vipassana

10 days Vipassana retreat: my experience

Isabella BEYOND Leave a Comment

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And it was silence! 

A peaceful and surprisingly beautiful absence of any human voice. Just birds chirping and the breeze whispering .. and random fire-cracks that would make me jump off my meditation mat, but that was ok.

That would be the rule for the next 10 days, no talking, no physical contact and no to any kind of communication between us, and of course segregation between men and women and absolutely no sex of any sort. Also we were not supposed to kill any living creature and we had been provided with tools to remove any insect from our dormitory without harming them. THAT WAS THE FIRST PRINCIPLE OF VIPASSANA, the moral code.

The second was to control the wilderness of our mind and focus on the respiration and sensation.  OMG.. that one is difficult. But it got better eventually… we don’t need to control it just drive our attention onto it and just observe it. OK THAT I can do. 

The third step is to purify our mind from contamination  developing a complete and honest vision of  our personal experience, observing our being as a mental and physical phenomenon in constant change.  

Therefore the ultimate teaching from buddha is the self purification through self observation: to observe the reality the way it is, because knowing our own inner reality is to  know ourselves through experience. 

This is going to be difficult!! 

When i signed up for the 10 days vipassana retreat,  I just couldn’t imagine myself to stay so much time without talking and I was afraid I would have been freaking out at day 2. And in fact I was at day one, but not for the silence. That was actually one of the easiest and most pleasing aspects of the course. 

Too bad my mind was louder than any possible external voice and there was no way I could shut it up. I would eventually learn that the goal would not be the struggle against that, but observation and acceptance. And everything would fall into place. 


We were on the hills of Valle de Bravo in the south east of Mexico City, in a surreal bucolic environment, quite isolated and far from the hustle and bustle of the city. The perfect spot to focus on your inner journey.  

To my pleasant surprise we had separated individual rooms, a cute simple little cell made of brickstones. It was real luxury to me as I was preparing to share my space with other 50 women. I didn’t really like that idea but I was ready to accept it for the sake of enlightenment, if that was. That would have been another proof that things will eventually manifest the way you want them, when you are ready to accept that they won’t. This principle would come out later on in one of the teacher speeches and I was pleased to hear it again as it is a rule that I have been living on for the past years and had many personal empirical experience that it indeed works, in many different ways.  

HOW THE DAYS WENT BY

The day was starting at 4.30 a.m with the first meditation and ended at 9 pm with the last one after the discourse from the Maestro Goenka for a total of 10 hours of meditation interrupted only for breakfast, lunch and a quick fruit based snack  at 5 pm, our  last meal.  I thought I would be starving but it was actually a pleasant sensation to get to bed on an empty stomach and I started to appreciate the benefit of it. Useless to say I have adopted the habit in my real life and it works wonders. 

At 12 pm we were allowed interviews with the teacher, a pure  soul, with a constant and genuine smile on her face, she was irradiating such a positive and happy energy, looking almost as if she was watching over us from the above. 

Of course I was there every day, taking full advantage of my 5 minute of interview, which I’d better call confessions, and asked her about all the weird things that were manifesting in my mind and all over my body through the entire period. 

They made it very clear. This was  no spa retreat or relaxing bootcamp. We needed to work hard and trust me, being with your own deeper self for so much time with no possibility of confrontation and external distraction is no joke! Your mind plays so many tricks and the temptation to escape from your truth shows up all the time.   

To give you an idea here is a few example of what was happening inside me every day . 

DAY 1

“ What the heck am I doing here. I need to get out right now. This is not for me…. damn I just can’t focus, my head is hurting… I want to go away, back to my blog and work and travel….this was just a bad idea. “

I asked the teacher about my over-accelerated mind activity and she graciously  reassured me that it was happening to everybody and it was normal. I needed to continue the practise and make little steps  towards being more focused every time and I would have seen improvement soon, but I will have also to observe and accept what it was.  

The entire practise was based on accepting, avoiding judgment and just observing what was happening to our body, both physically and mentally, without reacting. 

That was all we had to do. Simple to say , difficult to put into practise. AH! that’s another judgment. Just observe. 

