How a 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat transformed my life
Imagine that you completely disconnect yourself from the world for 10 days without any electronics, books, entertainment, and writing, you take a vow of complete silence, and just meditate, eat, and sleep for the entire time. What do you think would happen? Missed calls, email backlogs, Atlas Shrugged? No. Transformation. With all external objects removed from your field of perception, your focus is shifted to yourself. With no external objects to blame, you come to a realization that all pain, suffering, and misery comes from within. And never from the outside. This is my first experience with the 10-day Vipassana meditation course and the Vipassana meditation technique.
Vipassana meditation course – Daily schedule
|4:00||Morning wake-up gong|
|4:30 – 6:30||Meditation (hall or your room)|
|6:30 – 8:00||Breakfast and rest|
|8:00 – 9:00||Group meditation (hall)|
|9:00 – 11:00||Meditation (hall or your room)|
|11:00 – 12:00||Lunch|
|12:00 – 13:00||Rest and optional private consultation with teacher|
|13:00 – 14:30||Meditation (hall or your room)|
|14:30 – 15:30||Group meditation (hall)|
|15:30 – 17:00||Meditation (hall or your room)|
|17:00 – 18:00||Fruit and tea|
|18:00 – 19:00||Group meditation (hall)|
|19:00 – 20:15||Teacher’s discourse|
|20:15 – 21:00||Group meditation (hall)|
|21:00 – 21:30||Rest and optional group consultation with teacher|
Vipassana meditation course – Some of the rules
- Students meditate approximately 10 hours a day.
- Complete silence means no speech, gestures, sign language, or written notes.
- The food served is whole food plant-based.
- Alcohol, tobacco, and drugs are not permitted during the course.
- Men and women are completely segregated.
- No communication with the outside world.
- All physical exercise should be suspended during the course. Students may walk in the designated area during rest periods.
- All forms of prayer, worship, religious ceremony, spiritual practice, and other meditation techniques including fasting, burning incense, counting beads, reciting mantras, chanting, singing, dancing, and similar should be suspended during the course. This is not to condemn any other technique or practice, but to give a fair trial to the Vipassana meditation technique in its purity.
Vipassana Meditation Day 1
At 4:00, the rippling sound of the gong penetrates the entire premise. Your roommate and you take turns using the bathroom with perfect chemistry despite not talking and making any gestures to each other.
At 4:30, the first meditation session starts and all that you are asked to do the entire time is to observe your breath by focusing your entire attention on the area right below your nostrils as you breathe in and out through your nose.
At 6:30, the first meditation session ends and breakfast is served.
As the day progresses, staying focused during meditation seems impossible because the mind keeps wandering to other places within seconds. On top of dealing with a seemingly untamable mind, you also have to deal with your body as you try to comfortably sit in a lotus position without any pain. Some students took one cushion, some took three, and some took six, building themselves sultan’s thrones and fortified castles. Whatever it takes.
By the end of the first day, you have spent 10 hours meditating and trying to stay focused. As you lay in bed reflecting on the day’s events with mixed emotions of uncertainty about what the purpose of all this is and doubt about whether you have what it takes to do this, you fall asleep with a feeling of gratitude for the delicious, warm, plant-based meals prepared and served to you by the volunteers.
Vipassana Meditation Day 2
Every day you wake up to the sound of the gong and the morning rises. But God had other plans in mind and the morning actually rose twice for me. First at 3:55 to the sound of the alarm clock of my roommate who, in the service of all of us, volunteered to sound the gong each morning and then thousands of Tesla scalar waves later at 4:00 to the sound of the gong.
As the second day progresses, you are given additional instructions. As you observe your breath, you are told to start looking out for physical sensations arising in the area right below your nostrils. And if they arise, you are instructed to just simply observe them without reacting to them – neither physically by scratching them nor mentally by creating aversion towards them.
