YourMateTravels#35 - Vipassana - an Experience Report [EN]

in travel •  5 months ago

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The picture caught your eye? :D
Good. You may want to read why Vipassana might have been a life changing thing for me:


How did I end up there?

Roughly two years ago a coworker/friend told me about this Vipassana meditation he did. He was really impressed, told me lots of positive things about it and said I’d definitely like it. I just postponed it over and over again. Ultimately even another friend of mine did it and ever since she kept pushing me to do it. Until I had some unpleasant days in Kuala Lumpur.

Having had some spiritual times in my life which didn’t suit me well in the end, I was particularly sceptic about this. Anyway I decided to be neutral about it and give the entire thing a chance.

So, I looked it up, found a course in Malaysia and within one week I got the reply that I could join! Oh, was I looking forward to it! At that point I didn’t even know the Dhamma Malaysia is like the 5-star hotel of the Vipassana centers.

The Fun Part

You know why there’s this headline? Because my friend told me it was really hard, but really worth it. I agree. So let me start out with some fun:

First you need to know that there's supposed to be NO communication at all. Basically you don’t look at anybody, you rather stare at the ground while walking. Sometimes you check out something in a tree - still avoiding eye contact. Noone talks. If you meditate several hours a day, at times you just want to walk a bit. Everyone does. But you shouldn’t leave the area for the time of the course. So, what you end up with are 45 silent men calmly walking around, not looking at each other - some watching birds, others squirrels, ants or whatever. Everything becomes rather interesting if you have this little input for days. So imagine that scenery of those silent men wandering around. It looked like a mental hospital full of weirdos, haha! This had me laughing for days.
One even jokingly compared it to Shutter Island. :D

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Pathway to the meditation hall.
Apart from that this center was like a zoo! There were so many animals and I’ll never forget how strange they behaved. Lizards and birds would walk around on the ground and don’t really react to the human presence - apparently they learned that humans there aren’t predators and probably felt safe. Admittedly the humans behave strange as well as I said above, haha. Well, it was the first time I followed a squirrel through a forest, just to see what it is up to.

The Meditation

You’ve got a pretty tight schedule with about 10 hours of meditation per day. Throughout the registration process you’re asked a few times if you’re sure that you want to do it. That’s because you need quite some dedication to finish the course - but if you manage to do it, it’s all worth it.

You’ve got to follow a strict code of discipline including no communication, no stealing, no killing, no sexual contact and so forth.
All the rules like no eye contact, no talking and no communication were an easy game for me, since I’m used to the introvert life. Playing my rules here - perfect. Where’s the hard part? Vegetarian food only. OK, now you got me; that was pretty hard.

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08:00 p.m. on day zero - since I got a cold the day before I pop some Paracetamol and walk to the meditation hall for the first instructions. We get some infos regarding the Anapana meditation and are requested to formally ask for the teachings by singingly repeating some Sanskrit phrases. “What kind of sectarian bullshit is this now?”, I think to myself “Ok, that’s the tradition - don’t think about it.”
We head to bed at 09:00 p.m. Without any distractions, you’re now alone with your thoughts. But you already know the Anapana meditation skill and this will help you fall asleep.

04:00 a.m. - the bell rings - the morning of the first day. Now it’s real; it started. My shower doesn’t work, so I fill my bucket with cold water and pour it over my head using the ladle. I’m awake.

04:30 a.m. - the bell rings. Along with many silent men I walk towards the meditation hall, not knowing what to expect. I’m kinda nervous but happy to be here. I go to my seat and do the Anapana Meditation for two hours. Naturally I have to change my position like every ten minutes. My back hurts, my legs hurt, one leg falls asleep, then the other. My knees hurt. Still, I try to concentrate on my breathing.

06:30 a.m. - the bell rings. Breakfast. I’m starving! After working out 6 days a week for months my metabolism is really fast and I need LOTS of food. I stuff all the toast with butter and oats with milk in my face - as much as I can manage in 45 minutes. Everyone cleans their own tableware and leaves for a walk. I decide to wash some clothes.

A lot of thoughts cross my mind. I don’t know yet, but a process of slowly wandering into the depth of my mind just begins.

08:00 a.m. - the bell rings. One hour group meditation in the hall. Easy. Through speakers we hear some further instructions from the teacher S.N. Goenka. Afterwards we may meditate in the hall or in our room. Since I feel like shit I go to the room and simply take a nap.

