It took me 10 years to finally decide to embark on this retreat. In the second year of the pandemic I packed my bags and off I went to immerse myself in this intensive practice.
Vipassana is a meditation technique which aims to allow one to transform by committing to a focused practice of self-observation.
We are all bound by our thoughts, feelings and actions some conscious some unconscious. Vipassana explains that the scientific laws that operate one’s thoughts, feelings, judgements and sensations become clear. Through direct experience, the nature of how one grows or regresses, how one produces suffering or frees oneself from suffering is understood. Life becomes characterized by increased awareness, non-delusion, self-control and peace.
The 10-day residential course requires you to commit to a code of conduct – to abstain from killing, stealing, sexual activity, speaking falsely and intoxicants including the commitment to fully complete the 10 days.
The key to the meditation practice is to observe your breath and bodily sensations very closely. In observing these and not reacting to them ideally one develops equanimity, the idea leading you away from misery towards self-liberation. This may sound simple but it is not.
With much enthusiasm 11 hours of sitting meditation practice a day, is seriously hard work. Being a regular meditator for a long time, I have to say I found it challenging. Switching off my ‘thinking’ mind and being in total awareness for such long durations was easy for me but it was the reactions that were occurring that were intense.
Teachers of Vipassana explain that the body and mind start to purify, and I was certainly beginning to ‘release’. My energy dipped, I got cold and shivery and lost my appetite. I found myself having strange dreams, one night I awoke screaming from a nightmare. I felt vulnerable as I observed flashbacks of emotions and experiences appearing in my mind from nowhere, a stream of consciousness I could not control. It’s easy to react harder to maintain equanimity.
It’s not surprising SN Goenka describes it as preparing for surgery of the mind. I gave my mind full permission to do some serious housekeeping. Sitting all day sometimes lying down, sometimes with some gentle walks around the grounds. I knew the process was doing something but I couldn’t rationalise it, some things were shifting/moving in me but I cannot put it into words.
By the end of the ten days, I felt a lightness in my body, a deep sense of peace plus an extreme awareness of my body, mind and breath. I know these 10 days were a drop in the ocean and a constant daily meditation practice is required to see any sustained results. There are monks who over a lifetime put in thousands of hours into their meditation practice, most of us unable to commit such amounts of time. Their minds work differently, we know this, science has recognised this. They find deep compassion and peace inside even when presented with stresses of life.
This kind of peace from suffering is a kind of liberation.