By the end of the second day, you have spent 20 hours meditating and trying to stay focused. As you lay in bed reflecting on the day’s events, unsure of whether you are doing things right, you fall asleep with a feeling of accomplishment for completing the first two days of the course.
Vipassana Meditation Day 3
As the third day starts, new challenges arise as you meditate and start experiencing different emotions. With no electronics, books, entertainment, writing, talking, and gesticulating, all external objects are removed from your field of perception and your mind and ego have no one to blame for any pain, suffering, and misery that you experience during meditation. Not wishing to accept that all your pain, suffering, and misery comes from within you, your mind and ego start seeking the impossible. And impossible is nothing!
Despite having no external objects to blame, the resolute mind and ego go hard at work looking for a scapegoat. Fifteen minutes into the first meditation session, someone opens the door and leaves the meditation hall. Minutes later, the door opens again. Minutes later, again. And voilà! Your mind and ego start blaming the sound of the door for you not being able to meditate.
So many challenges, so many fronts, and it’s just day three. Taming the mind in order to focus on the breath, dealing with the body’s discomfort of sitting in a lotus position, trying to get the ego to look within. The double awakening in the morning.
At 6:30, the meditation sessions ends and breakfast starts. Thinking that you are very hungry, when in reality you are annoyed by all the challenges and fronts, you overeat breakfast. Overeating is another method of the mind and the ego which just temporarily suppresses the underlying emotion that you are experiencing, blinding you from your inner guide for hours, days, or weeks until that same underlying emotion arises again within you, trying to tell you something which you can choose to listen to and deal with or suppress by overeating, blaming external objects, or consuming instant gratification products like chocolate, chips, ice cream, cigarettes, alcohol, drugs that artificially induce high amounts of dopamine in your brain.
Moving on, as the day progresses, you keep meditating for hours wishing for a physical sensation to arise in the area right below your nostrils, but nothing arises. You keep meditating, questioning whether you are doing things right, contemplating whether to throw in the towel, but then LO AND BEHOLD! A tingling sensation arises! And then another one! And another one! And then a ladybug starts walking underneath your nostrils! Sensations everywhere!
You want to scratch them, but you mustn’t. You are just to observe them as they arise and evaporate. What is this? What do these sensations mean? Why can’t I scratch them? Why can’t I react to them? Why am I just observing them? What now?
At 17:00, with all these questions in your mind, you head to the cafeteria to grab some fruit and tea, but the fruit is all gone. Piranhas! You catch yourself blaming again, but then you grab some tea and accept the situation shifting your focus on all the questions that you were previously thinking about.
At 20:00, the teacher’s discourse starts and Mr. Goenka sets it all right as he answers your questions while making you laugh like a great comedian does. Wonderful. Magical. Golden.
At 21:30, as lights go out, you fall asleep with renewed energy, optimism, and a sense of accomplishment for completing 30 hours of meditation, managing to observe physical sensations, and significantly sharpening your focus.
Vipassana Meditation Day 4
There is something special about meditating right before sunrise. This has to be experienced, it cannot be read about.
Breakfast was delicious. Gratitude to God.
As the fourth day progresses, you are given additional instructions. After completing over 30 hours of meditation, your sensory perception is sharpened and operates at a whole new level of awareness. There is no going back once you’ve awakened and developed advanced sensory perception. With this trained and advanced sensory perception, you are instructed to start observing your entire body for physical sensations.
Like a body scanner, you start scanning and observing for physical sensations on top of your head, then the rest of the head, then the neck, arms, chest, stomach, genitals, back, thighs, knees, calves, feet. And once you get to your feet, you start going back up towards the top of your head. And this is what you are to keep doing. Head to feet, feet to head, observing each part for physical sensations – tingling, itching, pain, pulsation, vibration, heat, cold, anything. And if you observe any physical sensation, you are not to react to it either physically or mentally, but just observe it and accept it without creating any craving or aversion towards it.
