published: September 2001
I was wondering if you could tell me a bit more about the Vipassana 10 day meditation course. I was introduced to meditation while practicing yoga. I am interested in the course and would love to hear about your personal experiences during the 10 day course. I am a person who loves to talk, so I am wondering if I can even manage to be mostly silent for 10 days. That in itself would be a challenge! I would also love to know how you have applied Vipassana to your daily life.
I took my first Vipassana course about 11 years ago on an island in British Columbia. It was the most difficult thing I had ever done, and also the most rewarding!!!
The Vipassana we practice is in the tradition of Sayagyi U Ba Khin, and the main teacher is S. N. Goenka.
This is the purest form of meditation that we've found, using the exact technique that the Buddha taught, without any additions or subtractions, including following the tradition of not charging for courses. I believe that this is the tradition that will take you the deepest and give you the best results.
Learning to observe things as they are
Vipassana, or insight meditation, teaches us how to observe things as they are, and not to react because things aren't the way we want them to be.
During a Vipassana course, the first 3 1/2 days are spent learning to concentrate your mind by observing your breath. Then, after your mind has become more focused, you switch to observing the whole body, in a systematic way.
The technique itself is very simple and instructions are given several times a day. However, actually keeping the old, wandering mind focused and observing the breath is obviously going to be difficult, at least for the beginner. The secret is to just keep trying, without getting upset at yourself.
As you do this, thoughts arise in your mind. Most are old accumulated things that we have stuffed down and buried in our 'unconscious' mind. Normally, when thoughts come up, we react with craving to things we like and aversion to the things we don't. During the course, however, we actually learn how to just observe our thoughts and not react to them.
When we are able to observe without reacting, if even for the briefest of moments, these thoughts are released, and a layer of negativity is actually removed from our mind.
Of course, just observing and not reacting to most of the things that are stored in our mind is the difficult part. This is especially difficult with thoughts that are either very unpleasant or very pleasant.
But, little by little, the technique helps us learn to be more skilled at observing without reacting
Also, as our minds become free of negativity and automatic reactions, insights into how our mind works start appearing.
After 9 days of practicing Vipassana, we begin talking again on Day 10. Day 10 is when we start coming up from being so self-aware and prepare to go back into the outside world. And a most amazing thing happens. No matter how difficult the course was, or how much negativity came up and had to be dealt with, everyone feels much lighter and happier. I always go around with a huge smile and feel fabulous.
Practicing Meditation in Daily Life
And the results in daily life....?
Well, the technique gives us some very practical tools to use. Whenever I find my mind starting to roll in negative thoughts, (he did this to me..., she did that..... therefore I need to...... etc), as soon as I realize what's happening, I can break the cycle of negativity and negative-reinforcement.
When I find myself blaming other people or events for my being unhappy with what's happening, I'm much more aware that my reactions (or non-reaction) actually create my own unhappiness or happiness, rather than being caused exclusively by whatever is happening around me.
Thanks to our meditation practice, Carl and I get along much better. I am much more content with my life. I seldom spend more than a few minutes being upset or angry, before I realize what's happening and let go of it. My life just goes smoother now. I'm much more at peace with myself and others.
Of course, all of this didn't come from just 10 days. Carl and I have found the meditation to be so rewarding, and so helpful in our lives that we have continued to practice Vipassana daily, meditating an hour every morning and evening. We try to take at least one 10-day course a year. We also serve at courses when we can.
As for not talking. I suspect that you won't find that to be a problem at all. There is a female (and male) manager at the course who you can talk to if you have physical needs, forgot toothpaste, need another blanket, etc.
For questions about your meditation practice and the technique, you may go talk with the teacher (s) several times during the day. There are private interviews at noon. After the last meditation, at 9 pm, you can go up and ask questions. Or if you have a short question, you can go up to the teacher during the day at a break.
In fact, I would strongly encourage you to sign up for the noon interviews several times during your first course, daily if you'd like. I didn't do this during my first course, and I think it is one of the reasons that first course was so hard for me.
