I recently finished up a 10 day Vipassana meditation retreat in Nepal. For the entirety of the course, I wasn’t allowed to talk to anyone (except for the staff), write, listen to music, be in contact with the opposite sex, and most definitely use any electronics or internet. I sat and meditated for at least 10 hours every day, waking up at 4:00AM and ending at 9:00PM. It was the most difficult time I’ve had on this trip, and probably falls up there with one of the most mentally/physically strenuous 10 days of my life. All that being said, it was also by far one of the most focused and enlightening 10 days of my life.
To my understanding, Vipassana meditation is the technique that Buddha used to find enlightenment. It’s not associated with any rites or rituals that pertain to any particular religion. You essentially sit for an extended period of time to observe the sensations that arise and pass throughout your body – whether it’s a pulsing heartbeat, tingling, cold, itching, pain, etc. As your mind sharpens, the goal is to tune into the subtler sensations, to go deeper into the body (like the scalp vs the brain). With earnest persistence and discipline, the meditator experiences the two sources of misery at the deepest level of the mind-body connection: craving and aversion. My body and mind most DEFINITELY wanted to avoid and squirm out of the massive pain of sitting for an hour or two. However, the whole point of the meditation is to simply observe, remaining equanimous and impartial to whatever sensations arise, realizing that everything is impermanent.
For a few fleeting moments and minutes, I learned to understand pain and how to conquer it. Towards the end of the 10 days, I built up the discipline to sit for an entire day without changing my leg position across various 1-2 hour sessions. There always came a point in my meditation where my entire leg, thigh, butt, knee, hip would be either pulsing with sharp pain or devoid of blood circulation. Eventually, following along with the nightly lectures, I realized that I shouldn’t turn my physical pain into mental suffering, that I should just watch my pain without any bias, without trying to get out of the pain. I felt victorious every time I was able to still and calm my mind despite immense amounts of pain. Strangely, I found it easier to focus when my body was in pain than when I was relatively relaxed.
Of course, it is meant to be a lifelong practice, and I am certainly no master of pain or pleasure in 10 short days. However, I feel like the awareness and impartiality that I am starting to develop with physical sensations is readily applicable to everyday life and its many challenges.
Even if I just sat in silence for 10 days and didn’t meditate at all, it still would have been an amazing experience. In the absence of YouTube and music, I was surprised to find that my mind filled itself with movie scenes and old pop songs (J.Lo – Jenny From the Block was a common hit, as was 50 Cent, Eminem’s last battle in 8 Mile, Monica – Angel of Mine, Shaggy – It Wasn’t Me, and other songs that I listened to on a regular basis during puberty). But seriously, I had many epiphanies as a result of not having access to conversation, a keyboard, a touchscreen, headphones, and a general lack of alternatives to thinking to myself. I planned how to get my business off the ground, thought about past heartbreaks and insecurities, Kat and our relationship, my other relationships, my family, my childhood, how privileged I am, my ego and image, and many more things that I can’t recall now. I gained a lot of clarity on why I am the way that I am, and who I want to be in the future.
As difficult as the course was at times, I highly recommend the course to anyone even slightly interested. It is an amazingly rare source of self-discovery and focus, and definitely one of the most impactful things I’ve ever experienced. And it’s free! Vipassana centers all over the world (even some in Northern and Southern California) operate entirely out of donations and goodwill, and there’s absolutely no pressure to donate if you’re broke or backpacking on a budget. While I’m probably okay with not doing another course for a few months, I definitely plan on going back several times in my life.