Now that you’ve just been taught the full Vipassana meditation technique, you happily continue meditating. But just like during the first three days, every fifteen minutes you keep shifting the balance of your body, you keep moving your palms from your lap to your knees to your lap, you keep crossing your feet then placing them flat on the floor then crossing them again in order to alleviate the growing discomfort in your ankles, knees, hips, and the back from sitting in one position. And that’s fine, whenever you feel a need to shift, you shift.
But then at 18:00, you are given additional instructions. You are instructed to sit still without moving for the entire hour. This is called an hour of resolute determination and you are told that it is to be practiced from this day on during each of the group meditations at 8:00, 14:30, and 18:00. An hour of resolute determination, three times a day.
As you are told to get as comfortable as you wish before the meditation begins, questions start firing inside your mind. How can I sit still for one hour when the pain starts arising within fifteen minutes? How will I do this? What’s going to happen to me if I don’t move when the pain starts arising?
The meditation session starts. Last prayer. God have mercy upon on my body.
Fifteen minutes into the meditation, the first pains in the knees manifest.
Minutes later, the pain intensifies. Gravity pulls the knees down which puts pressure on the ankles. Just observe, accept, and scan on.
Minutes later, the intense pain starts disrupting the observation of other body parts.
Minutes later, the pain in the ankles intensifies. Just observe, accept, and scan on.
Minutes later, the pain in the knees and ankles becomes unbearable. Sit still.
Minutes later, pain manifests in the lower back. What now? How long until an hour passes by? There must be about half an hour remaining.
Minutes later, this is unbearable. The knees and the ankles are about to tear. Sit still.
Minutes later, if hell exists, this is what it must be like. God have mercy upon on my body.
Minutes later, if several realms of hell exist, this must be what it’s like in the lower realms. Sit still.
Minutes later, help me God.
Minutes later, the entire lower body goes numb. The thighs, knees, and feet disappear as if they no longer exist. The pain, gone. Sit still.
Minutes later, the end of the meditation is signaled. Godsend. Eyes open. I can’t feel nor move my lower body. Minutes pass as I sit still. As life starts coming back into my knees and ankles, I start feeling as if something big is about to happen. But it doesn’t. It comes close, but it doesn’t happen, whatever it is. Maybe it happened, but I missed it like a sports cameraman sometimes misses some moment.
As I lay in bed, reflecting on this experience, confused and exhausted I fall asleep 20000 miles under the sea.
Vipassana Meditation Day 5
Wake-up call one. Wake-up call two. Thinking about last night’s experience, I decide to do two hours of resolute determination for the first meditation session of the day. But I’ll need an extra cushion. It’s 4:30, raining heavy outside, and the sun has still not risen. Sitting confidently on THREE cushions, I start meditating, observing pulsations, tingling sensations, and light pressures on different body parts.
After maybe 45 minutes, intense pain manifests in the knees, ankles, and back.
Fifteen minutes later, the pain becomes unbearable.
Five minutes later, I realize that cushions don’t prevent the opening of the gates of hell, they merely postpone it.
God have mercy upon on my body.
Five minutes later, sit still. I don’t have to sit still, this is not a mandatory group meditation! You made a decision to sit still for two hours. Stay true to yourself. Sit still.
Help me God.
Minutes later, the lower body goes numb, I feel as if my upper body is floating. I continue observing my body, part by part.
At 6:30, the meditation ends. Sound of heavy rain is coming from outside. Time stops. Eyes open. I cannot move my legs. As everyone goes off to breakfast, the meditation hall empties. As I slowly start untangling my legs using my hands, I start regaining the feeling in my lower body. Minutes pass by before I attempt to stand up. I get up, feeling as if a thousand needles are inside my body. I slowly start walking towards the designated walking area outside. Amidst heavy rain, I start walking in a circle. As I start walking, electric sensations start rippling through my body, my muscles involuntarily start twitching, and my body starts shaking continuously. Walking unsteadily through heavy rain as if drunk, electric jolts start going through my body. As I finish the circle, something tells me not to go to the cafeteria, but my room. I enter the room, kneel on the bed. And then something that I’ll never forget happened.