11 a.m. - the bell rings. Lunch! A variety of great vegetarian meals! Pretty much all of them give me the runs, so I just stay with rice.

01:00 p.m. - the bell rings. Meditate in your room or in the meditation hall. Meditating in my room I alternate between sitting cushion and bed like every 20 minutes. “I already got 50 % of the first day, which means I already got 5 % of the entire course, which is already 1/20th of it, so I can see some progress!”, I think to myself. “What the heck did I sign up for right here? I’m doing it for myself. Just stay curious and let’s see what happens.”

02:30 p.m. - the bell rings. Group meditation in the hall. “Damn. My back hurts. Everyone is there - if they can handle it, so can I.” Again changing positions every few minutes. All the people around me do. I can’t do the actual meditation for more than 10 seconds and then my mind wanders. “Hmm, are the others better at this?”
Slowly the stuff I think about slightly changes.

03:30 p.m. - the bell rings. Meditate in my room for sure. Nap time in fact.

05:00 p.m. - the bell rings. “WOAH! Where am I? Who am I?!”, pretty confused I wake up and look at the ceiling fan. “Oh, it’s tea time! I’m hungry!” At the dining hall everyone grabs some tea and fruits. I eat as much as possible and then go for a walk. It’s a beautiful pocket of land here.

At first I thought I’ll go insane in here but now I’m actually more than happy to be here. Maybe I’m insane already. I don’t have to talk to anybody, don’t have to decide on anything, no smartphone, no computer, no duties - wow, this feels good. I love it. A little back and knee pain here and there but that’s alright. “I’m doing this for me.”

06:00 p.m. - the bell rings. Group meditation in the hall. “Oh boy… only 3 more hours till the end of the first day.“

07:00 p.m. - discourse. They show a video (one hour) of the teacher S.N. Goenka - they do this ever since, so the teaching stays the way it should be. He mentions that the mind fades away fairly quickly and you just bring it back repeatedly until you can focus longer. I’m happy not to be the only one with this issue.

08:30 p.m. - Group meditation. “Ah, my back, my knees, my ankles! Don’t be a wuss - your grandfather fought in WW2 when he was 17. You got this.”

09:00 p.m. - course finished for today. Everyone wanders to their accommodation.

I start to notice something about my thoughts. All the time I feel like I’m so busy thinking, but it appears to me I just constantly think about 3 to 4 topics ALL THE TIME. Really not worth so much thinking. I start to focus more on the present.

09:30 p.m. - lights off. “That’s 10 % then.”, I think. Using Anapana meditation I fall asleep fairly quick.

That’s the pattern for the upcoming days. I go through different thoughts and emotions. It’s like slowly working my way through the made up layers that disguise my core.
Over time I can observe my emotions being induced by specific memories or outside events. And as these make my body react to it. Being nervous/excited about something I think about doing, I was doing, or somebody else was/is doing: I start biting my nails. Same thing with the act of saying something - I bite (the inside of) my lips. Something frightening comes to my head: I duck my head. Some memory I’m ashamed of: I look down.
As a reflective person, this was beyond interesting for me. :)

It’s so cool to observe the hard link between your body and mind. And to figure it works both ways. In neuroscience they call this neurobiological correlates, if I recall this correctly.
Over the course of the week I shall learn so much about psychosomatics on an experiential level - it was amazing!

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On the third day it was getting easier and I thought 10 days wouldn’t be a challenge now.
This was until the fourth day, when we were introduced to the actual Vipassana meditation.

Now it was three times (group meditation) not moving for one hour! This was a real challenge and I figured that you need this challenge. On the one hand, by not changing position you dive deep into your subconsciousness since your body thinks it’s falling asleep (maybe you’ve heard about lucid dreaming) and on the other hand, well, you feel quite some pain and (this may sound strange) this will help you.

Until the fourth day I thought I had quite some interesting thoughts, but now the actual stuff went down. By this time I’ve already learned to be equanimous about everything I perceive - be it enjoyable or the opposite. It’s then, when your subconsciousness may decide to show you painful things without suppressing it before you know it. That’s where the physical pain was helpful - to teach your subconsciousness it’s ok to accept painful memories.

Throughout the next week I would examine so many memories I didn’t know I had. Your mind saves everything you experience. Everything. You just can’t recall it as you wish.
It was so funny (and sometimes uncomfortable) to go through suppressed memories and figure out, which ones really shaped you to the person you are.

