Where am I heeding? Why do some people get attached towards some things whereas others don’t? Why do some things can’t fit into the thinking of others? I had many such questions in my head. After completing my first Vipassana course I got answers to all such questions and many more questions which no books had touched before. I asked these questions to many teachers but no one satisfied me. I was longing for answers deep within. Such answers can come to you from within. From your inner experiences and wisdom. In Pali language we call it Prajnya.
I’ve always had a deep desire that I could hardly put into words. A profound longing to find “something more”. This thought of filling the void inside me brought me to this 10 days Vipassana meditation retreat.
And it’s one of the best decisions I ever made. I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into. I saw it as a great personal challenge and an incredible opportunity to fully focus on meditation.
While packing the bag at home, I felt that the mediation was made for me. After packing, I simply sat in my room doing nothing. Calm and Serene. I was not anxious about the train timings, how I’ll reach there, the schedule and many such questions didn’t bother me. I knew from within that I’m destined to reach there without any trouble, I simply have to ‘BE’ and the world outside will carry me to the centre.
I came to this silent, soundless place away from the crowd and chatters of the world, it offered me complete solace.
DAY 0 – ARRIVING AT VIPASSANA
Upon arriving at the Vipassana center in the afternoon, I and my parents were pleasantly welcomed by a friendly and warm atmosphere. We were allowed to talk since the official meditation begins in the evening. My parents were initially hesitant to leave me alone as it was for the first time, in 19 years, I was leaving them and staying alone.
They accompanied me in my room which I was assigned and had a small chat with me. My dad cleaned the room for me and for the first time I saw tears rolling down his eyes which he constantly kept hiding. He didn’t wanted to part. After seeing this I realized the importance of my parents whose presence I was least bothered to acknowledge in day to day activities. This was the first teaching which Vipassana offered me even before the official course began.
In the evening at around 6pm, we were reminded of the retreat rules and proceeded to the meditation hall. This is when the rules officially started to apply. All forms of communication with other students are forbidden (including eye contact). In the meditation hall a great variety of cushions were available so that everyone could sit as comfortably as possible this loving service given to me filled the vaccume created by the absence of my parents. An assistant teacher was also present and even though I was seeing him for the first time, I felt as if we knew each other since a long time.
We were given a set of simple meditation instructions like mindfully following the breath and being aware of it. When awareness wandered away, I brought it back to breathing, firmly but without anger, disappointment or commenting too much about it. The purpose of this was to sharpen our mind, to become more sensitive to the subtler realities of our creation. Any specific instructions on meditation positions was not given, but we were told to keep our spine straight. I remember that I started sitting in Adishthan right from the first day because I’ve been practicing Yoga for a long time and as a Yoga Sadhak I used to practice sitting stable for a long time.
The instructions given by Guruji were simple, but the practice itself was another different story…The rules are strict, but they are helpful and force you to fully concentrate on your meditation practice without distracting yourself when things get tough, because they went on to get tough, trust me.
DAY 1 TO 3 – THE MEDITATION BEGINS
The following morning, the current went off and it was deep dark. I woke up to a gong at 4am. and didn’t feel the need of any light as I was feeling peaceful from deep inside. The first meditation was scheduled at 4:30am and lasted two hours. I got into the meditation hall early, sat down and began meditating. As it was morning I could manage to focus my attention for long consecutive breaths. The incoming and outgoing air felt so amazing and I felt like I had no worries in the world. But these feeling lasted for a few minutes. My mind soon stared wandering in the thoughts of my parents and younger brother. It was looking for a pretext not to obey. irrelevant memories and potential future worries kept popping up. Every little thing was a good reason to wander off. At some point, I wondered how much time was left before the end of the meditation. I used to open my eyes slightly to see whether everyone was meditating and after what I thought had been at least an hour, I was just 4:39am. Oh damn…
I was discouraged. I suddenly remembered the opinion of my friend Chhaya who encouraged me to take this meditation. She told me to surrender completely. So eventually I surrendered to the idea of sitting there for a long time. From then on, meditating wasn’t as challenging, it became like a swift adventure. At 6:30, the gong rang, we headed to the dining room walking through the beautiful woods, the rays of the sun shined sparkling hope inside my heart. We had breakfast, the food was vegetarian but still, I was impressed by the variety and quality of the food offered, I felt like a Bhikshu full of love for everything that was around me.