The oceans became as disturbed as ever, the rains poured heavier than ever before, the rivers started flowing as fast as they do only once in a century. What is happening? The storm grew stronger. And stronger and stronger. And then suddenly, everything became one. A still moment of unity and oneness. Boundaries disappeared. All was one. All was God. All IS God. The faces of my daughter Hailey and teachers Mr. Goenka and Teun Zuiderent appeared in front of me and then the sky spoke, “It’s ok my son. It’s alright.” Love permeated everything. Unbearably good love. If heaven exists, this is what it must be like. As the seemingly infinite moment of stillness amidst the storm came to an end, I continued weeping out loud from the bottom of my soul shedding my last tears on the bed.
As the 300000 millisecond storm came to an end, I recuperated and went to breakfast. What has just happened? Not being ready yet to talk about and share this experience, I decided to keep it to myself for the day and not to speak to the teacher about it. The remainder of the day was business as usual with one exception.
Before the course started, my roommate and I mutually agreed to keep the room thermostat set to between 18°C and 20°C. And this deal was honored. BUT, when the last meditation session of the day ended, I went up to the room, got ready for bed, and right before laying down in bed, I took a glance at the thermostat and read 25°C. My blood pressure rose. Sneaky Russian! He actually looks like one of those footballers who don’t sing during an anthem, but just stand there with a serious and intense look on their face and then dangerously slide tackle other players during the game. I’d show him!
I don’t want to reproach him because then I’d be breaking the vow of silence. If I simply lower the thermostat to 20°C, I am reacting, which I am not supposed to do according to Vipassana. What made me sign up for this Vipassana course?! If I lower the thermostat to 20°C, the man might actually become cold and suffer. If I leave it at 25°C, I don’t even want to think of what would happen to me during the night. What has he done?! How could he put me in such a tough situation?! I already went through hell once today, he wants me to go through it again during the night?!
I lowered the thermostat to 20°C and started staring at it and thinking, “Maybe God has spoken through him and had him unconsciously set the thermostat to 25°C just so that I could overcome my discomfort of sleeping in a room with a temperature of 25°C now that I have learned the Vipassana meditation technique. This is maybe a lesson. If I don’t raise the thermostat back to 25°C, I’ll fail the lesson. If I don’t raise the thermostat back to 25°C, I am creating conflict. If I don’t raise the thermostat back to 25°C, the man might suffer.” No, no, no, no, no, no! It’s not a lesson! It’s not creating conflict! He’ll only suffer together with me if I leave it at 25°C! I raised the thermostat back to 25°C, drank two glasses of water, and braced myself. Lights out. Minutes later, as I am falling asleep, I hear my roommate enter the room, prepare for sleep, and go to bed.
Hours later, at some God knows what hour during the middle of the night, I wake up soaked in sweat with a sharp headache. Hellfire in the room. I get up as slowly as possible in order not to shake my head too much, splash myself with cold water, and drink several glasses of water while thinking, “I don’t care what anyone says, I know that he, too, is suffering right now. How could anyone not suffer sleeping in a closed room with 25°C?!” I look at my roommate, he is sleeping completely uncovered, torturing himself with that blanket. Why did we need all this? I go back to bed, not touching the thermostat.
Vipassana Meditation Day 6
At 12:00, I went in for an optional private consultation with the teacher.
“What happened to me yesterday?”, I asked the teacher.
The dear teacher said, “Sounds like a storm. Imagine you had a big, rigid stone inside of you. For years or decades, you let no one including yourself near it. As you meditated for days, water kept getting inside the stone, causing it to crack little by little. As it cracked more and more, it became softer and softer until it finally broke apart and evaporated. Now that the storm has passed, consider yourself freed from something big that was causing you misery and suffering for years or decades. Congratulations!”