DAY 2

Please headache go away ! I can’t stand you anymore… I promise if you go away I will focus…. I just want my headache go away… not a chance…

DAY 3

Interview with teacher. My headache was persistent  and I thought I was going to die any time soon… 

Once again, she smiled kindly and explained that it was part of the purification process which was manifesting in different ways in each individuals according to our own most common distress. 

Ok this make sense… 

Besides I realized I was out of caffeine for the 3 days I was there and that could have been another cause. I am detoxing from coffe’! YESSS! one gain. 

But what about focusing!?!? On that side I didn’t make any progress at all I was a failure! I just cannot meditate….! It’s ok just observe it. 

DAY 4!!

Liberation from headache! thank you thank you thank you. I will be able to focus more, probably… 

Mind please shut up. You don’t have to worry about anything else, just focus on the sensation and everything will go well…

“ah If I could take notes of what my mind was producing”. An entire business plan – about 10 articles and how my life would unfold on the next 10 years… I could have written a whole book and probably a best selling one! Damn!! 

(oh, in fact I forgot  to say that we were not allowed to read or write either)

Ok let’s focus…. 

DAY 5

I can’t believe it! I am  half way through – -5 and I am out of here…. I am so fortunate to be here I need to take advantage of this precious time and this amazing opportunity to embrace this noble and ancient practise and do the damn work!!! ok … 

Oh … despite of the conjunctivitis and all other unspeakable craps that my body was manifesting .. but, hey it is all under control.. I am on a purification process… it’s all good. Just keep observing and accepting …no reaction no judgement… be happy…

DAY 6

YES!! tomorrow I will be at more than 1/3  of the course! Mind please stop shouting and do the work… oh no.. I have to accept it. Ok I accept that my mind can’t stop singing but please now.. focus… 

DAY 7

mmmm I have a question… In one of the evening discourses, which I actually loved  the teacher Goenka  was explaining that we need to abandon our desires and constant  search of pleasures and use our fortune and possessions to serve  others in order to find happiness. Except for the last part, which I liked, the rest upset me. I mean, if I could live like a monk in a monastery I could probably do that. But I am living in this world and I believe that if you don’t have dreams and desires you are dead and I have a lot of them and they are multiplicating. Why would that be wrong if I am not harming anyone? 

Interview with the teacher… she had a good warmhearted laugh… and she explained that what Goenka was meaning is that it is totally fine to have dreams and desires of a comfortable life. The point was not to be greedy and obsessed with it and most of all don’t get upset and disappointed if we don’t get what we want, because that is the source of our discomfort and unhappiness that is manifesting through our illnesses and negative thoughts and actions and ultimately “misery” how he called it.  

Phewwww I am soo relieved. I can keep dreaming. That is actually my attitude towards life I am a kind of fatalist in a way. I have dreams and reach out to the moon but I never feel upset if something go wrong. That ’s life. I am happy! 

Ok I am at peace with Vipassana ..this is for me. I can focus. I can accept my distractions, I just observe them and go back to my meditation… it is actually all part of it. I love it, but still I want to get out of here 🙂 

DAY 8

2 days and we go YESSSSS!! 

I know I am so bad (judgment)  but this is hard.. there are so many things I want to accomplish now.. I have so many ideas and I want to go back to my life… ok let’s focus. We have 3 more days to go. I need to make the most of it. Absolutely. 

The teacher told us that we are going to be talking from day 10 .. PANIC! Surprise surprise, FREAKING PANIC! I love the silence and I don’t want to talk anymore in my life! It’s too beautiful.. besides I have  realised that many times we just talk for the sake of talking we say stupid and useless things with no meanings.

OMG I am talking nonsense… or not…

anyway it is what it is, I need to accept it with no judgment. Everything is  impermanent, suffering comes and go, happiness too. So, why worry?

2 days to go 

DAY 9

Come on … Focus Focus focus!

That was actually my last day of serious meditation, as the teacher explained, since from the time we start talking we will be starting to be distracted by one another and most of all, the most dangerous thing would be comparing to each other sensations. That would be useless and actually harmful as anybody has its own baggage and path to follow. We all have different sensations and learning curves. No comparing please never.. anyway…

DAY 10

Too loud. Why do you have to talk so loud?

