lot of that knowledge from the first retreat, even though I didn’t practice. However, I was just a little off track, you know. It wasn’t like before the first course where I was like completely lost.
So, basically my experience of the second 10 day course reflects this. It was much calmer. However, I did struggle quite a bit to actually have faith in the technique. I think I expected some kind of miracle to happen.
Obviously that’s not what’s going to happen. I mean, you don’t go there to experience miracles. You work on your mind and the more you work on it, the more results you’re going to get.
But since I was comparing and not really being in that moment, I couldn’t work that hard and so it took me a bit longer to actually meditate properly.
But it was definitely a much needed experience. And I feel like I can really enjoy my life again to its fullest.
This time I’m also much more determined to keep meditating constantly as much as possible. So, my determination is to do one hour every day in the morning, or if that’s not possible at least half an hour.
We’ll have to see how that goes 😉
Who is Vipassana meditation for?
Okay. Enough of me. Now let’s talk about who Vipassana meditation is for, so that you can find out if this might be something for you as well.
Although the experience will certainly be different for you, everyone can gain something from those 10 days if you really finish it until the end!
So, who is this course actually for?
Well, pretty much everyone can profit from it. However, there are two or three things that are important.
Firstly, you need to be willing to complete a full 10 day course just to get started.
And that’s crucial because as I’ve said, everyone’s going to gain something from this course, but only if you finish it!
If you stop after two or four days, you’re probably going to be worse off than if you didn’t take the course at all. Because it’s like so many emotions came up, but you weren’t able to process them.
So, you need to be determined to finish the course!
You can’t learn this meditation technique in a shorter course or by yourself. You’re not going to be able to go as deep as is required to really sort of take the impurities out at the root. That’s how the teacher puts it and I think that’s really what it is.
Number two is you need a strong mind!
Now I’m not going to lie. These 10 days are hard!
You’ll profit from it afterwards, but during those 10 days, you’ll have to work a lot on mind, deal with your thoughts and be faced with realities that you might struggle to accept.
And it’s probably going to be very emotional. So, if your mind is a bit instable, or if you’re suffering from a mental illness, then this course unfortunately is not for you.
So, that was my experience of Vipassana meditation. But I think it’s really more of a journey.
You’ll go through a process while meditating for 10 days. But it really doesn’t matter what exactly happened on which day. The important part is what has changed in your mind and how you can apply that in your daily life.
I hope my journey can serve as an inspiration for you to learn this technique and finally see things as they really are!
For me, it was like a veil has suddenly been lifted from my eyes. And all of a sudden, difficult situations become so easy and remaining calm and equanimous becomes more and more part of your day to day life.
Visit dhamma.org to find out when the next course will take place in your country.
I really can’t recommend it enough!
Be happy! =)