When we meditated in the hall, instructions were often reiterated as not to leave anyone behind or in doubt. We were told to focus on our breathing for the rest of the day, which, frankly, I found interesting. My most favourite part was watching the videos by S.N Goenka, at 7pm, we watched a videotaped discourse by Guruji explaining more theoretical aspects of our practice, although there videos were recorded in the past I wonder how Guruji answered the doubts which I faced while meditating. He smoothly cleared all the inner conflicts which I faced. It was like telepathy and seemed magical. The only thing that disturbed me was that we were not allowed to practice yoga asanas and I feel very uneasy if I don’t practice daily. But the discourses strongly inspired my practice, and I couldn’t wait to be back on the cushion and meditate. I also found that the evening was the period when my meditation was the most focused. When I focused on my breath, I had no thoughts and I felt as if thoughts are just illusions which we mistaken for the real. I sometimes get too trapped in then that I couldn’t see the reality as it is.
While going to bed that night I had a strange realization. I lied on the bed completely still with my eyes open and for a moment an icy chill stole me over. I shivered inwardly like a shall animal, like a bird, when I realized that I was alone. I have not felt like this before. Now I felt it. Previously, when in deep meditation, I was still my father’s daughter, my mother’s child, a yoga teacher, a spiritual person studying the Vedas, a writer. Now I was only Prarthana and nothing else. I breathed in deeply and for a moment I shuddered. Nobody was so alone as I was. I was not a student, belonging to any school or college nor any religion. Even the most secluded person outside was not alone, he also belonged to a class of people. My friends had selected my professions for themselves, they had beliefs ansy dreams. But I, as Prarthana, where did I belong? Whose life would I share? Whose language would I speak? Did even the name Prarthana belong to me?
At that moment, when the world around me melted away, when I stood alone like the moon, I was over whelmed byba feeling of icy despair, but I was more firmly myself than ever. Immediately I went into a long, deep, dreamless sleep.
The next morning, I felt very fresh and rejuvenated and we started our next practice, a simple extension of the previous one. It consisted of being aware of the sensations produced by our breathing. I focused on the triangular nose area and gradually reduced the region. The main idea is that by concentrating on a smaller area, we notice subtler sensations and sharpen our awareness. My meditation was interesting ; I felt stuff I didn’t even know I could feel, including slight vibrations, subtle temperature fluctuations and feelings of heaviness and lightness. I felt a severe pain in the right side of my upper body. It was very gross and usually went inside my nerves and sometimes it became unbearable. Although my mind was still often wandering off, I usually noticed it quickly and came back to my practice within seconds. We were also told not to look for particular sensations but to simply acknowledge them objectively. This is so hard when you have an irritating itch and a strong pain which possess the whole side of the body!
DAY 4 TO 5 – LEARNING VIPASSANA
Waking up on the fourth day, I was eager to learn the Vipassana meditation technique. I had already gained so much from the practice of Anapan. I felt a lot of wisdom came from within me In the morning meditations though, we were given the same instructions as in the previous days: we kept watching the sensations produced by our breathing. A billboard note informed us that Vipassana meditation would be taught in the afternoon, in the meditation hall.
I asked Guruji many questions. I told him I feel uneasy if I don’t practice yoga. He told me that I’ll get all the answers. I have to maintain the balance and equanimity of my mind and not carve for anything. I just have to be a witness of everything and see as it comes and goes without judging anything and labeling as good and bad. Just a passive witness.
The Vipassana technique was surprisingly very simple. At first, we moved our awareness from the mustache area to the top of the head. The top of my head initially seemed to be a “blind region”, but I gradually felt gross and sometimes subtle sensations popping up. Eventually, we progressively moved our awareness from head to feet and watching the sensations in every part of our body. We were instructed to look at those sensations passively. The key was to observe reality without developing desire or aversion.
