Vipassana – What I found in 10 days of Silence
July 28, 2011
“Liberation can only be gained by practice, never by mere discussion.” -Goenka
It’s been hard to write about my Vipassana experience, mostly because the point of Vipassana is the EXPERIENCE. Not the words, not the description, not the intellectual discussion.
So, for all of you who are curious about my experience, I say:
Go. Experience it for yourself.
Here is a list of centers in North America: http://www.dhamma.org/en/bycountry/na/
The 10 day retreat is free. TOTALLY FREE. Your lodging and food (actually, quite good food!) is included. And at the end of the retreat, there’s no pressure – there’s no long guilt-inducing speech to get you to donate; there’s no one looking at you expectantly, holding a bucket. I was actually quite surprised.
The 80 centers worldwide make enough money to continue providing free retreats because the people who experience Vipassana realize the value it holds; so they donate for the next person that will be helped by learning this meditation practice. You don’t need to know how to meditate to go. Though it probably makes it more difficult, there were people there who had never meditated a day in their lives.
I understand that 10 days seems like a lot. You’re too busy, you can’t afford the time off of work, you don’t think that you can go for 10 days without talking. But when 10 days is compared to the 50 or so years you have left of you life – 10 days of 18,250 days, assuming the 50 years – 10 days is a small price to pay for the opportunity to learn how to end your own suffering.
Vipassana is not a religion. It’s not a cult. It’s a practice. On the Vipassana retreat you have 10 days of training in the purest form of meditation that was taught by the Buddha, maintained by a small number of monks in Burma over the past 2500 years. It’s not sectarian – Buddhists, Hindus, Catholics, Baptists, Muslims and Atheists can practice Vipassana meditation. It holds no conflicting beliefs with any religion, and it’s actually very scientific, which is interesting since it was created a few thousand years before the dawn of modern science. Vipassana teaches you to objectively observe your experience of reality, without judgment or reaction. You experience reality through your body. You THINK about reality through your mind, but you can actually only EXPERIENCE reality through the senses of your body.
Two of the main causes of suffering are cravings and aversions. Addictions/desire and fear/hatred. But there is a greater truth than this, and that is that all things are impermanent. All cravings and aversions are impermanent. Your body is impermanent. Every experience you have, every thought you have, is impermanent. You experience the truth of impermanence through experiencing the impermanence of the sensations of your body, and during Vipassana meditation you practice not reacting to these sensations; they’re impermanent anyways. Over time, this leads to equanimity. Peace. That one thing that every single human wants, deep down. Peace.
The 10-day silent Vipassana meditation retreat was one of the most profound experiences of my life. I loved being in silence. People doubted I’d be able to go 10 days without talking, but that part was easy.
During 10 days of silence – no conversations with anyone else, no eye contact, no input from books or tv or the internet, no cell phones, no nothing – you really get to know yourself. The clarity is incredible. You get to observe the insane workings of your own mind. And that’s the funny thing – we’re all insane. One definition of insane is “in a state of mind that prevents normal perception.” We don’t actually perceive reality, we perceive what our minds think about reality.
One realization I had the first day was that I have an image of everyone I know in my mind, and I talk to them in my head. All. The. Time. I’m either having a conversation with someone I know, planning in advance what I’ll say to them next time I talk to them, or I’m narrating a blog in my head.
If you don’t think you have this voice in your head, it’s because you’re not aware of it. Either that or you’re enlightened (Congratulations! 😉 ). I became aware of the continuous narration in my head when I was around seven years old. We all have this voice in our heads – the voice of the ego that creates the story of our experience. It is in response to this story that we react – not the objective reality of situations, but the story that we create in our minds – ie this event/person is good/bad/right/wrong, this should have happened, this shouldn’t have happened, I didn’t do that right, I’m not good enough, I deserve more, etc etc.
During the Vipassana retreat I also met my shadow side. I got to observe how arrogant I can be, how critical, judgmental, and angry I can be. I was given the perfect opportunity – the girl bunking next to me was a drug addict/bulimic, and though part of me felt like I ‘should’ have been compassionate towards her, I was pissed because she’d make noise all night eating and snorting things, vomiting in the bathroom, and then I could hear her snoring behind me during the meditation periods. Prior to this retreat I knew that I had shadow sides, but when in silence they get so much LOUDER; it becomes incredibly, painfully, embarrassingly clear.
One of the things that appeals to me most about Vipassana is that it’s a practice for daily life. It is a tool which, if used, will actually change you, and make your life better. It teaches you to observe, question, experience, and come to your own conclusions. This appeals to me in a way that no religion ever has, since most religions rely on dogma, ideology, blind faith, rites and rituals; not actual work towards making yourself a better person.
I want freedom. Not the illusion of freedom that is provided by a democratic government or the choices of capitalistic society; the true inner freedom of not being controlled by fears or addictions, cravings or aversions. I have been seeking freedom, and the resulting happiness and peace, since I can remember; around 4 or 5 years old, I remember deciding that I wanted to be Happy when I grew up. Not a Doctor or a Teacher or a Veteranarian; just Happy. I have explored many paths, read and discussed and tested many things. Vipassana resonates as being the truest path to freedom and happiness of anything I’ve found. I think it’s because it’s so simple, so personal, so direct. It’s just you. Within you is everything you need. So simple, and so true.