“If I wanted to learn to walk on fire, could I use the technique of Vipassana to achieve that?”, I asked curiously.
The dear teacher said, “Walking on fire is an extreme situation which you’ll most likely never find yourself in. However, if you do find yourself in such a situation, then, yes, you can use Vipassana to achieve that.”
I went back to my room for a short rest. I glanced at the thermostat. It was now set to 20°C and remained so for the remainder of the course. As I laid down, just as I was about to close my eyes, I notice a 400 million years old daddy long legs spider on the opposite wall right next to my roommate’s bed. What is he doing here at this exact time and exact place? Why is he here? What’s my roommate going to do when he sees him positioned an arm length away from his headrest? What if he moves to my side? We’ve both taken the five precepts for the duration of the course and one of them is to abstain from killing. I take a short nap. The sound of the gong wakes me up indicating an upcoming meditation session. I open my eyes and look at the opposite wall. He hasn’t moved.
The remainder of the day was business as usual. I meditated without encountering any strong physical sensations, simply scanning and observing the light pulsations throughout the body.
Vipassana Meditation Day 7
At 3:55, déjà vu. Thousands of Tesla scalar waves later at 4:00, déjà vu. Where’d daddy long legs go? I walk into the bathroom and see him walking around the shower cabin floor. Carefully, I finish my business in the bathroom and go to the meditation hall. There is something special about meditating right before sunrise. This has to be experienced, it cannot be read about.
Breakfast was delicious. Gratitude to God.
At 9:00, meditation resumes. I start scanning and observing different body parts, part by part. All is going well. Light pulsations arising throughout the body. Business as usual. Then ALL OF A SUDDEN, out of nowhere, pain manifests. Like a taut rope tied around the heart piercing through the torso and down the entire left side of the spinal cord. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah! Sit still, just observe. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah! I continue meditating, scanning my body, observing the manifested pain, and trying to stay equanimous without creating aversion to the pain. The taut rope showed no signs of giving in for the remainder of the day. It’s on!
Vipassana Meditation Day 8
Eager to take on the taut rope, I decide to do another two hours of resolute determination. At 4:30, the meditation session starts. The taut rope, like the Cheshire cat, slowly starts showing its colors. Half an hour into the meditation, it fully manifests. With each inhale, it starts causing a sharp, piercing pain around the heart and down the spinal cord. Sit still, just observe.
About half an hour later, chained to the bench, not yielding, I keep rowing as the merciless galley commander inflicts piercing lashes upon my spinal cord. Thousands of Tesla scalar waves later, I keep still, not yielding as the manic slave owner brutally inflicts blow after blow upon my naked back. Struggling with all my power, I almost collapse from relief when I hear Mr. Goenka sing, indicating the end of the meditation session.
It took me several minutes to untangle and regain control of my lower body. I went for a circle. A light storm occurred as I completed the circle and then I went for breakfast. For the remainder of the day, the taut rope showed no signs of giving in.
Vipassana Meditation Day 9
At 14:30, the second group meditation of the day began. With the taut rope showing no signs of giving in, I continued observing the body and remaining equanimous without any expectations.
But then, LO AND BEHOLD! IT WEAKENED! No longer taut, it was now pulsating. Each hour it grew weaker and weaker as it pulsated more and more until it finally started cracking, bubbling, and evaporating into the eternal void. Yeaaaaaaaaa! Look what I have created! I have made fire! I have made fire! Mmmmmm!
Vipassana Meditation Day 10
After a good night’s rest, I woke up a new man. With the rope gone and evaporated, feeling vital and resonating on a new level of consciousness, I finished the last day’s meditation sessions and completed the course. Thankful to God for the life changing experience and for the opportunity to attend this course in a fairy tale like environment on the Pokljuka Plateau in Slovenia, I donated what I could.
This article is dedicated to all the volunteers of the 10-day Vipassana meditation course held on 22nd April, 2017 in Slovenia and Darjan Hudournik – my new friend and roommate during the course.