I am a person who has had a different theme song for most adventures of my life. A song which comes to me and then somehow sticks. Its like my iPod gets the song stuck in its memory and it plays at all the right times. A song by Stars called You’re Ex-Lover is Dead has become my overall India theme song and I think the poignant line from the song describes Vipassana in one line:
‘Live through this and you wont look back’
Vipassana is a meditation technique whereby meditators are trained to feel subtle sensations on and in their body, hereby seeing things as the are (and not as you would like them to be). The training consists of meditation sessions: sitting in a cross legged position, trying not to move and not to associate with any feelings that might arise from being completely still (mainly feelings of incredibly pain for me). The technique gets taught to participants over a 10 day silent retreat. For me it was basically just learning to listen to and actually hearing my body. It was a 10 day long introduction to my body, an object I thought I had understood only to realise that the war between my mind and self had used it as its battle field.
The introduction kind of went something like this: “Hello body, nice to meet you. I realise now how I have abused you, tried to control you and in the last 10 years not listened to anything you have tried to tell me (especially with regards to food, alcohol, relationships and exercise)”.
It sounds like it happened quickly and was an instant light bulb moment, and I guess it was – but only after 6 days of torture. Vipassana was one of the HARDEST things I have ever done in my life (harder than having a gun in my face or 4 enemas during a PanchaKarma detox).
The realisation came on day 6 when I realised that I did not really understood the concept of silence and that speaking to yourself and singing songs in your mind does not constitute as silence just because you haven’t used your vocal cords to verbalise it. If there had been a loud speaker in my head – the military would have been sent to silence me. Not only had I sung every possible song in my head (including ‘Its my party and I’ll cry if I want to’ on my birthday (day 3)) – the daily convos included convincing myself that World War 3 had broken out and that due to me handing in all technology, no one could notify me about it. On day 6 I decided to be truly silent and stop the mental chatter. It sounds easier than it is but the ego throws every ridiculous scenario at you, trying to get you back into the old spiral pattern of self-talk, which in my case had always inevitably turned into harsh negative talk and projecting opinions about myself onto other people (an example being someone might have looked at me funny and the mind would say “you see-you’re not behaving in xyz manner and now he/she doesn’t like you” – I know, totally absurd). Up and till this point I had not realised that I had been doing this. Knowing how your mind works is incredibly liberating.
Its not a 5 star holiday. I wasn’t there to be comfortable, feel safe and secure. I was there to crack open myself and let some light shine into my soul and heal the past so that I could move forward on a clean slate. I got to these realisations by sitting through the 11 hours of painful meditation a day, a fantastic lecture given by Mr. Goenka (a man who, in my opinion, put Vipassana on the map and also an incredible teacher), sleeping on THE most uncomfortable bed ever and remaining silent long enough to let my body emerge and very quietly start telling me about herself.
Vipassana isn’t for everyone though, and the first casualty left on day 2. I watched the scene with much amusement when she left. It was 6PM and dinnertime. From the dinning room window, I watched a panicked and hurried woman march past, the wheels of her luggage hardly touching the ground, with two volenteers running behind her trying to help with her luggage. The scene was made funnier (in that awkward laugh because you’re nervous could-have-been-you kind of way) by the fact that one wheel kept lifting so high that it kept flipping the suitcase, much to her annoyance. The scene was very surreal – I couldn’t point it out to anyone, nor could I laugh at it due to the rule of silence – all I could do was watch.
By day 9 I had become so used to the silence and so comforted by it, that I really did not want it to end. Being allowed to talk to each other on day 10 was a shock to my system. Having not heard my voice for 10 days, the first words came out squeakily. Not only that, the intense rush of sensations to all parts of my body when I finally broke the silence was overwhelming, to the point that the emotions brought tears to my eyes.
Would I do Vipassana in India again? Probably not – limited resources of water and electricity made an already difficult situation a little harder. Cold water showers in the Himalayas is not ideal in the cold weather. Uncomfortable beds is also an Indian norm (a wooden block with a thin hay mattress where you wake up bruised is not my idea of fun). Having said that though – the surroundings were breathtaking. The Himalayas have a certain calming effect, and looking out onto the amazingly beautiful mountain range everyday made moments peaceful. Infact finding patches of sunlit ground through the pine trees made the silent free-time hours more bearable and really pleasant.
I’m not sure if I mastered the technique and I can truthfully say that I still experience pain during meditation – but it has changed my life and is something that I hope I can continue with daily.
Just remember that everyone’s experience will be different. Here I thought I was a square in a cirlce’s world. Thank goodness Vipassana taught me that there are more squares out there than I thought. So we might not all have the same experience, but the mind seems to work in similar ways, and I find immense comfort in that.