Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The 10-day Vipassana Meditation Retreat (My Comic Experience)

The 10-Day Vipassana Meditation Retreat

Think about this. Ten days of silence: no books, no writing, no music, no talking. Ten days of doing nothing but meditation, meditation, and meditation for about TEN hours per day. Isn't that awesome? That's the Vipassana Meditation retreat, a life-changing experience (but it can also be a comic experience. lol).


What is Vipassana meditation?


Vipassana is a Buddhist meditation technique that has been spread all over the world mainly thanks to the efforts of Mr. S.N. Goenka from Burma (Myanmar). 

The technique is taught directly by Goenka (1924-2013) in a 10-day residential course format, using previously recorded videos for the evening lectures and audio recordings for the guided meditations. 

It is a very intense retreat with little free time. You sit in meditation for more than 10 hours a day.  You will also need to take the five Buddhist precepts (no killing, no stealing, no lying, no sexual misconduct, and no consumption of any intoxicants) right from the beginning of the course.


I tried the 10-day Vipassana meditation course


I heard for the first time about the Vipassana retreat nearly 6 years ago when I was doing a one-month Buddhist meditation course at the Kopan Monastery in Kathmandu

A girl told me about her life-changing experience with Vipassana. I immediately started daydreaming about doing this course in the future. 10 days of intensive meditation sounded just awesome. 

When I started this new journey, over a year ago, I knew I was going to do this Vipassana meditation course at some moment or another. I was just waiting for the right time. I kept encountering new friends here and there who would tell me how awesome their experience was and highly recommend it to me.

Finally, I got the opportunity to do it in Kathmandu, Nepal. 

I was a bit nervous before the retreat. I kept asking myself... “Will I make it? Will I be able to finish it?” I have practiced meditation before but I never did such an intense practice, ever. Luckily I did survive, as you can imagine. It was a great experience. I can definitely recommend it to anyone interested in meditation.

But no, I didn't get enlightened, and I still can't levitate.  Lol. 

After the course was over, I returned to Thamel, a very touristic area in Kathmandu. Not a spiritual place at all, but it's very convenient.  You can find everything there: shops, cafes, restaurants, and bars. 

At night while walking in the busy streets of Thamel every five meters there is always someone trying to sell you hashish or marihuana. 

I get so annoyed by this.   Sometimes I just feel like giving them a good kick like when King Leonidas kicked the Persian messenger down the well and shouted “This is Spaaaarta!”... I would shout “I don't want hashiiiish!” click here to watch a Leonidas' kick remix. (warning: watch it at your own risk)

Well, at least I'm aware of my negative reactions.


Ten days of noble silence

One of the requirements to do this Vipassana retreat is to practice silence for the entire ten days. It is called “noble silence.”  You have to avoid any sort of communication with anyone, even hand gestures or eye contact.  

There is also no reading, no writing, and certainly no listening to an MP3 player allowed.  They even asked us to deposit our books, notebooks, any writing material and/or any mp3 player and mobile phones in the safe room. 

One of the reasons for the noble silence, as explained by Goenka, is to avoid telling any lies, which is one of the five Buddhist Precepts.

I didn't find the silence difficult at all. Actually, I didn't even “feel” the silence. Maybe because there were so many people in this retreat, about 170! Or because we had to listen to the evening discourses. 

But the main reason was probably because I have already spent plenty of time by myself. 

I've been traveling alone in India for already one year and although I have met a lot of great people I have also had the opportunity to spend plenty of time in solitude, like during my solo meditation retreat near Babaji's cave in Kukuchina, Dunagiri Hills in North India.

And I thought I would have “withdrawal symptoms” for not being able to use my iPhone and the internet.... for ten days! But surprisingly I didn't miss them at all... The funny thing is that as soon as the retreat was over the first thing that I did was recharge my phone and spend hours and hours online. Lol.

There were moments when I found the silence a bit uncomfortable though. 

I was sharing my room with a guy from the US.  It was very awkward not to talk with him. When we were both in the room I had to ignore him to avoid any communication.  And in the evenings and mornings, it just felt weird not to be able to say “good night” or “good morning”. 

Well, it was not a big deal.   At the end of the retreat, we all laugh about this.


