Vipassana (meaning ‘to see things as they really are') is an ancient method of meditation. It is said that Vipassana was originally taught by the Buddha himself. Meditators are required to abide by a strict code of discipline where they promise to refrain from speaking, lying, killing, stealing, sexual activity, taking intoxicants, reading, writing, making eye contact or touching other meditators as well as cutting off contact with the outside world.
If you know anyone who has done Vipassana, they have probably told you how amazing it is. How it changed their life. How you have to do it. All of these things are true. Definitely. But it is certainly not all sunshine and roses. Sometimes it actually feels like a slow form of torture. Every person has such a different experience so the level of torture varies. But here is the honest truth, from my experience…
One thing that sets Vipassana apart from most other meditation or yoga programs is that it is completely silent. You go into it knowing that you can’t talk or even make eye contact for ten days. I remember when I told people that I was going to do a Vipassana sitting the response was always “What!!?? How are you not going to speak for ten days?!” It is no secret that I love to talk.
But I wasn’t worried about not talking, I was more worried about the fact that I had to sit on the floor with my legs crossed for more than ten hours a day. I have had to do this at yoga teacher trainings so I know how much it affects your body. Your knees feel the strain, your back aches, your hips burn. It isn’t fun.
But what I wasn’t prepared for was the mental pain. Not just the pain that comes from trying to block out the physical pain but the pain that you inflict on yourself. The agitation in your mind that comes when you have become a slave to your mind. When you can’t sit still because your mind is screaming at you. Move. Get up. Open your eyes. What is the time? No, that can’t possibly be the time, the clock must have stopped. What is with that man who won’t stop burping? Stay awake, stay awake, stay awake. You can’t do it, you are so weak. Is that a monkey on the roof? The mind chatter is endless!!
You know that you are there for a reason and that all you need to do is surrender to the method and follow the instructions but my mind wasn’t having a bar of it. I feel like my mind was exceptionally out of control. I already thought that I hadn’t evolved far from a monkey and this experience only proved it. My monkey mind was running wild. There was so much resistance... Constant craving for the end of that sitting or the end of the day or for people on the ‘outside’. So much frustration. It can be so overwhelming and you become so dramatic like it is going to kill you if you have to sit for one more second. Then the self loathing starts because you simply can’t focus.
Every time I went to walk into that meditation hall I felt like I was going into battle. The entire walk there from my room I would be giving myself a pep talk. “You can do this”. “You are here to meditate so just meditate”. “It’s just two hours and then you can eat breakfast, come on, it’s not that hard”. Then you get to the hall and everyone is walking around outside, waiting until the very last minute to go in. As if those two minutes make a difference when you are going to sit for two hours.
My teacher, bless her, was a very strict, devoted Buddhist woman who saw things in only black and white, but with an absolute heart of gold. Every time you told her any problems you were having she always gave you the answer as if it was the easiest thing in the world. ‘You are getting a headache because you use your eyes to follow your awareness through your body? Well why are you doing that? Just stop doing it!!’ Oh, why didn’t I think of that? She said such funny stuff that I would often lay in bed and start giggling remembering the hilarious things she had said.
The yoga teacher in me is not a fan of forcing her body into positions for long periods of time when the body is saying ‘NO!’. But when I queried my teacher about the fact that I wasn’t keen to cause long-term damage to my knees her reply was “I don’t think Lord Buddha would have asked us to sit like this if it would hurt us”. Right. That’s that then. Buddha knows best.
It sounds like a nightmare, right? Why am I telling you all of this? It is going to put you off ever going to a Vipassana! But of course it is not all bad. Which is why everyone tells you how amazing it is and that you need to do it. It isn’t because we are sadists and want other people to suffer (although during the Vipassana I must say that I really enjoyed it if I saw that someone else was restless or in pain – it is quite sick that we take pleasure in other people’s suffering when we are suffering). But it is because it is really a profound learning experience and an incredible method of meditation.
I don’t like to talk about the actual method too much because I don’t want people to go with expectations but once you have managed to tame your mind, even just for a little while, you can drop into a deep state of meditation where you can experience sensation throughout the entire body. Then the lesson becomes practicing detachment from these sensations. Good sensations? Don’t get attached and want more. Bad sensations (pain)? Don’t react. This concept spills into life in so many ways. If you can experience this on a deep level and understand the impermanent nature of different sensations and life experiences, imagine the bliss that you could feel?