The secrets of the universe and its working has amazed me since childhood! And somehow, my gut instinct always asked me to get into meditation, though I ignored its whisper. However, I was forced to listen to it once I had some severe health complications. This finally led me to explore the hidden world of Vipassana meditation. And here’s my experience.
I don’t know why I expected some magic to see once I started meditating. Though there were moments of peace, and calm, I was looking for something else, something more maybe! And that led me to explore Vipassana through a retreat.
What is Vipassana Meditation?
Vipassana is a Pali word which means ‘to see’. And that forms the basis of this meditation technique.
While there are many theories about the several meditation techniques started by Buddha, there is strong evidence that Buddha mainly taught Vipassana. Which later got spread to Burma by king Ashoka.
Though this technique got lost in India, SN Goenka brought it back to India in 1976.
Now that we have a little background of how it originated, here is more to what makes it so special. The intense 100-hour continuous meditation practice!
You are not connected to the world, not speaking to anyone for those 10 days, live on minimum food, and just meditate. That’s what makes it special. Is it easy? No, it’s not, but it’s worth the efforts.
Why do you have to stay for 10-days long?
Vipassana is taught in a step-by-step process. Every day it’s a little more than the previous day. The course is designed in such a way that you have to spend a minimum of 10 days to learn it gradually and see the benefits afterward.
During the first 3 days, they teach how to concentrate on the mind. Those three days of practice sharpen the mind and prepare it for what’s coming next.
From the 4th day, they start teaching the actual technique of Vipassana which is ‘to see’ into your body.
Well, it may sound easy. ‘Just seeing the body? Uh! Not that tough! I can do it at home!’ But it’s not!
One wishing to practice seriously must be under a proper guide. There are several layers you uncover and it might be scary sometimes. The group is divided into men and women, and each group has separate teachers.
You also need an environment where there is the least disturbance. Vipassana centers provide you such an environment.
Now that I have talked enough about all that can be theory, let’s listen to ‘my story’ of Vipassana! Ready?? Fasten your seat belts! You are going to enter into a world of magic, and mystics. Yay!
It took a lot of courage to decide that I would go to Vipassana. The thought of not talking to family scared me the most. However, the good thing was that I had my husband with me. So, in a way, I had a familiar face at the center though we didn’t talk to each other for the next 10 days.
The morning bell rang at 4 am, and we had to be in the main meditation hall to start the practice at 4:30 am. It took me 2 days to adjust to this timing. We were given instructions to follow on a daily basis.
For the first day, we were asked just to concentrate on the breath. And just the opposite of what I had thought, it was super tough!
My mind wandered in all directions. I visited earth, mars, space, met all the aliens, danced to Bollywood numbers in those little two hours!
When we were out for breakfast at 6:30 am, my head was aching. The next marathon of meditation started at 8:00 am and ended at 11:00 am for lunch. I was super irritated by my mind. What can’t you be a little quieter?
At 1:30 pm we started again and ended at 5:30 pm for snacks. Now, I wanted to speak to someone, but everyone ignored my smile! Ouch!! At 6:30 pm we started again and were given instructions for the next day at 8:30 pm. I was back to the hostel, and in bed by 10:00 pm. Well, the routine was going to be the same for the next 10 days!
Did I have any magical experiences during my Vipassana retreat?
Before I decided to book my Vipassana, I had read many blogs on it, and people talked about how they healed from backache, migraine in just 10 days.
While I did not expect my health issue to get resolved in just 10 days, I did expect ‘something’, a little magic maybe. And that happened on the third day!
In the afternoon when I was concentrating on my breath, I felt my right hand shaking. It’s easy to distinguish between a shaking due to weakness, and shaking due to something more powerful.
As I saw it, I was scared from the meditation experience. I guess fear was not needed at that moment. Because the moment I was afraid, the experience stopped! I kept feeling magical for the next many minutes.
And I can assure you that it was the latter. I experienced that ‘something more powerful’ in my right hand. When I l opened my eyes to look at what’s happening, it was still shaking, and nothing was not in my control.