Ten days of intense meditation


We had quite a busy schedule. From 4.30 am till 9.30 pm doing nothing but meditation, meditation, and meditation. 

I loved it! 

Vipassana meditation daily schedule

The days felt pretty long.  Sometimes after finishing a meditation session, I would feel as if it was lunch or dinner time but then the teacher would say “Take rest for 5 minutes and then come back to the meditation hall. Take rest, take rest.” 

Then I would think “Wow, another meditation session? Awesome!”


A fun experience. Don't take life too seriously


Believe it or not, although it was a silent retreat I had lots of fun. I found so many reasons to laugh about. 

For instance, every day we had a morning meditation starting at 4.30 am until 6.30 am. Yep, two hours straight of sitting meditation. The meditation would end with a chanting by Goenka that lasted for about 30 minutes. 

Now, I really like Goenkaji, he is a really nice teacher, but chanting is not his thing. Well, I'm sure some people would find it beautiful.

After one hour and a half of sitting meditation, you are already struggling with the mind, and then Goenka's chanting starts.

Some days it would become almost impossible for me to continue. Definitely a good way to practice equanimity. And just when you think “Oh finally... it is over!” (you'll know it cause every lecture and meditation ends with a specific mantra that is recited at the end) he starts chanting again. It just makes me laugh.

I like how Goenkaji speaks sometimes.  He likes to repeat some words twice or three times for emphasis, and he does it veeery sloooooowly. 

When starting a meditation session he would say “Staaaart again...... Staaaart again..... Staaaaart with a caaaaalm and steeeeady mind.....”. 

Other words Goenkaji would say are “Aniccaaaaaa (pronounced Anitcha: impermanence)...., aniccaaaaaa.....;” and at the end of the meditations “Take rest.... take rest...”.  And my favorite one “You are bound to be successful.... bound to be successful....” 

I love that last one. I would repeat it very loudly in my mind when I was trying to stay completely still for one hour, regardless of the pain. 

“You are bound to be successful.... bound to be successful....”


The coughing, burping, and farting meditation


Another thing that made me laugh constantly was the coughing, burping and farting. 

We were around 170 people, probably 95% were Indians and Nepaleese, and only 5% were Westerners. 

In rural areas of countries like India and Nepal burping and farting is nothing to be ashamed about, even for women.  Actually, it is common even at the office.  

When I did an internship at an Indian company in Mumbai, one of my colleagues, while talking to me barped directly at my face without even blinking an eye.  He simply continued the conversation as if nothing had happened.

One day, probably around the sixth day, after the morning meditation was over and Goenka's chanting started, right after the first word of the chant someone farted pretty loud.  Guess what happened then.  Silence or no silence WE ALL LAUGHED!

There were also a lot of people with throat problems, especially in the mornings which I attribute to a lack of cleanliness and humidity in the rooms. When these people would cough it sounded like their lungs were coming out of their chest (none of the westerners seemed to have throat problems). 

Sometimes this coughing was “contagious.”  When we were in the meditation hall, if someone would cough then another person would start coughing and then all of a sudden it would be like a coughing concert.

All this didn't bother me at all, it didn't really disturb my meditations.  It just put a nice smile on my face. 

One thing that did bother me was that as soon as we would leave the meditation hall some of these coughing people would clean their throats with a horrible sound and then spit whatever they had inside just right next to the sign that said: “Do Not Spit Outside Meditation Hall”. 

It felt almost as if somebody was spitting on my neck! And this happened not only in the male section but also in the women's area.

Oh, by the way, men and women were located in different areas to avoid any contact.  They did a very good job because we couldn't see each other at all, except in the meditation hall. 

Exit of meditation hall

All men had to sit on the left side of the hall and all women on the right side.  The Western men were located on the leftmost side of the hall and the Western women were on the rightmost side. I guess they don't trust Western habits.  Lol.


The morning rituals


Early in the morning upon waking up time, around 4 am, you can hear how local people clear their throats. This is a very common practice in India.  I guess it's something like Dhauti, a yogic cleansing technique where one forces himself to throw up after drinking saline water to clean the digestive tract. 

One morning a guy was so loud that we didn't need the morning bell to wake us up.  My roommate and I started laughing at 4am after listening to this guy's morning rituals. A good way to start the day.

