How a 10-day Vipassana meditation course transformed my life
From young age through life, whenever something happened that I did not want to happen or whenever someone did something that I did not want them to do, in many cases I would immediately begin to create aversion towards that and as a result experience stress. And in many cases, I would shift the blame for that stress onto others – family, work, rain, sun, computer, Robert Horry…And, on top of that, whenever I experienced some nice moment, in addition to a completely normal desire to have that moment repeat, sometimes I would also start developing a craving for that moment. And if that moment didn’t happen again, I would experience stress.
And stress is not free and I knew it was bad and that it drained both physical and mental as well as creative energy, and that’s why I always tried solving it in different ways. I would go exercise, or go running, or go for a walk. I tried a million different things. And all these things helped, but only temporarily and at the surface level, while the root cause of stress always remained untouched. Like most people in this world, I didn’t know otherwise. And so I went round and round in circles through life – aversion, craving, stress.
But then everything suddenly changed. I attended a 10-day Vipassana meditation course and acquired a lifelong tool that enabled me to get direct insight into the root cause of stress and to completely eradicate it through practice through a direct observation of myself. This is the most powerful tool available to mankind. The experience which I went through during my first Vipassana course has transformed my life and the goal of this article is to share that experience and technique, however much written language allows me to, with others.
And now imagine that you completely disconnect yourself from the world for 10 days and just meditate, eat, and sleep for the entire time. What do you think would happen? Missed calls, email backlogs, Atlas Shrugged? No. Transformation.
Before the Vipassana course starts
All the students hand over their mobile phones and take a vow that, from the beginning until the end of the course, they will observe noble silence which means 10 days of no talking, gesticulating, sign language, writing notes or any form of communication with fellow students and the outside world.
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 communicating with each other in any way.
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. And this is when you realize how little control as a charioteer you have over your chariot, your thoughts, your horses. A simple thing is asked of you, to observe your breath, but you fail to do that even for a minute in continuation. On top of dealing with a seemingly untamable mind, you also have to deal with your body as you try to comfortably sit without any physical discomfort.
During the course, some students used one meditation cushion, some used three, and some used six, building themselves sultan’s thrones and fortified castles. Some people meditated while sitting in a chair throughout the entire course. Chairs are provided for those unable to sit comfortably on the floor because of age or physical problems. Whatever it takes. The important thing is for you to be as comfortable as possible so that you could focus on the breath.
By the end of the first day, you’ve spent 10 hours meditating and trying to stay focused on the breath. 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 mornings arose twice for me on each day. First at 3:55 to the sound of the alarm clock of my roommate who, in the service of all students, at the start of the course volunteered to sound the gong each morning and then thousands of Tesla scalar waves and miles later at 4:00 to the sound of the gong.
By the end of the second day, you have spent 20 hours meditating and trying to stay focused on the breath. 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, as you meditate new challenges arise and you start experiencing different emotions. With no electronics, books, entertainment, writing, talking, and gesticulating, all external objects are removed from your field of perception. Since there are no external objects, your mind and ego have no one to blame for any anxiety, suffering, and misery that you start experiencing during meditation. Not wishing to accept that all your anxiety, suffering, and misery comes from within you, your mind and ego start seeking the impossible. And impossible is nothing!
Despite having no external objects which they could 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 as the reason for your inability to focus on the breath.
Oooh 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, trying to get the ego to look within and not blame others. The double awakening each 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 where the underlying emotion that you are experiencing at a given moment is temporarily suppressed.
Overeating functions by overburdening you and preventing you from hearing your inner guide who is trying to tell you something. Instead of becoming aware of an emotion that you are experiencing and dealing with it, you temporarily suppress it by overeating, blaming external objects, or consuming instant gratification products up until it again resurfaces some other day, month, or year.
In the middle of the third day, you are given additional instructions. As you observe your breath, you are told to start looking out for bodily sensations arising in the area right below or inside 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.
Moving on, as the day progresses, you keep meditating for hours wishing for a bodily 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 it’s as if a ladybug started walking underneath your nostrils! Sensations everywhere!
You want to react and scratch them, but the point is not to react, but to simply observe. You are just to observe the bodily sensations as they arise and evaporate. What is this? What do these sensations mean? Why can’t I scratch them? Why shouldn’t I react to them? Why am I just observing them? What now?
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 realize you can always tell the organizers that you haven’t had the chance to grab a fruit and they would of course bring you some fruit. But, I chose not to say anything, I grabbed some tea and shifted my focus on all the questions that I was previously thinking about. The thing with the fruit only happened on that day because I went to the cafeteria a little later than usual for dinner that day. It didn’t happen on any other day. There was enough fruit for everybody every day.
