I hear a faint bell at 4 am that signals that the day is on. I walk out in the dawn that is yet to come, clutch the blanket tightly around me and climb few stairs up to the Meditation Hall. In my assigned seat, I sit down cross legged on the meditation cushion, back straight and eyes closed. A day of Vipassana begins in that dark hall as my breathing goes slow and slower. My body rebels and so does my brain. They want to be in control as they have always been. They threaten me with aches and distraction but I know even the wildest bull can be tamed. So, I continue breathing, watching my body and observing the sensations.
10 hours of this exercise every day for 10 days – days that you spend in quiet, contemplation and a journey inward. You do not speak or communicate, you partake of a simple vegetarian meal once a day, you do not keep your phone, book or diary. You just be and observe. Perhaps, it is the first time when you really see yourself for who you are. And, this is what Vipassana is all about.
[Vishesh (special) + pashya (to see) = to observe things as they are]
It is an excruciating journey that has cured drug and cigarette addicts on one hand and scared the weak-willed away on the other. You get what you put in. At the end of 10 days at Dharamkot, Vipassana course, I came out although not with a halo but a subtle glow of self-realization. This is what I learned.
1. Experience is everything in the realms of spirituality
While we can learn how to make fire from someone else’s experience, reading about meditation can never make you an expert at it. Gautam Buddha’s achieving enlightenment does nothing to my spiritual growth. The people who have demystified the causes of human suffering can only give us a path to follow but unless I walk that path, I cannot eliminate my suffering. So, practice is the only way. While I had been reading about meditation and consciousness for some time, sitting 8-10 hours per day meditating for 10 days hammered down the concept in my mind in a way that intellectual discussions cannot.
No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.Gautama Buddha, Sayings Of Buddha
2. The best place to address a problem is at its root
At Vipassana, we are taught to sever the weeds of our suffering at its very root. Extending this practice to other aspects of life, I have started to re-examine why some relationships are stressful, why it is hard to work with some people, what kind of work makes me happier and vice versa. By trying to understand the causes, I do not dab superficially at curing the side effects. What I have noticed is that the act of realizing the underlying root cause itself (without actually solving it) can make half the problem go away.
A problem well stated is a problem half solved.Charles Franklin Kettering
3. Let go of a desire to control
While it helps to think you are in control of the situation, are you really? Looking back at the major events in your life, you would realize how little you controlled the course of events and the outcome. Instead of bothering over it, I find it helpful to go with the flow, know that I am trying my best but not be attached to the outcome. So, whatever happens, I can enjoy the moment. Remember that the eagle soars against the wind and not with it. In the course, I had no control over what I get to eat, who I am sharing bathroom with or who sits next to me. As long as I tried controlling it one way or another, I was tensed. The moment I accepted it and it even meant breaking some rules involuntarily, my self relaxed and not only did I enjoy my time there but also I got more out of it – my awareness and some delightful friends.
Chaos is what we’ve lost touch with. This is why it is given a bad name. It is feared by the dominant archetype of our world, which is Ego, which clenches because its existence is defined in terms of control.Terence McKenna
4. We are over-communicating
This was most unexpected. Living without a phone and Facebook is easier than I thought. I spent 10 days with no access to phone, email and social media. For 10 days, I was supposed to not utter a single word and not even look others in the eyes – this is known as ‘noble silence’. It is better than it sounds. The end result was that I had so much active time in the day and my brain was less cluttered with information and opinions. While social media helps us being in touch with what is happening around us, I feel the downside outweighs the positives because our mind spends more time brooding on negative feelings than other way round. What I perceive as information and communication is, at times, nothing but noise. When cut off from these things, I missed the connectivity perhaps for a day and then my mind started using its creativity. It was like it came home after being lost in the noise and it was beautiful.
One need not always be saying something in this noisy world.Sarah Orne Jewett, The Country of the Pointed Firs and Other Stories
5. When you are left on your own, your most negative thoughts surface up
Being in Vipassana is like roaming exposed in the wilderness of your silence. You are vulnerable to your own self. Your deep embedded insecurities, fears, hatreds, regrets have no place to hide anymore. You feel naked, shameful and ugly. Some react by running away from the course, some by crying out or some might even go in depression. The key is to let these impurities rinse out. Face them, acknowledge them and accept them. They will go away slowly and you will become comfortable with yourself. You will appreciate the beauty that is you. It is the best form of emotional catharsis you can experience. I know a fellow meditator whose tears did not stop for an hour on the 4th day of the course. Once you have acknowledged and understood these negative energies, you can empty them out and fill that space with newer and better energies.
Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.Brené Brown
6. All you have to do is persist longer than the pain and failures
Life is nothing but a game of persistence. No matter what happens, what the odds are, the one who gives up first loses. When sitting 10 hours for meditation, at one point the pain would become unbearable. But as you persist, your tolerance grows. As you persist through the worst shooting pains and externalize your mind to observe the pain objectively, understanding that it is impermanent, the pain gives in. It might be still there but it stops hurting you. Instead of reacting to every little discomfort, sometimes it works to just acknowledge it and move through it. This way you are not spending unnecessary energy to confront and resist it and you can eventually beat it! This is how we train our mind in Vipassana course, taking one baby step at a time. While an untrained mind is our worst enemy, a trained mind can be our most powerful ally. And, it is fun to tame it because it resists. It wanders and you tell it to focus on a subtle thing like breathing. It rebels, it wanders and tries to distract you again. This tug of war continues until you or your mind surrender. The question is – who wins in your case?
Climb Mount Fuji
But slowly, slowly!Kobayashi Issa
7. Empathy is liberating
As we witness fair amount of ups and downs in life, it is easy to feel victimized and put blame on someone so as to give an outlet to our negative energies. I have done this myself but eventually those negative energies do not really go out, they keep smoldering in ourselves, burning us from inside, bit by bit. Another side of this coin is to constantly worry about our image in front of others. Most people keep feeling guilty or conscious about something or how others are seeing them but the reality is that no one has time to think about you. Once I started looking at others with empathy instead of a positive or negative bias, a burden shifted off my shoulders – it did not matter what they thought, I could just wish them well. It is liberating to not having to worry about judging or being judged.
No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.Theodore Roosevelt
8. I am the problem and I am the solution
It was important to understand the root of my misery. Is it that I lack something and if I can get that, my life would have no problem anymore? Is it true that if I can fix the other people, my boss or neighbor or partner, that I will get rid of pain? The answer is no, misery neither comes from externalities nor can it be solved by trying to fix those. It comes from our nature to REACT when something unwanted happens. While we cannot control externalities, we can understand that reaction is not helping. Our mind has a conscious(intellectual) and a subconscious (sensation+reaction) part. Conscious part can be trained to understand that we should not react but subconscious mind is where the reaction occurs and it cannot be trained. In my understanding, Vipassana helps expand our conscious mind and reduce the impact of spontaneous, rebellious subconscious mind.
Searching outside of you is Samsara (the world). Searching within you leads to Nirvana.Amit Ray, Yoga and Vipassana: An Integrated Life Style
9. Multitasking is a poison
My browser usually has 7+ tabs open. Leave apart the iTunes music playing in the background, Kindle lying around, word documents open, half written articles on scrivener and of course the biggest source of distraction, iPhone, buzzing every two minutes in the close vicinity. I would think, oh I can multitask and get so much done. The reality is other way around. Our attention spans are drastically shortening and that habit of checking Facebook every twenty minutes is costing our productivity dearly. At Vipassana, when all I could do was think or meditate, my creativity shot up like crazy. And whenever I was able to focus on just one thing – walk when you are walking, eat when you are eating, meditate when I was sitting for meditation and think when I was sitting in the break time, I felt fulfilled and accomplished. My mind was uncluttered, sharp and focused. Multitasking dulls out our brains, hampers our cognitive capacity and wastes time in switching contexts between the tasks. Bottomline is if you want to be productive, stop multitasking. Close those extra tabs, set up specific times for facebooking and be disciplined.
I want to lengthen, not shorten, my attention span, and most of the material splendors of the twenty-first century bully me in the opposite direction. Fault is mine – I can’t afford the newest gadgets and I’m not a natural multitasker.Phillip Connors
10. This too shall change
We have all heard the phrase ‘look within’ so often that we fail to grasp the gravity of it. I have read the Bhagavad Gita and attended workshops on consciousness. I knew I was supposed to be equanimous and conscious but I could not find the answer to ‘how’. At Vipassana, I learned exactly that and for that reason alone, I became a believer. Here I was, spending hours objectively observing the sensations in my body and watching their passing nature. Suffering and pain result in similar impermanent sensations and what is the point of wasting my emotions on something that is fleeting? The same rule applies to feeling of addiction or attachment. How long do you feel happy about that new car you bought? One month? May be five, but it goes away at some point and you start wanting something bigger. No excitement and no suffering stays forever. It goes away. And this is how the numbness in my calf and prickling sensation in my back went away too. So, shall my cravings, aversion and anger.
You cannot protect yourself from sadness without protecting yourself from happiness.Jonathan Safran Foer
The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.Alan W. Watts