I had been planning to go for the Vipassana 10-day course for a while now.
“It is not easy to just leave for 10 days.”
“With no gadgets, how will I handle my work?”
“How will I leave my daughter for 10 days?”
“Would people at home be okay with me leaving for 10 days?”
This was my self talk all this while. And obviously, it didn’t let me take action.
Well, as with all things, when you’re ready it’ll come to you.
This is exactly what happened to me. This time I was absolutely clear I am going for the course scheduled in November 2021. I announced it to my family, blocked dates, planned everything accordingly. There were a lot of last-minute postponement requests from family owing to a big function scheduled on the day I was to leave for the course. I guess this time I REALLY was clear. So nothing deterred me. I am glad. I even started planning my work in advance with my team.
However, work was just one bit of my botheration. As the date neared, it started to sink in that I’ll have no one with me, no talking, no phone for 10 days. I started feeling a little anxious too. As if that was not enough, my daughter kept coming to me saying, “Mamma don’t go."
Finally, the day arrived. Until the last minute, I was on a call with my team members, a little worried and a little apprehensive as to how things will go in my absence. Then my husband and daughter came to drop me at the Vipassana Centre. I waved them goodbye. That was the start of the journey.
The next 10 days were filled with a variety of experiences. A lot of realizations happened. So did some confusion. Things got all jumbled up. The brain was at its monkey best. One moment here and the other moment there. That’s how the journey inwards is, I guess.
Vipassana is about observing oneself and witnessing the thoughts and emotions as they are. Neither craving nor aversion for anything - that’s the key to happiness. Sound simple it may, however, it is a journey.
I had some intriguing experiences and some that left me messed up, in discomfort. I am sharing some of my experiences and resulting learnings below.
1. Surrender is powerful. On arrival, let me call it day 0, I was very hopeful, excited about this journey, waiting for what is to come. Honestly, I was also thinking that these 10 days are going to turn me around or create some miracles. That’s what I had heard from people. However, as the journey started, I soon realized that it wasn’t going to be as pretty, rather I started to experience turmoil. Instead of resisting, I just surrendered and kept going. Yes, I left the centre with some new things opened up and largely with the turmoil, but a huge smile. Surrender leads you to create your unique, powerful experiences.
2. Sometimes, it may be just a start. That turmoil for me was the beginning of a more powerful journey. I realized, it was just the start. Some of those areas I have been working upon ever since and today I stand way ahead from where I was. Often, we expect to walk out of an event or program with some specific results. And when that exactly doesn’t happen, we feel it was a waste and it doesn’t work. What we miss out on is the fact that it may have triggered something within us or opened up unexplored areas that we didn’t know existed. That is precious. So, it may just be a start for you. Embrace it.
3. Internal work is messy. Nevertheless, you’ve got to take it up. That’s the foundation. Don’t resist or rush through it. I had very painful moments during the course that left me very uneasy and all I wanted was someone to get me out of that. However, no one can really do much, that’s the reality. People outside can facilitate the journey but I went through it on my own. Twice I wanted to leave and go back home. However, I stayed, persisted and went through the dirty, messy path only to build the necessary muscle to keep going and stand stronger today. Remember, it’s got to be messy before the desired, beautiful and powerful outside shows up.
4. A facilitator is a must. Whether a coach, a mentor, a teacher, a guru, whoever he is, a facilitator helps you design your life and stay on track. During the program when I felt overwhelmed and didn’t know if I was practising it right, my teacher at the centre was my anchor. She helped me understand and held us all with her intentionality so that we kept going. In the absence of a facilitator, we may feel lost, unsure, wanting to give up in the face of uncertainties.
5. Observing oneself leads to acceptance. For 10 days, we were doing just one thing - being with ourselves. Eyes closed, posture fixed and turn inwards. This brought forth recent events but a lot of memories that were long forgotten. One day something would make me feel happy, and the next day some aspect of the same thing would leave me restless. It was quite painful at times. Then I would just observe myself. Observing helped me accept what was. That this needs to be addressed but right now this is what it is - mess, dirt, pain whatever.