No rites or rituals, without any religious connotations
One of the things that first drew us to Vipassana, is that there are no rites or rituals . This is the technique re-discovered by the Buddha, without any religious connotations. Also, there is no charge for the course. After you have completed your course, if you want, you may give a donation toward future courses. But... this really is without pressure and is completely voluntary.
In addition, no donations go to anyone involved in the course, not the teachers or the servers. None of the teachers or course servers are paid, all are volunteers. All donations are used to cover the actual expenses of future courses.
An additional benefit for us has been the interesting people and really good new friend that we meet at these courses.
A really good book is "The Art of Living" by William Hart. It is available online from Pariyatti Books http://www.pariyatti.com.
BTW, where do you live? There are Vipassana Center at several places in the US and Canada, and also all over the world. In addition, courses are held in rented facilities in many more places. That is what we are doing here in Mexico, until the new Center is built. We hope that we will be able to start having course at the Center some time next year, though we will probably be sleeping in tents and eating under a tarp for the first few courses.
Please keep in touch and let us know how it goes. Perhaps we'll meet at a Vipassana course.
¡Que le vaya bien!
Thanks so much for writing back. I really appreciate it. It is funny how the universe brings things in your path. I happened upon your website to learn about Mexico and now I am learning about Vipassana Meditation!
This year has been a very difficult for me. I suddenly discovered a lump in my throat and found out I had thyroid cancer. Here I am 8 months later and I am fine! But I am left with a lot of things to think about! The body heals quicker than the mind. Being sick with a serious illness really changes the way you approach life.
I discovered Yoga about two years ago. And it was a very Meditative form of Yoga. I found that the benefit in it for me was the Meditation. (not that the exercise wasn't good too!) I have a very active mind, that only shuts down when I sleep. Meditation offers me that peace of mind. I feel so refreshed and peaceful after meditating.
I think that being ill and having to undergo radioactive treatment has really made me analyze my lifestyle/habits. One thing that is a constant theme in my life is STRESS. I have been studying pathology and anatomy of the human body this year at school and it is a FACT that constant STRESS leads to the disease process. I need to find ways to reduce and deal with the stresses in my life. And I think that meditation and exercise are two areas I need to focus on.
I am feeling the itch to travel. But for me, travel has to have a spiritual element to it. That is what I am most drawn to. Travel with Spirit! The Day of the Dead in Mexico is what drew me to your site. I am very fascinated with the tradition of celebrating death. It is such a wonderful way to remember those who have passed on before you. I would like to learn more about the rituals, more about how families feel about it, more about how that tradition has affected their way of thinking about death. (I hope I don't sound morbid).
The Day of the Dead is a wonderful tradition that I would like to understand more fully in the hopes that I can learn how to build a similar tradition into my own life. I am sure that if I had been a child in Mexico my experience of my mother's death would have been a lot more healthy than the cold and sterile way that we bury and suppress our sorrow here in North America.
I live in eastern Canada.
Do you have suggestions as to which Vipassana Retreat centre to attend? I really have no idea which one to choose!
Well, I better start my day! Sorry for rambling on....the coffee hasn't hit me yet! Or maybe it has! (hee, hee!)
Thanks again for taking the time to email me. I know how many emails you must get!
Good to hear back from you. So sorry to hear about your cancer. Vipassana is the best stress reducer that I know of.
There are two Vipassana Centers in the tradition of S.N. Goenka in your general area. The new Center in Sutton, Quebec, http://www.dhamma.org/schqueb.htm and another in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, which is the oldest Center in North America. http://www.dhamma.org/schmass.htm
From reading your letter, it sounds to me like you are really ready for a Vipassana course and would benefit greatly. I look forward to hearing from you after you have completed a course.
You also might like to read the article by Sarada about her first meditation course.
BTW, Here's an interesting newspaper article about teaching Vipassana in prison. Carl served at a couple of the early courses there. http://seattlep-i.nwsource.com/local/34836_meditation11.shtml