So what is Vipassana then?
Vipassana is a silent meditation course that follows the teachings of Buddha. It’s purpose is to share with the students the technique that has helped Buddha reach enlightment under the Bodhi Tree, techniques he so compassionately decided to share with us all, even though that meant he’d have to come back to the world and deal with it’s unblissful state (as opposed to remaining far away, in a continuous state of the bliss he had acquired).
The teachings were spread 2500 years ago but starting getting lost a few centuries later. For 20 centuries they were carefully carried on by small groups of people, until it was time for them to be widespread again. As it seems, that time is now. Vipassana is taught in almost all countries in the world, and there are more “schools of thought” teaching it too. The one we attended was a course by Goenka, a teacher originally from Burma but who now lives and teaches in India. That is also the place in the world where most courses take place.
There are a few core ideas shared by Goenka:
Anicca – the law of impermanence. Everything in this world is temporary, from a body sensation, to a broken heart, to a being’s life. Whatever situation you find yourself in, remember that this too shall pass, be it good or bad. That way you can keep your objectivism, realism, balance. Sanity. Anicca.
The law of reacting – what causes us all to suffer is the reacting we do to what happens around us. It’s the aversion and the craving. The whole idea of “it’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that determines how you feel”. So it’s not the pain in your leg, but the aversion that you feel towards it that makes you unhappy. The pain alone doesn’t make you unhappy, it can just be there and you can be present to it, acutely aware of aniche… Eventually it will go away, as everything does. The same goes for craving – it’s the desire for something that makes us unhappy, not the fact that we don’t have it. So many people are happy without gadgets… until they want them. Then they cannot be happy again until they have them. And the tragedy is it never stops with one gadget, it goes on and on with bigger and fancier devices, people, statuses. It’s the permanent craving that makes and keeps us unhappy.
The “I” and “mine” are also reasons for unhappiness. You’d never cry for a broken Rolex unless it were yours. You wouldn’t cry for yor friend’s Iphone being stolen, but you’d shed buckets of tears if it were yours. You wouldn’t spent a minute crying for someone else’s relationship falling apart, but you’ll spend sleepless months crying over your own. It’s the attachment that brings the misery. And it’s the non attachment that brings the liberation.
There were many more wonderful ideas he shared during a daily 1.5 hrs recorded speech. It was entertaining and thought provoking and I’m sure you’ll enjoy discovering these thoughts and ideas as much as we did.
Why did we do it?
All three of us had heard of or been exposed to Vipassana one way or another before starting the South American trip, so in a way we all felt the calling to do it. When we first landed in Cusco we loved the energy there, and we had a thought about this being a perfect place for meditation. So when we found a course there at the end of August we felt it matched our plans perfectly.
We didn’t know much about Vipassana, but had friends who had done it and told us how great it was and how it was so worth it. We were elated at the thought of spending 10 days in silence, with ourselves, undisturbed by anyone or anything. You don’t often have the opportunity to do that, so we were looking forward to experiencing it.
What did we actually do there?
If I were to use only one word:meditate. We spent an incredible amount of time, 10 hours a day, sitting down and meditating. It was madness and the fact that we managed to do that for 10 days in a row was already a belief breaker and a great achievement.
The other thing we did was be in silence. For 10 day we observed noble silence, which means we did not communicate with any of the other participants, not by word, gestures or even looks. This was to be a time we’d spend with ourselves and ourselves alone. And it worked wonders 🙂
Our daily schedule looked something like this
- 4.00 – Wake up call
- 4.30 – 6.30 Meditation
- 6.30 – 8.00 Breakfast and rest
- 8.00 – 11.00 Meditation
- 11.00 – 1.00 Lunch and rest
- 12.00 – 1.00 Optional talks with the teacher
- 1.00 – 5.00 Meditation
- 5.00 – 6.00 Evening snack
- 6.00 – 7.00 Meditation
- 7.00 – 8.15 Recorded evening speech by Goenka
- 8.15 – 9.00 Meditation
- 9.30 – Lights out
So we’d wake up each day when the stars were still up (the sky was stunning as we walked to the meditation hall each morning), meditate for a couple of hours, then greet the sun coming up from behind the mountain as we were enjoying our breakfast of porridge and tea. We’d then have another round of meditation followed by lunch, one of my favorite times of the day. Not because of the food, which in itself was reason enough for that as it was the most simple and delicious vegan food, cooked with love by the amazing volunteers we had the fortune of having with us. It was my favorite time of the day because it was the time we’d all be hanging around in the big yard, with our bowls of food and cups of tea, and enjoy our lunch in complete silence and separation… yet feeling like we’ve never been more connected. I loved the awareness that we were all spread around, some walking, some lying down, some sleeping, some looking at the sky, all doing our own thing yet all feeling so together. Looking around at the incredible nature and at the lot of us enjoying it immensely every moment, I’d find myself wondering… is this was what Paradise is like?
After lunch we’d get back to the meditation hall for some more meditation, and at 5pm was snack time. The snack was always a very small portion of fruit and tea. Nothing more. Initially I thought I’d be hungry in the evening, but truth is I almost never felt hungry during the entire 10 days. I guess when your focus is not on the food, hunger doesn’t distract you unnecessarily.
At 6pm we’d get back for yet another round of meditation, and at 7 came my second favorite moment of the day: Goenka’s recorded speech. I loved these moments when he’d share his teaching with us, and I think a major reason for that was Goenka’s thick Indian accent. It made me feel like I was back there, in my soul’s home country. His speeches were entertaining and full of thought provoking stories and ideas. Many of them I had heard before, many were new, many made a lot of sense, many I had to spend some time digesting. All in all, it was very good stuff being shared and probably gave the mind some processing to do during the night.
The day ended with a last and short round of meditation, generally with instructions on how the technique would evolve the next day. Those who had questions could address them with the teacher immediately after, and lights were out at 9.30pm. By this time we’d all be exhausted, so we’d fall in a very deep sleep as soon as out head hit he pillow. I usually sleep very well during the night, but those nights during Vipassana were characterized by very deep and restful sleep. Waking up at 4am was not at all the effort I was expecting it to be. And I was indeed very happy about) that!
The challenges we faced during the 10 days – in the next post :).
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