One day, I decided I would do an extreme sport and signed up for a 10-day Vipassana course. For those of you who don’t know: a 10-day Vipassana course requires you to meditate for ten hours a day, in complete silence. During those ten days, you have no contact with the outside world.
As the starting date of the course drew near, I found myself more and more anxious. What if I forget all my passwords after 10 days? What if I go insane? What if I forget how to drive? My friends and family weren’t particularly helpful when I told them where I was going. I got a lot of weird looks and questions. The most common being – “Is this really the time for you to be doing this? You can try this out after you retire”.
Anyway, I packed up for 10 days and left. (I wrote down my passwords in a book too, just in case). I surrendered my phone at the centre office a bit wistfully and settled down in my allotted room. You aren’t allowed to read or write either – which makes it doubly tough. I wondered where all those extra thoughts in my head would go.
The first three days is dedicated to the practice of ‘anapana’, in which you focus on the breath. You don’t try to force the breath or the pattern of breathing. You have to just observe.
From the fourth day, the practice of Vipassana begins. All you need to you is to sit still and observe your body. Easy Peasy.
In the guided sessions, you are told that your ‘monkey mind’ will resist the process of meditation. And it did. My body itched, literally itched to get up. I would often open my eyes, fully expecting to see a large insect sitting and biting me.
But there was none. It was actually all in my head.
I developed mysterious aches and pains that I had never experienced before. I wrestled with a constant desire to just run away. My trick to staying on was to tell myself that I am leaving the next day – so I might as well stay through this one. And the next. And the one after that. And somehow, I managed the whole ten, taking it one day at a time.
Did I become enlightened at the end of ten days?
Obviously, no. But there were these quiet, imperceptible shifts in my brain that started to change the way I viewed the world around me. I say ‘started’ because the process is still going on. The change doesn’t come in a day. It takes months, sometimes years before you can make a significant breakthrough.
I am an introvert. So staying away from human contact and conversation didn’t bother me much. However, I became more and more aware of the sheer volume and weight of information we process on a daily basis. Weight – because it actually bogs our minds down. I have now realized that I have a limit and try to not tax myself beyond that.
I also began to understand how much emotional drama – within my own head – can drain me of my energy. How many thoughts run through my head on a given day. How often I react to a thought, rather than reality. And because I grew aware of that, I became more adventurous in my life. Some of my inhibitions melted away.
One of the most powerful precepts that I learned in those ten days was to be ‘right here right now’. I understood how much our minds dislike staying in the present and are perpetually wandering off to the past or the future. This prevents us from enjoying every single moment to the fullest.
The word ‘Vipassana’ literally means ‘special seeing’ or ‘insight’. This is a quality that the mind is said to develop after practising this form of meditation. Vipassana isn’t intended to lead you to a state of bliss. It makes you more aware of some of the things you are doing, which are perhaps harmful to you in the long run.
And awareness is the beginning of change.
About the Author
Vandana Rajendran is a tarot reader and a life-long student of astrology, who loves to let her hair down with a bit of dancing. She is fascinated by mythology of all cultures, especially when it is accompanied by a nice cup of tea. On weekdays, she works for a technology start-up.