So I would always start my meditations with a good smile on my face. I would even laugh at myself when I would think about my behavior when playing with the insects around the meditation center.


What to do in your free time? Spider watching!


We had two long breaks during the day.  One after breakfast from 7.00 till 8.00 and the other one after lunch from 11.30 till 13.00. 

Since it was not allowed to read or write I found the insects around the center a good way to keep myself entertained. The Kathmandu Vipassana Center is located in a beautiful wildlife reserve so you can find all sorts of weird insects and animals.




I loved to watch the spiders (as long as they are not in my room I'm ok with them). It was nice to see how they build their spider webs. I learned a lot about them just by observing. But unconsciously my inner child came out and I decided to feed the spiders. 


So every time that a mosquito would approach me I would catch it and through it to the spider web. Now, this is definitively not the kind of stuff that you do in a Buddhist meditation retreat, especially since right at the beginning we took the five precepts (something like vows) and one of them was “Not Harming Any Sentient Being!” 

Finally, after a few days of playing with the insects, I started talking to myself. 

“Why am I doing this?  Well, I'm just feeding the poor spiders that don't catch anything almost all day long.. Come on, be honest with yourself! ok ok... I just want to see how they do it, how their spider web works, and how they catch their food”

So from that moment on I decided not to continue with this habit and just observe the spiders without interfering with their lives, or the mosquitoes's lives. 


I also thought about the relationship that I'd had with mosquitoes since I was a child. A love-and-hate relationship.  They love me and I hate them. They love me so much that I even got dengue fever when I was at school!

But then I thought about how difficult their life is. Just think about it, every time that they need to go for food they risk being smashed by someone's hand.  On top of that their bodies are so fragile and some of them are not as quick as flies; luckily for us. 

So finally I made peace with them and left behind all those years of war. But... it didn't last very long. 

A day after the retreat was over, I sat for breakfast in the garden of a restaurant in Kathmandu.  All of a sudden, I unconsciously smashed a mosquito as soon as it landed on my arm. I guess we need to review that “peace” agreement.

Now you must be thinking... “this guy is really weird”.  Well, what did you expect after ten days of intense meditation? All the negative stuff from the inside is coming out!

Ok, that was fun but if you really want to know about the good stuff then continue reading

Next:
  1. The 10-day Vipassana Meditation Retreat (My Comic Experience)
  2. How Vipassana Meditation Purifies the Mind (Based on Yoga Philosophy)
  3. My Vipassana Meditation Experience (Observing the Mind's Reactions)
  4. My Issue with Goenka's Vipassana Meditation Course

20 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Hi Sam, Vipassana meditation is something very good which help us be mindful all day. I met a guru who practice for over 30years, he is Venerable Vimokkha and did share his teaching in MP3 files in my blog. His teaching is recorded during our Vipassana meditation retreat. Feel free download it for free at:
      http://www.kidbuxblog.com/ajahn-wimoak/

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  2. This is one of the funniest blog entries I've ever read. Definitely signing up for a Vipassana course now!

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  3. Glad to know so much about Vipassana meditation. I've been wanting to go for it.

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    Replies
    1. Oh, boy this comment is from 2012! I'm so late doing my homework :-) So did you ever do it Anisha?

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  4. I made the same vipassana course in Barcelona (Europe) and the coughing, burping and farting during meditation was as you said after the third day (perhaps the two first days everybody was still embarased). All we were westerners.

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  5. It's not a 'Buddhist' meditation. It's just that this technique was discovered by the Buddha.

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  6. Replies
    1. This is Sparta! This is Sparta! This is Spartaaaaaa! haaa I just watched that video again, so funny :-)

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  7. thanks for the post - yours was one of the blogs I read before heading in and it was very funny - mine was supposed to be in Katmandu but ended up being in the UK so was had a few more creature comforts - I've shared my experience here (and referenced your blog :) )
    http://flackontour.blogspot.in/2014/02/vipassana-calm-down-your-monkey-mind-in.html

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    1. Hey Mr Flack. Thanks, good to know that you found it funny. I just read your experience and I must say that your blog it's also hilarious, really enjoyed the read :-)

