My intentions before going to the Vipassana 10-day meditation retreat was to start meditating every day as a way to practice and prepare myself for the 10 hours of daily meditation I knew was in store for me. Not surprisingly, the only mediation “practice” I got in was two 20-minute sessions, both of them ending with me falling asleep. Trust me, you do not need to do anything to prepare for this. Just show up and commit to following through with the program.
So that's exactly what me and my husband did. We showed up having an idea of what was expected of us and what the daily schedule was going to be like. Ten hours of mediation every day seemed like overkill, but we were both committed. We hoped it would change our lives for the better, but did not really know how it would change us. For me, I was hoping to achieve a more focused and concentrated mind. And I was also hoping to have an out-of-body experience … something I have been trying to do for a couple months now.
After we showed up and checked in, we were split up and shown to our rooms. I unpacked my suitcase and made my bed and then headed to the women's dining room for the dinner and the orientation. After the orientation, the “noble silence” in which we were not allowed to speak to anyone enclosed the assistants for the remaining ten days. This is the moment we had to begin following the five prerequisites:
- to abstain from killing any being;
- to abstain from stealing;
- to abstain from all sexual activity;
- to abstain from telling lies;
- to abstain from all toxicants.
The first night everyone was required to meet in the meditation hall to get their seating assignment. And so it began.
The next four days was hell for me because I could not find a comfortable seating position during mediation. The entire left side of my body from my hip down continued to fall sleep. I tried using several cushions, a box and various seating positions. Finally, I asked if I could try a cushion that had a back support. It made a huge difference. I would recommend the first thing anyone does is find a comfortable position to sit in. I wish I would have asked for the back support the first day.
Now I could finally focus on meditating. The course teachers you the mediation technique in steps. The first step is called Anapana which teaches you to observe and focus on your breath. You do not try to regulate it or change anything about it. Just simply observes it in its natural state. Then you begin to narrow your focus to the triangular area at the top of your nose to the top of your lip and ever narrow it even more to focus on the sensations of the breath only on the area below your nostrils and above your top lip. This technique helps to sharpen your mind before you learn the actual technique of Vipassana on the fourth day.
Vipassana is observing the sensations all over your body. Sensations such as itching, cold, hot, heavy, light, pleasant or unpleasant, etc. By observing the body sensations, instead of reacting to them, you train your subconscious mind to change the habit patterns of reaction. By simply observing the sensations, and understanding that they are constantly changing and will not last, you are in essence training your mind to observe life instead of react to it. This was literal life-transforming for me.
On days six and eight of the course, I had extremely peaceful days, completely free from the usual tensions and anxiety I have on a day-to-day basis. This was in large part because I applied to the technique to some of my negative emotional sensations and observed them as they dissipated. It was an amazing experience for me to observe my negative feelings without identifying or reacting to them. I just simply watched them fade away. Incredible! This was my experience and you should not go into this mediation with expectations. Each experience is completely individual and it's important that you do not any “crave” any specific experience.
On the second to the last day of the course, we learned Metapana which is focusing your thoughts of love, compassion and peace for all. It was beautiful.
On the final day, we were able to break the noble silence and begin talking to one another. It was interesting to me how many of the students fell right back into their “craving” by willingly wanting to check their cell phones or complain to others about the course or their difficulties with the course.
When put into practice, Vipassana really works. I recommend everyone try it and see for yourself.