6. We want to belong. Without speaking with each other all of us, the participants, were a community. The silence connected us all together. The feeling that we were in it together gave me power. There were around 45 of us who were participating in the program, some for
the first time and some veterans. The whole set-up reminded me of my engineering days. All the girls in the hostel, going to mess for food at designated hours, all the dos and donts. The only difference was there was absolute silence except the birds chirping and monkeys screaming. I loved the feeling of nostalgia and the whole routine. As humans, we are wired to connect in some way or the other.
7. It is all in the mind. I missed carrying woollens and only had a light jacket and cotton stole
to use. Mornings and evenings were quite chilly. However, I managed. I embraced the cold and did pretty fine. This for me reinforced that it’s all in the mind. The more you focus on it, the larger it grows. When you surrender, you’re in for surprises.
8. Set the tone for your day. I would be the first one to get ready and rush to witness the sunrise. Experiencing cold and embracing the rising sun filled me with gratitude and energy to create a powerful day. You can always create your structures to set the tone, no matter where you are.
9. Absolutely free time is a must. There were three time slots during the day when we were free to be on our own i.e. we were not meditating. Those times were very dear to me. I would walk around and be with me. There was no choice actually. With no gadgets, no reading or writing, no communication of course, basically no other activity to indulge in, I had to be with me. I have always loved it but in daily life, I end up feeling guilty when I am not doing anything. I realized those were some amazing moments of reflection and so much unfolded as I was being with myself. Ever since I have started spending some time with myself where I am doing nothing.
10. Silence is powerful and a must-do. We had to be with ourselves completely. No talking or eye contacting anyone. Though I didn’t find it very difficult because I enjoy being in my company, however doing it for 10 days 24 hours together meant something.
As I would take my walks during the breaks, being with myself and reflecting on what I was learning was gold. It gave an opportunity to turn inwards and not get distracted by anything outside. It’s like being in your own company for 10 days. It did bring me a lot of clarity. Staying silent is way more powerful than speaking.
11. Everyone and everything around me is a part of my ecosystem. My room had four lizards giving me company. Not that I am fond of lizards but I was aware that they mean no harm and that’s the way they live. After giving it a lot of thought, I just let them be for the first night. Over the course of the next 1-2 days, I managed to get them all out, however, there were two in the washroom that kept coming and going as if following a 9 to 5 schedule. There were bunches of monkeys screaming and playing around. Initially, I would be watchful, but over time they became a part. Distances reduced and so did fear. It was as if we all were there together. Sometimes when you stop resisting and accept what is, life becomes easier and happier.
12. Eat to live, not the other way round. Our day started at 4 am. We would eat breakfast at 6:30 am, lunch at 11 am and evening tea at 5 pm. That was it. And it worked beautifully. I realized that was all that my body needed and I experienced massive energy to meditate for over 12 hours a day. Also, what we were eating played a big role. It was a nutritious diet for sure. Things that I didn't eat otherwise, I fell in love with them. Maybe because we had no choice. I know what I had been doing all this while was live to eat. I claim to love food, unapologetically so. However, if only we could be mindful of what and how much we eat, we can up our energy levels and be super productive.
13. Serving is THE way. There were people who had enrolled to do ‘seva’. They had attended the Vipassana 10-day program thrice in the past to become eligible for Seva. They would support and provide for whatever was needed so that all the participants were able to take the inward journey, the way it was to be done. I was amazed at the commitment they had. Coming from different corners of the country, to SERVE. It takes a lot. Interestingly, it gives a lot too. They were also serving themselves. Attending to different kinds of people has its own set of challenges. To manage them requires managing self and that is growth.
14. Discipline is the key. Doing things the way they are to be done is discipline. Vipassana course has its own structure with its dos and donts, thus its own discipline. Only when you follow the discipline, do you experience a shift and you make progress. I had many profound experiences. I owe every bit of it to maintaining discipline. I attempted to perform the meditation the way it is supposed to be done, I didn’t talk to anyone at all (except the teacher and those serving us), maintained complete ‘mauna’, I’d say followed everything to the T. Discipline helped me make the most of those 10 days!
Note: All pictures were clicked on the last day of the course when the silence or 'mauna' was over and we were asked to interact with each other. We also received our mobile phones.