A new practice was also introduced: “meditation of strong determination known as Adishthan”. Oh girl, this is a tough one! But for me it was a bit easy as I started practicing it since the first day but I didn’t observe sensations along with it.
For three hours, each day (three times one hour), we had to stay absolutely still while meditating. We couldn’t move an inch of our body or even open our eyes. What a challenge! We were strongly encouraged to stay still for the whole hour, we weren’t actually punished if we didn’t succeed. At this time at first, I could barely manage to stay still after observing the sensations for half an hour; my left knee used to get a severe ache from within and the right side of my shoulder and back was killing me. I felt as if someone I holding me tightly from within.
And why were we torturing ourselves with Adishthan? I was eager to know. In the discourse, I found my answer. We were first told that nothing justifies losing our peace of mind. Guruji also told us that practicing Vipassana meditation would help us reach true peace; happiness irrespective of all the obstacles.
I understood that physical sensations arise from thoughts. I perhaps feel a tension in the upper chest, shoulder or a general feeling of uneasiness.
I label these feelings as negative and develop aversion towards them. I also associate this aversion with a person; and therefore reinforce my hate and loop the cycle again and again. This habit patter of the mind binds me and makes me suffer.
You develop craving for these sensations that you identify as positive. You associate this desire with the souvenir. Again, you loop the cycle again and again. Craving and aversion are two sides of the same coin. When I’m averse to something, I’m also craving its absence. In my opinion, the most important point is that we don’t desire things in themselves, but only the sensations we associate them with. A drug addict isn’t addicted to drug or alcohol, but to the sensations produced by it. What a trap!
By practicing Vipassana meditation, we train the mind to be more aware of subtle sensations and learn to see them with equanimity. This way, we can transcend and thus break the loop of craving and aversion as a result suffering ends.
Perhaps I now realised why the meditations of strong determination is so useful. By remaining still for a whole hour, tons and tons of unpleasant physical sensations are produced, and this forces us to practice equanimity. If you can keep your peace of mind while your whole body is tortured by horrible sensations, daily frustrations will become easy to deal with! It will be a cake walk.
That day I asked Zope Guruji a question which was troubling me since a long time. Is carving for knowledge a good thing or bad thing. He said, “Your aim should be to be a Sadhak and not a Vidhvaan.” His answer set my inner self at peace and inspired me to practice Vipassana persistently. Although the last meditation wasn’t one of the meditation in Adishthan, I stayed absolutely still for about 30 minutes and then kept meditating in my room. I felt a warm flux of vibrations across my skin and felt like unpleasant sensations were “dissolving” into subtle and pleasant ones. I felt a flow inside my left arm from the shoulders to the fingers. I was frightened at first but Guruji told me that there was nothing to worry about as this was the practice we’ll continue doing next.
The next day, we began moving our awareness from head to feet and then, from feet to head. If we wanted, we could also move our awareness continuously, as opposed to part-by-part, on the surface of our skin on inside our body. Since I easily felt subtle vibrations, I found this easy, and the rest of the day went fairly well. I started playing with it and then realized that I shouldn’t do anything against the instructions. I often had thoughts about the external world but I tried my best to ignore them and I kept practicing.
After the evening discourse (5th day), my meditation was fantastic! I experienced profound peace and happiness. I started crying. Tears rolling down my cheeks. I felt as if something is opening up from inside. Something in the middle of my chest. When I went to bed, I was feeling too ecstatic to even sleep! I had fun sitting in various uncomfortable ways and just looking at the “unpleasant” feelings passive and saying “Annichya” in my mind. I felt like I was in the Matrix, I could handle anything and everything!
This was put to the test the next day …
DAY 6 TO 9 – EQUANIMITY, BALANCE AND DETERMINATION PUT TO THE TEST
On the 6th day, I woke up sick. My right side again hurted, my head throbbed painfully and I felt difficulty in breathing. My deep breathing all of a sudden became swallow. I had to meditate through it. And on top of that I saw some black ants in my room which made me fearful. I started giving them Metta and Maitri and the fear soon diminished.