I was truly annoyed! I thought the Vipassana didn’t really work on me if I was so upset. 

As soon as the teacher told us we could talk there was an immediate irritating muttering from which I just wanted to go away. I felt so weird. I didn’t want to talk I didn’t want to listen to anybody .

“please please don’t ask me how did it go!” I was thinking “ they just say that you shouldn’t compare. why the hell are you asking and most of all why are you so loud.” 

I was not supposed to be so negative and angry…

Luckily I had my last opportunity to speak to my teacher, that enlightened human being. So I asked: “Why am I so upset ?!?” I want everybody to be silenced.. It was so beautiful! 

She laughed, we actually laughed together. She told me that in her first course she was feeling the same ( Oh )

It’s a natural reaction and you don’t have to feel guilty about it. Just observe it. 

Wow. Is it that easy?

When I left her I went to check out some books and leaflets ( I missed reading ) carefully avoiding the crowd.. they were just talking like nothing before had happened. I couldn’t not stand it and I  run to the beautiful gardens at the bottom of the property, where I used to do my daily walks observing nature manifesting itself in its beauty. 

Useless to say after a while I was there among them  asking the same question but I didn’t have an answer to give. I don’t know how it went, I really don’t know..

It was a positive experience for sure. I can’t deny it. 

It was intense.

It was silent.

It was real and surreal.

I didn’t have all those beautiful insights that some of the people I talked to had I have always been jealous of all those people that see the celestial light every time they meditate… how do they do that? 

Anyway.. no comparison we said … so it was what it was

DID VIPASSANA WORK FOR ME? DID I CHANGE ANYTHING?

For sure it had a couple of great practical effects on me

  1. I detoxed from coffe. I now don’t need coffe to wake up, but a good meditation, exercise and a nice healthy breakfast
  2. Talking about healthy, I am back to vegetarian on the road to full vegan.. let’s see. The food they were serving was mainly vegan with the exception of a little of dairy products and beside being so rich and tasty it made me feel so good and clean. It reminded me of the old good times. Yes I can do this again. 
  3. And because one great thing leads to another better one I have thought about a great idea for my blog and other projects and you will soon see it. 
  4. I feel more equanimous and when I am not, I observe it. 
  5. I observe things that happens to me and my reaction to external events. 
  6. I just feel good. 

So yes the Vipassana meditation did work on me. I just have a more practical way of manifesting it and explaining it. No comparison, remember? we are all different. 

It was a burst of energy and at the same time a gentle start into the path of compassion love and kindness. Acceptance and happiness. 

I am still getting mad and sad and excited.. the things that were annoying before, still are, the ones that I was craving for are still there. People can still get on my nerves. I haven’t become an enlightened human being free of passions and contrasted feelings. I wouldn’t even want it to happen. 

BUT, I see emotions from a different perspective. When I get mad, I observe the whys and the hows, I am aware that what provoke those feelings and sensations are not from an external cause but come from within. Therefore I know that instead of reacting to the event, I  look inside myself and search for the source of my sensation. I won’t find it right now, and it’s ok . 

But what is Vipassana and what’s its ultimate goal? 

I didn’t investigate before going there. I just thought it could have been good as a good omen for the beginning of my trip. And it has been, indeed.

Vipassana means “to see things how they are, not how they appear”. Vipassana is a meditation technique developed by the Buddha and thought freely to all its disciples who would eventually distribute the seeds of happiness throughout India and Birmania first and then all over the world. 

Our school was based on the teaching of Goenka, a charismatic teacher from Birmania who started to distribute the DAMMA ( Budda teachings) through the world. When I was too overwhelmed to travel, he recorded his voice and made many video for the schools that were spreading the Vipassana technique.

However it is not for buddhism followers only. Goenka (and the Buddha)  makes it  very clear from the beginning of all his discourses: Vipassana has no religion, no country, no ethnicity, no faith.  As an example, hatred is not Buddhist or Induist or Christian, its’ universal  hatred. So is Vipassana.  It’s for all those human being  to liberate themselves from suffering and misery. 

