Life goes in cycles. There are times when one should focus on doing and other times meant for just being – this is something that is often mentioned in spiritual literature. But how manageable is it to just “be”- submit to the silence and to simply do “nothing”? To most people the concept of spending ten days in silence sounds completely unimaginable. What am I actually going to do there? Won`t I be supremely bored? No dinner?! The exact same questions had been continuously crossing my mind. But strangely enough they did not seem that alarming when balanced against the memory of the distinctive peace and serenity that enveloped the people whom I met, and who had done Vipassana. Overall, the feelings that the thought evoked in me were a strange bitter-sweet mixture of panic and supreme curiosity. That is how I knew I needed to give Vipassana a try.
Vipassana means “to see things as they really are”. It is a meditation technique that was popularized by Gautama Buddha 2,500 years ago. Since the time of Buddha, Vipassana has been handed down, to the present day, by an unbroken chain of teachers. One of them is Mr. S.N. Goenka who began teaching Vipassana in 1969. Since then he has taught tens of thousands of people of all races and all religions in both the East and West. He had also given numerous speeches on Vipassana at big forums such as the UN World Peace Summit. An interesting fact is that Vipassana is now recognized as an effective method for reforming prisoners. The meditation technique has been taught to prison inmates and staff in many parts of India as well as the United States, Britain, New Zealand, Taiwan and Nepal. There are permanent Vipassana centers in two Indian prisons.
Currently there are Vipassana centers all over the world. The Vipassana technique is not taught commercially, but instead is offered freely. There are no charges for the courses – not even to cover the cost of food and accommodation. All expenses are met by donations from people who, having completed a course and experienced the benefits of Vipassana, wish to give others the opportunity to experience the benefits of the meditation.
The practical aspects of the meditation are very straightforward: observe your breath for three days, and then observe your body for the next seven. By doing that you learn from firsthand experience how everything within and around us is impermanent and transitory in nature. As a consequence, you make first steps into developing a more calm, accepting and peaceful approach to life.
In terms of immediate changes that you observe- what happens after a long period of silence is that after all the noise is over (be prepared for a vast amount of mental noise in the beginning) and you greet and say bye to all the thoughts, emotions and body sensations that come and go like waves, you are left with a vast amount of peace and a feeling of connectedness with yourself. Not talking to people allows you to detach from the all the clatter, worries, hopes and constant distractions of the modern world and gives you the space to experience being yourself without thinking how others would perceive you. Realizing how uncontrollable our minds are, putting active effort in taming and seeing the results from your work (improved focus and concentration, better sleep and calmer mind) gives you a feeling of being on the right path in your spiritual adventure. One of those adventures that change your life and the way you see things.
In case you would like to give it a try, here are some practical tips that will help you make the best out of it:
- The ten day program is very structured and is applied in the same way in all centers around the world. At first sight it seems tough, but don`t let that put you down. It`s true that you are silent and don`t talk to anyone in the course of the ten days, but there are always other people who are there as well, so there is a feeling of doing something in a community of people. The daily schedule is quite packed, so there are hardly any times when you simply hang out and do nothing, so don`t even worry about feeling bored.
- There is only tea and light food for dinner, but as you are really not physically active during the day, you will not feel hungry, so there is no need to get freaked out by that.
- You might want to get a yoga mat in case you want to do some light exercise, or sit outside.
- Take earplugs and a sleeping mask with you. This will help you sleep better and the sleeping mask can be also valuable during meditations where you feel an urge to open your eyes.
- Centers around the world are different in terms of set up/facilities, so it is highly recommended to give them a call in advance and gather more information of what you can expect/what to bring, etc.
I did the Vipassana in Dharamshala and I can give some specific tips regarding the center there:
- Facilities in the center are pretty basic, so bring your own bed sheets and towels
- Due to water scarcity washing your clothes in the center is not allowed, but there is an excellent laundry service at super reasonable prices so there is no need to bring a lot of clothes along.
- Bring a torch, as it gets dark relatively early and the paths are not well lit.
- Be careful of the many monkeys in the center- no need to be scared, but still acknowledge the fact that they are there and follow the rules related to that (don`t walk around with food, don`t tease them, etc.)
- Bring warm clothes as the weather gets chilly in the evenings
More about Vipassana and how you can register for it can be found at: https://www.dhamma.org/