The meditations became very hard and paying to my sensations made them seem a worse. I had no trouble feeling sensations every part of my body, but I couldn’t maintain equanimity. Suddenly something used to pinch inside my throat and I used to feel like coughing loudly but controlled myself from doing so as it would have distracted others around. A strong feeling on someone stabbing a pointed needle into my throat used to make me cry. I made my mind strong and observe it and all of a sudden it used to dissolve and disappear somewhere.
I slowly made it through the day, but my condition wasn’t improving. I made it clear to myself that I will not cough. Unpleasant sensations were not going to win!
On day 7, I was feeling even worse. Despite this, I was strangely enthusiastic at the idea of meditating through my bad feelings. I went to mediate in the units provided to us also known as Shunyagaar. When I say there to meditate, I felt as if everything around me trurned into sound vibrations and after a while there were no sounds but only a single sound from which all the others were emerging. If was a fantastic feeling which world’s will fail to describe. I didn’t realize how that one hour passed. I longed for that particular feeling of nothingness.
While meditating we were also instructed to try sweeping awareness “inside” our body parts, as opposed to on the surface. After a few meditations, I could feel sensations inside most of my body parts. In fact, I felt as if I’m only the sensations. I didn’t wanted to speak to anyone. Not even a single word to myself. I just wanted to experience everything with a balanced mind. As the day progressed, I felt my equanimity gradually getting better and for brief periods of time, I was able to fully experience my “unpleasant” sensations with full acceptance and a balanced mind. They just seemed as they passively were, information sent to my brain. This didn’t last long though, either because I got excited or because a particular sensation became overwhelming.
While meditating, I gradually felt a vibration taking over my whole body. Every gross sensation dissolved ones until there was nothing left but a flux of tiny vibrations. At 9pm, it was bed time but I went for a walk on the green grass. While walking, I felt vibrations pleasantly moving through my whole body. An incredible sense of peace and joy emerged, nothing like I had ever experienced before. I’m getting shivers and chills just thinking about it!
I was feeling way too good to sleep. I meditated for what was probably a few hours, playing with vibrations and enjoying immense peace and joy. This is a bit hard to explain but I still felt my negative symptoms as clearly as before. However, the way I mentally perceived them was radically different. There was no sense of me being sick, or of me suffering because these feelings.
When I woke up the next morning, there was absolutely no trce of pain. My body became very light. I felt like floating.
As suggested by one of the evening discourses, I also strove to remain fully aware of what I was doing at all times, even when not meditating. I was standing and meditating. While walking, I tried to be aware of the sensations produced by walking and to be conscious of what I was doing. This is way harder than it may seem! When I could remain aware and concentrated, I instantly felt a subtle peace emerging from within.
As the 9th day came to an end, I felt a great sense of accomplishment. The Vipassana meditation was coming to an end and technically, the “heavy duty” meditations were over since only a few hours of meditation were scheduled for day 10. Moreover, on the 10th day, after the morning meditation, the prohibition to talk would be waived. But to be honest I didn’t feel it necessary to speak to anyone. I was connected to everyone even without speaking. I didn’t feel it necessary to speak. I was enjoying the silence. For a person like me it was gift to be silent as in the outer world people just keep on questiong my silence. I felt that this meditation was just meant for me.
DAY 10 – METTA DAY
Day 10 was my last chance at completing a meditation in Adishthan. To succeed, I had to stay still for a full hour. My body pain. Heaviness of my head had disappeared. It was gone and I had come up with a comfortable arrangement of cushions in the meditation hall. Moreover, my concentration had greatly improved and I easily felt subtle sensations almost everywhere in my body.
In the previous meditations with Adishthan, I usually failed around the 30 to 40 minutes mark. Interestingly enough, it wasn’t physical pain that became unbearable, it was mental distress. At some point, my mind became so agitated that I couldn’t bear not to move. It was intolerable and felt like every nerve in my brain was tightening itself painfully. The best comparison I can come up with is being highly anxious. I went into the meditation hall determined to break through these negative feelings and succeed.
The beginning of the meditation went well. About 45 minutes into the meditation though, I started getting those weird anxious feelings again. I did my best to continue practicing, trying to acknowledge the feelings without being “disturbed” by them. It felt like every cell of my body was trying to throw me off track.