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  8. What I read & understand here in these forums/discussions is all about the experiences during the course. These experiences are found in abundance across the net.
    My questions & curiosity are of the following.
    1. What is the take away from the course?
    2. What happens after the course if you don’t practice or repeat the course latter?
    3. What benefits does one experiences after say few days / weeks / months / years after completion of the course? The learning & experiences are only profound during & immediately after the course only. What after that? What happens to one's awareness, understanding & controls of the conscious & subconscious mind during the latter life after the course?
    4. Individual Personal experiences on what life style changes did one experience in terms of habits, thought process, better self controls, channelizing the energies / thoughts, did it really change ones insight / outlook towards life, was it a life changing experience, life style changes, etc
    This will be a very great help to me, kindly share your experiences.
    Best Regards
    Jk Rao
    PS. I’ll be glad to receive your replies. Pls also email me your replies to GetJKRao@gmail.com

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  9. This was a hilarious read! i have done quite a few courses, and i found that you were successfully able to transform some of the 'irritating' moments into humour! brilliant

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    Replies
    1. Thank you Aparna! yeah, I still remember it as a fun experience :-)

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  10. I was always inquisitive to know and learn about Meditation and I am very glad to have taken the decision to learn this technique during my Leave from my workplace by joining the free 10 days Vipassana Course, the centres of which are spread all over our country. The technique of Siddharth Gautam Buddha is thought by an everyday one hour Video discourse by Guru Goenka wherein you learn the technique of Annapaan for the first three days which means knowing about your normal breathing and then from the fourth day, you start learning the technique of Meditation viz Vipassana wherein you go through your body parts one by one feeling for the sensations. By the end of Day 8 during the course, my entire body was vibrating with soft subtle sensations. And while meditating, at one point of time, when the mind was thoughtless and the heart (‘antarmann’) so ‘Sukashm’ and ‘komal’ that it reached the unconscious stage!!
    The experience at the Vipassana Centre cannot be shared in words for it needs to be experienced!! and the outcome of learning the technique by joining a 10 day course being now I can meditate at my own place. However it was not very easy. The long day at Vipassana started at 4 a. m. with a lot of back and leg pain during the first 2-3 days. However, once you start getting the technique, you can sit and meditate for longer hours. But all you need is to have complete belief in the technique. I felt the first sensation (‘Sanvendna’) on the sixth day whereas the discourse lectures of Guruji forsee the same to happen for the majority on and from the fourth day, but the belief in the technique kept me going. The food was simple, healthy and good. 10 days was a little much time, I personally felt; wherein the course for 7-8 days can also be meaningful. However, what you achieve, gain and learn cannot be compared to these minor difficulties. By the end of Day 10, I completely understood the importance of ‘Arya Maun’ – no talking not even by actions.
    The course was so impactful, so very beneficial that I feel a new person today. The experience has made me live a simpler, calmer and a meaningful life with not letting the negativity affecting my inner self. And once you understand from your self-experience as to how anger, negativity, jealousy, ill feeling, enmity, bitchiness, malice does not only badly affect the people and the environment around you but also your inner-self and to what extent, you become positive and tend to remove all these negativities which have piled up over your tender heart in all these years. And your heart is filled with only love, happiness and compassion for everyone!!
    Life is all about living it positively. Your thoughts and feelings will attract the energies in this world. Positivity in life will attract the positive energies and negative thoughts and feelings and anger would attract the negative energies, and thus would shape your life!!
    Experience it and you will work harder to be more positive!!
    Must learn – Vipassana!!

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    Replies
    1. Wow, thank so much for sharing your experience Manita, very valuable information, I'm sure others will find it useful

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  11. Thanks Manita for your sharings.. it inspired me a lot.. I would be doing this course.

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  12. This 10 day meditation is insane,hilarious.This proves how stupid people are.We should gradually increase the time of meditation,absurd that people are doing more than 10 hours of meditation on 1st day.A person who understands meditation wouldn't make people meditate this amount of time on first day.

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  13. How did you took pictures? Inside. I did vipassana and i dont know how you did this. its not allowed. hummmmmmm

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    1. Pufff. I cant remember.... I guess I did it at the end when I got all my gadgets back since it was not allowed to keep anything. And if it was not allowed to make photos well I guess I simply broke that rule. Will I get bad karma? :-)

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