Thoughts on my first 10 day Vipassana Meditation course
I did my first 10 day Vipassana course from 2nd to 13th Sep of this year. This post is, few of my thoughts put together. I hope it inspires someone to join the course, or helps someone during the course to endure it.
Just note that these are very personal experiences. My problems were my problems. You might face something completely different from mine.
Fear before even registering for the course:
I have been hearing about this course for last 3 years. But during the last one year I was seriously considering to do it. Then why did I wait for so long? Fear. I had a lot of free time and no health problems. But I was scared whether I would be able to endure it.
I remember I went to the website for registering and saw the code of discipline. Some of the rules were no dinner,complete silence(not even sign language) for 10 days,10 hours of sitting meditation for all the 10 days and so on. And I got scared.
Doubts about my ability to commit to such a rigorous schedule came up in my mind. How can I sleep on an empty stomach? Considering how talkative I am sometimes, how can I be silent for 10 days. 10 days without even smiling? I cannot sit for 10 mins straight without changing posture, and I am supposed to sit for one hour straight here. forget about it.
I closed down the registration page and thought, may be some other time. During the next year, I met lot of souls who had done Vipassana. They all said it is nice and I should do it too. But I didn’t. I had my excuses.
Few weeks back, I had half a day of depressed time and it made me realize that how life can give you a hard time when you least expect. And I knew inside that, Vipassana would be helpful in such times. I thought, I have done enough procrastination. I went to the Dhamma website and checked the course availability in Kerala,Karnataka and Tamilnadu. Chennai had a course starting next week. I registered as fast as I could before I changed my mind. Oh, finally first part is over, after one year!
The last meal of the day will be served every day at 5 pm. I think the food is different from center to center. In Dhamma setu center , Chennai, they provided some pori, one banana and tea. It filled my stomach at the moment. But after few hours I was a bit hungry on first few days. But it wasn’t as bad as I expected. I could still sleep.
Since we all just sit and meditate and don’t do any kind of physical activities(only walking, not even stretching), it was ok to have no dinner. After few days, I realized that the less you put in your stomach the better it is for meditation. So I started having only one banana with tea.
Of course there were people who complained later that, they couldn’t sleep much because they were hungry. But as for me, my fears on this one were for nothing.
As per the rules, you are supposed to maintain noble silence from the Zeroth day evening to 10th day morning. This means you cannot have any kind of communication(verbal or sign) with your fellow students. This was difficult, but not as much as I thought it would be.
You can talk to the assistant teachers or volunteers for your needs or regarding your problems. So it wasn’t like my mouth was shut all the time.
On the joining day, you could talk with everyone till evening. But I didn’t make any friends on that day. I knew it would be easier to maintain silence if everyone around you is a stranger.
Plus at all times, I avoided at looking at someone’s eyes. Eyes can tell whole stories. Just looking at the eyes, you can form companionships. Not a great thing if you want to maintain silence.
Expectations from other students:
When I came to the course, I thought everyone who goes to Vipassana are very spiritual and serious about the course. But this wasn’t the case. Some people came because they wanted to learn meditation. Some came, because someone told them its a good course to attend to. They didn’t know or realize the commitment you needed for Vipassana.
There were 67 students in the beginning out of which 8 were old students. By the end of the course 17 people dropped out for various reasons.
Feel like breaking a rule?
With all these strict rules around, you can get very tempted to break one. But I would say, please don’t.
As I said there were lot of students who didn’t knew what they were getting into. And soon they started talking in rooms, in walking zones, canteen and even in the meditation hall. The guy who was beside me asked me questions in the meditation hall. And when I pretended not to listen he poked me! Fortunately he left on the 4th day.
These guys may not realize the mess they are creating by breaking the rules. I remember, my mind getting filled with anger for few hours when my neighbor poked me. I felt like these kind of people didn’t belong here. But later, after few days, I realized that these people are part of the course too. Instead of blaming their actions, you start looking at the cause of their actions, which is suffering. You feel sorry for them. Then you start realizing that you too suffer, just that the actions comes out in different forms. And then you start feeling compassion for yourself and others who are suffering and you pray for all beings to come out of their suffering.
As the days progress, you see that you are becoming mature too. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t get annoyed anymore. But I do come back to my senses much sooner.
Letting go of expectations:
The course demanded that we meditate for around 10 hours each day, with breaks in-between. I wanted to use the opportunity provided by the course to the fullest. I wanted to grow as much as possible spiritually. So whenever my mind wandered too much and couldn’t meditate properly I felt bad.
I had set a lot of expectation on myself. Soon I realized that if I have to continue staying here, I have to let go of some of them. So I let go of the idea of perfection in my mind. If my mind was wandering away, I just wandered. I told myself, “Staying the entire course is more important than an individual meditation session.” Once I stop putting pressure on myself it was much easier to take the difficult times. When I felt bad, I just felt bad.
Comparing yourself to others?
Even though all of us are here as students to learn the Vipassana technique of meditation, this is not like a normal school course. Very different types of people come to this course. And the experiences of each of them are unique.
But still in our society, we are so much used to compare our performances with others. Am I better than others in meditating? Everyone looks like they are having a great meditation.
Why am I the only one sitting here with pain and have a hard time concentrating?
The whole point of the course is to get over such behavioral patterns of the mind. But still its hard. You have to constantly remind yourself, not to compare your experiences with others. You have to be careful, not to label any experience as good or bad.
Finding the right motivation:
Without knowing why you are doing it, its very hard to do a difficult task. The same goes here. Why do you want to do this intensive course? During the course you will be asking yourself this question a lot.
Luckily for me, the course gave me the answer through myself. The pain I have been pushing inside for years started coming to the surface. It came out physically as knee or back pain or sometimes through memories which I haven’t thought about for a long time. I saw how much I have been suffering. I thought, I don’t want to live the life like I used to. If there is a way out I will follow it.
After a point you will see that everyone around you is suffering too. And you want to help others. But to do that, you have to become strong yourself. So personally for me, the motivation to finish this course, was to eradicate suffering for myself and others. Every time I had a hard time, I reminded myself of why I am here.
There will be volunteers to help you, and to do all the arrangements the course might need. These volunteers must have finished at least one 10 day course in the past.
I didn’t like one of these volunteers for some time. I have never talked to him or anything. He didn’t particularly do anything to annoy me too. But my ego didn’t like him. After few days I realized, how simple minded I was, to feel that way.
The volunteers worked for free. They have a more rigorous schedule than us. They have to wake up earlier than us and sleep after us. They have to do all the work and on top of that, serve people who are sometimes bitching about them. After realizing this I started looking at them with respect.
Non-killing is one of the moral values you have to follow for the 10 days. The food provided is purely vegetarian, so its easy that way. But you can take this, one step further, by being careful while moving around. Take care, not to kill any insects or ants.
Some times there will be lot of mosquitoes around. The normal tendency would be kill them. But try to refrain from doing so. If you think logically you will see that killing few mosquitoes will not reduce their numbers by so much. So why kill them?
Why write all this?
I was very impressed by Vipassana meditation technique. I think everyone should do this at least once in their life. And the earlier you do it, the better it is. I wrote this post mainly to spread awareness about Vipassana. If it helps even one person to find his or her path, I would be very happy.
May all beings be happy.