As I kept meditating, there was a point where these feelings stopped overpowering me. When the recorded instructions began, I knew there was only 5 minutes left I definitely wasn’t moving. I had succeeded! After the meditation, the prohibition to talk was waived. Even though I hadn’t said a word in ten days nor did I see anyone’s face. I still felt a sense of friendship with other meditators. Human connections can form without words. I found it fascinating to share experiences with other students but still I preferred the silence more.
I came to know that many meditators had left in between but I wasn’t aware of all this. I felt good that I was totally engrossed in meditation and wasn’t interested in noticeing what others were doing.
We enjoyed a great meal and spent the rest of our day chatting. There were two other mandatory meditations, one in the afternoon and one in the evening. The afternoon one went fine, but I did notice my mind being more agitated because of the chatter. The evening meditation was a different story.
There were many elders telling there wonderfull stories. It was a nice opportunity for me to learn from them and get some life lessons. We spent the rest of the evening discussing life purpose, meditation and relationships. I met fantastic people. I went to bed at about 11pm and next morning, we watched a discourse about how to continue our Vipassana practice in daily life. We were strongly encouraged to meditate at least two hours a day. This sounded like a lot but the benefits which it would gaurantee were amazing!
I was radiating love and I was finding it difficult to do anything other than just sitting silent and feeling love towards everyone and everything around me. It felt strange to finally be allowed to go back into the real world; a part of me didn’t feel ready. I was attached to the peace that the centre was emitting and the clarity it was showing me I’m every aspect.
It felt weird to re-enter the “real world”. I felt detached from the events surrounding me. I couldn’t process seeing people getting angry at the bus being a few minutes late, at traffic being jammed, the platforms being crowded or the trains being late. Complaining was totally outside of my reality. I didn’t get angry on anyone even when I knew they were wrong. I felt as if the source of my anger had disappeared.
The Awakening of Prajna.
I feel like “presence” is slowly becoming my default state of being as opposed to ceaseless thinking. My mind is also much calmer and I’m more aware of everything as it happens, including sensations in my body.
I am also much more confident about life, I feel like whatever happens on the outside, everything’s going to be fine and the problems don’t disturb me like they used to do before. I know that what truly matters is my state of mind, not external circumstances and that the outer reality is just the manifestation of the inner reality. As a result, now, I react to events in a much more detached way and can maintain peace of mind in the vast majority of situations and obstacles. This enables me to be much less reactive and to live in a much more authentic and uninfluenced way with my free will. This also causes me to be way less attached to material things and more engrossed in my work alone. I truly feel like anything I own can break or get stolen without it mattering a lot to me.
Although, in the past years, I had been progressively finding less and less value in intellectual pursuit, Vipassana enabled me to fully see that it truly doesn’t represent anything to me anymore. Although I may still enjoy it as a pleasurable activity, I have stopped believing that accumulation of intellectual knowledge is anything more than a “game” and some of us do it for pride and sometimes it is just unnecessary. This strongly contrasts with how I used to think a few years back. As of now, I just feel like it creates excessive thinking, which makes it impossible for me to stay fully present, experience reality as it is and live in the present. I feel like it’s not worth it as excessive philosophical thinking gets in the way of the strong feeling of peace which I get when I stop thinking, labeling and judging. Although “not thinking” is not a practical possibility to live in the world, I now see thinking more as a “mean” than as an “end”. I try not to identify so much with it and to use it only when necessary, and then go back to “presence” as soon as possible by focusing on the breath. As a consequence, I am not interested in discussions about “people” or how about “doing this was right” and how “this person was wrong”. Nor am I interested in any philosophical discussion, political debates, chatting, parties and gossiping. I now see all of this meaningless and a waste of time. I have developed love for everyone even when they are full of faults. When I point out someone’s faults, I feel like they are my own. I don’t like lying and exaggerating things to gain respect and honour. Such things seem useless now.
Finally, I find it easier to inspire myself to meditate regularly, as I see the benefits and results of my practice almost immediately. I can’t imagine going back to my old states of mind and thought processes.
Bhavatu Sabba Mangalam.
(Copyrights with the author)