There have been ways and thought patterns of myself I disliked and they would constantly bother me. As I got to know where they came from and accepted them the way they are it seems like they disappeared or at least play a smaller role now. :D
A few times it was really tough and I thought I couldn’t make it till the tenth day. But as you see the progress and befriend yourself over time you motivate yourself and stand through.
I’m not gonna lie! It sure wasn’t easy! But all worth it. :)

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So many things happened and I could write on and on and on. In the end it doesn’t make any sense to just read it. If you want to really understand it or have a positive influence on your life at this scale, you simply have to go and do it yourself! If you do so, forget everything I said. Lay aside any anticipation and expectation because it might be obstructive.

All this was amazing to experience and I didn’t even know it would greatly influence my day-to-day life in an enormously positive way, as I realize a few days afterwards.

Conclusion

Hard but worth it.
Basically every situation I experience now I do perceive differently from the beginning and am way more calm. I appeared “calm/cool” on the outside before, but now I actually am.
The entire thing hit home so much. It was rather rational than spiritual and didn’t just make sense but was tangible. It was so good, I’d love to just make everyone do it, so they can live a better life - but that’s not the way it works. Everyone’s gotta learn their own lessons.

The key is continuation of practice - so I’ve been meditating everyday ever since.


Hope you had a good read! Always happy about feedback.

Photos shot with: Google Pixel 2 (Smartphone)

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You find every other Steemit blog post in chronological order right here

All the best,
yourmate :)

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Sehr toller Bericht! Mir war es gar nicht bewusst, dass hier wirklich "knochenharte" Meditation auf dem Programm steht.
Einfach nur auf das Kommunizieren verzichten stell ich mir noch einigermaßen schaffbar vor, aber dann wirklich für eine Stunde zu meditieren, ohne sich zu bewegen - das ist schon ein ordentliches Stück Arbeit... Puh, ich wüsste nicht, ob ich das schaffen würde.
In Taizé (Ort in Frankreich, wo man für eine Woche gemeinsam mit einer ökumenischen Gemeinschaft und vielen anderen Jugendlichen aus aller Welt verbringen kann) hat man auch die möglichkeit die Woche "in silence" zu verbringen - aber hier ist lediglich das Sprechen verboten, alles andere (Augenkontakt, schreiben, Gestiken, Instrument spielen, usw) ist erlaubt.

Eine Frage hab ich noch: Hat irgendjemand in der Zeit, wo du hier warst, aufgegeben?

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Dankeschön @melvin7! :)
Es ist auf jeden Fall sehr fordernd - auf der Couch rumgammeln wäre gemütlicher gewesen, jedoch macht man dabei auch keine Fortschritte.
Was du von Taizé beschreibst ist zwar stark entschärft, aber auch eine Herausforderung. Ich weiß gar nicht, ob gar keine Kommunikation oder eingeschränkte Kommunikation schwieriger sind. Da du so genau Bescheid weißt: hast du das mal gemacht?

Ja, es haben ein paar am ersten/zweiten Tag aufgegeben. Im weiteren Verlauf dann noch vereinzelt - der Großteil hat's aber geschafft!

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Ich war in den letzten 7 Jahren jeden Sommer in Taizé, hab die Woche in Stille aber noch nie versucht. Ich liebe es einfach viel zu sehr, in dieser Woche viele neue, interessante Menschen kennen zu lernen und mit ihnen ins Gespräch zu kommen. Irgendwann mach ich das aber bestimmt mal!

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Wow, 7 Jahre in Folge! Da hast du bestimmt einige interessante Leute kennengelernt! Hast du dich dann auch mit den Leuten ausgetauscht, die die Woche schweigend verbracht haben? Falls ja: was berichten die dann davon?
Alles zu seiner Zeit. :)

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Nein, leider hab ich nie mit so einer Person darüber gesprochen. Meine Schwester war für ein halbes Jahr als Volunteer dort, sie hat (glaube ich) auch mal eine Woche in Stille verbracht, ich werde sie bei unserem nächsten Treffen mal darauf ansprechen!

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bin mal gespannt :)

Great. Thank you for your report. Excellent description! Wish I could attend such a retreat, too. Started with yoga and meditation again and realize how much I missed it. Go on...! 😀

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Wird zum nächstmöglichen Zeitpunkt vorgemerkt!

Great article :) A bit disappointed you stopped day by day diary halfway. I've also seen a really cool writeup on Medium called "A Brutally Honest Review of My 10-Day Silent Meditation Retreat". Contrary to what title might suggest it's not negative at all. Check it out :D