When I told my teacher about that experience, she said, ‘Observe it!’
Well, her reply did not make me happy at that time, but now that I see it, that’s what Vipassana is all about. Observing.
Was it easy?? No, it was not!
Along with the few magical moments I had, there were a few painful moments too. Like on the seventh day, I could feel the heat inside my body. My stomach and lung area had some fire as if it would burn me from inside.
Well, it was always there, had been there for years but Vipassana had made me aware of that negativity, and I could feel the pain. By evening, it felt like I would vomit due to the heat. But I did not want to give up and by the next day, it got better!
Along with the physical pain I experienced, my mind became more chaotic by day 5 and 6. I had read people saying that their experience got better as the days passed. However, for me, it was full of ups and downs.
There were days I was at complete peace with what I was going through. And then for many days, I just wanted to scream and run. I remember, on day 7th, in the night I just wanted to bang the door of the course manager, and ask her to let me go! Thankfully, I survived those intense emotions. Phew!
Vipassana – would I go again?
Of course yes! Don’t get demotivated by the weird experiences.
They will just pass, and the benefits you get out of those 10 days would outgrow your bad memories. Funnily enough, just after I returned, I started looking forward to booking another 10 days course.
While the experience might be addictive, it’s important to remember that one should continue practicing it at home. Those 10 days can only provide an essential introduction and foundation to the technique. To develop in the practice is a lifetime job.
How can you survive those bad days?
I was talking to my Yoga teacher just after I had booked the session. And she told me, ‘Ankita, the day you feel agitated the most, is the day you get healed the most! Remember that!‘
And I reminded myself of these golden worlds on those bad days. She also said that whenever I felt like quitting, I should just try to wait for ‘one more day’. And this theory worked too!
On the 7th day when I was experiencing too much heat in my body, I just wanted to see ‘one more’ day, and by the next day, I already felt better.
My advice if you are going to Vipassana for the first time!
There are many things I could have done to make my experience better. And they are:
#1 – Follow the routine.
There are leisure times in which they expect you to take some break from meditation. Utilize that time. Which means take the break! You deserve it. I did the opposite. I ignored the routine and practiced even during those break hours. Result? I was super exhausted and bored in the last few days.
#2 – Walk-in nature.
Vipassana centers are built in between the woods, far away from the city so that you can experience maximum healing.
But healing does not only happen by meditating. It also happens when you walk in nature. When you soak in the fresh air and walk around in the woods mindful of everything around.
I skipped that part, only to realize on the 8th that I had missed something major! Sigh.
#3 – Do not talk.
Well, I didn’t do it, but I saw many people who broke the rule of not talking. They made groups and by the 8th day, I could see them walking and talking. And it’s not recommended.
There is a reason the course asks you not to talk. It’s because when you stop one of your senses, the awareness of other senses is heightened.
And you experience the technique more deeply. After all, that’s why we are here, right?
#4 – Do not compare.
We were asked to talk in groups with the teacher about the day-wise experience. When I listened to someone else’s experience I would question my practice.
‘She said that she experienced itchiness. Why didn’t I?’
And it made me question my efforts. Don’t do that! We all are unique, and so is our experience. A comparison will only hamper your progress.
#5 – Start meditating at home before you go for the retreat.
If you are new to meditation, and you want to start by going to this retreat, you are doomed. It will be very tough, and most probably you will leave the course in between.
Until and unless you haven’t practiced any kind of meditation at home previously, I won’t advise you to go for this intense practice.
Maybe you can start practicing at home 3-6 months prior to registration. This way sitting one hour continuously for a session won’t be tough. Here are some tips to get you started with your home practice.
Once I returned from Vipassana, I got to hear many more stories of miraculous healing. No doubt every meditation is helpful but the effects are tough to notice because of slow progress. However, the effects of Vipassana are instantaneous.
Once you return from the retreat, most probably you will see some change in your personal or professional life.
While it might sound absurd to many, the fact is that when you get rid of so many unwanted beliefs and toxins from your body, you attract more of what you desire. It’s like a return gift from the universe for all the efforts you have put in those 10 days of intense meditation!