And it is free. The real vipassana practitioner and teachers would offer their knowledge voluntarily because they want everybody to be free from the roots of suffering and therefore it must be accessible to anyone of any social and financial status . 

If you are happy with the result at the end of the course or whenever you feel like it. You are invited to offer a donation according to your capabilities and/or serve others through volunteering in the next courses or in between and, of course, spread the voice of wisdom.

This is no weird rituals or a magic practice, it is an exercise of the mind using breathing and our own sensation. It implies constant work and determination. It’s not easy and it doesn’t resolve in one course of 10 days. You need to cultivate it and continue it. And you will find inner peace. 

BUT WHERE DOES IT COME FROM ?

Basically after having tried all the possible techniques, the Buddha  found out that our suffering is rooted within us and it is not caused by external events but from the way we react to them. If something goes differently from what we expected we become miserable, upset and angry. If we reach success we become greedy and obsessed with having more and more and instead of expanding our compassion and kindness (which is the foundation of happiness), we only expand our ego. All our life we experience things that we don’t want to happen and on the other hand not all our desires are fulfilled and that cause us to  react with anger and frustration. These negativities  generate blocks and a lot of tension in our body; we become miserable. 

Besides, we don’t keep our hatred for ourself. It is contagious. We would contaminate all the atmosphere around us affecting others negatively. 

The only way to eradicate evil is through meditation, reaching equanimity and keeping a firm and strong mind…through the Vipassana meditation technique, has the Buddha has discovered.  

HOW DOES IT WORK?

I am not here to explain to you the technique because I am not entitled to do so. I am only a student who has just undertaken this joyful path. Who am I to teach? You will need to participate to one 10 days course and you will learn it directly from the teacher. 

It suffices to know that through this meditating technique we eradicate the problem from the source, defeating cravings, addiction, unhappiness and misery. 

Why through meditation? because all the negativities and  mental impurities manifests in the respiration and sensations; therefore by observing  them we are observing our mental contaminations. This way, instead of running away or hiding from the problem we are facing it. 

As the Goenka was explaining, this meditation technique works  like a surgical operation on our brain as we are educating ourselves not to react to things and eventually this habit   will be manifesting  during the course of our life events. We learn to observe instead of react, creating a pure mind and a heart full of love and compassion towards the others. We have therefore eradicated pain and suffering from our inner self.

We know everything is impermanent, everything will come and go;  so why dispare for painful things? They pass, anyway. We develop detachment from all external events. We acknowledge it and  we are happy. That’s the final goal. 

That doesn’t mean that we remain cynic before the world problems! on the contrary we became more sensitive towards others’ pain and suffering, and we strive to help, maintaining a balanced and peaceful mind. 

BE HAPPY! 

EPILOGUE

I finish writing this at  day 4th after the retreat and I am continuing on the path of happiness as it was thought in the course. I am not sure if I am doing it right and where this is taking me but I will observe it and take notes. I will keep you posted for sure. After the end of the 10 days I was very fortunate to find through a work exchange program, the perfect  place to digest all that happened in that intense 10 days and continue on my path of discovering and learning. Its’ an hotel built by  an eclectic artist, sculptor, painter and writer in the outskirts of Valle de Bravo, close to Mexico City. Here I am helping with many different tasks  and at the same time absorb the natural beauty surrounding the place, the amazing views on the lake and all the art that is a beautiful living presence throughout the property. Such an inspiration and food for my soul. I will close this post with a very significant and emblematic poem from the artist Victor Klassen, who is actually a practitioner and teacher of Vipassana as well. 

“So we sit erect, the pain is burning, we face it with frontal

determination not letting it get into our form, creating casual

storms that will compromise all our norms.

With this then clear, we drawer minds near to our step

and observe the motion of the waves as our stomach caves.

We observe it all trying not to fall into our mind’s wraps and

our egoistical traps. As we go along the road the path gets

prickly, we stick to it. With energy and focus we follow the

light and get quite right.”

Poetic prose by Victor Klassen

If you have attended a Vipassana retreat and you wish to share your experience please get in touch with me. 🙂 

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