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 some 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 bodily 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.
As the fourth day progresses, you are given additional instructions. After completing over 30 hours of meditation, your sensory perception is very sharpened and operates at a whole new level of awareness. There is no going back once you’ve awakened and developed this advanced sensory capability. With this trained and advanced sensory capability, you are instructed to start observing your entire body for bodily sensations.
Like a body scanner at airports, you start scanning and observing for bodily 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 bodily sensations – tingling, itching, pain, pulsation, vibration, heat, cold, anything. And if you observe any bodily sensation, you shouldn’t react to it either physically or mentally, but just observe it and become aware of it without creating any craving or aversion towards it.
By reacting to bodily sensations, you strengthen the bodily sensations which cause you suffering, but when you do not react to them, you weaken them. Imagine that every bodily sensation has its own reservoir and when you do not react to a bodily sensation then you empty the reservoir of that bodily sensation. And when the reservoir completely empties, this bodily sensation is then completely eradicated. Completely uprooted at the deepest level, the root level, which is deeper than the intellect, and which obviates any need for understanding at the level of the intellect or any other level. And when you root it out, then you become free from it. And this opens the way for you to eradicate even more subtle sensations and thereby one by one eliminate all your mental impurities.
And now that you’ve just learned the full Vipassana meditation technique, all happy you 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 it’s okay to move sometimes. At the very start of the course, you’re told to change your positions whenever you feel the need for it because health is in first place.
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 without moving, three times a day.
Every day you meditate 10 hours on average and during all hours you can move your body whenever you feel the need except during the hours of resolute determination.
During the hours of resolute determination, the student is determined not to make any movement of the body and objectively observe the impermanent, changing bodily sensations that arise and pass away within his body. For instance, the sensation of pain could feel like hot daggers driven into the body. The habit during our entire life was to react blindly with aversion, thereby multiplying both the pain and the suffering.
But now we observe the biochemical flow of sensations as it is, with a balanced mind, without any evaluation or past conditioning. Developing in determination, a Vipassana student trains himself to objectively observe this changing phenomena within. Whatever sensation manifests in the body, it is used as a tool for developing equanimity. This equanimity purifies the mind at its root level and strengthens the student’s determination.
Continuing where we left off. Right before the hour of resolute determination begins, questions start firing off inside your mind. How will I sit still for an 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. I tell myself, “Just observe, become aware, and keep scanning on.”
Minutes later, the intense pain starts disrupting the observation of other body parts.
Minutes later, the pain in the ankles intensifies.
Minutes later, the pain in the knees and ankles becomes unbearable. “Sit still,” I tell myself.
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,” I repeat to myself.
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.
Minutes later, Dante, now I understand everything.
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 body is very intelligent, but it is subservient to the mind which it has to obey. The mind has decided to observe and be aware, but not to create any aversion towards the pain. The body had to obey the mind and manifest this reality. It turned off all the pain receptors in the lower body. The pain was gone. I am sitting 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 nothing happens, whatever it is. Maybe it happened, but I missed it like a sports cameraman sometimes misses some moment.
And it’s important to note that, during the entire course and even during the hours of strong determination, whenever you feel the need or desire to move due to some pain or physical discomfort, you are told that you can freely move. Health comes first and then everything else. During meditation, everyone has the freedom to move as much as they want to and to meditate in accordance with their physical and psychological capacities.
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, even though I don’t have 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 come to the realization that additional meditation 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, I start talking with myself, “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. Everyone goes off to breakfast and I remain alone in the meditation hall. As I slowly start untangling my legs using my hands, I slowly start regaining feeling in my lower body. Minutes pass by before I attempt to stand up and when I got up I felt 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, some kind of 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 near the end of 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. I couldn’t differentiate between my body, bed, room, hotel, pine trees, mountain, or the sky. Everything became one without boundaries. 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 okay my son. It’s alright.” Love permeated everything. Unbearably great 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 ready to talk about this, I decide to keep this experience to myself for now and not speak about it with the teacher. 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! My roommate 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 noble silence. If I simply lower the thermostat to 20°C, then I am reacting and creating conflict, an I don’t want to do that. 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?! He already wakes me up twice every morning! 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 might be some lesson. If I don’t raise the thermostat back to 25°C, I’ll maybe 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 actually suffer.” No, no, no, and 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 raise the thermostat back to 25°C, drink two glasses of water, turn the lights off, and brace myself. 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, and see him sleeping half covered, 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, imagine that 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 somehow do find yourself in such a situation, then, yes, you can achieve that using Vipassana.”
I went back to my room for a short rest and 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 any beings. 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 bodily 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.
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 any aversion towards 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, by my own will 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 manifesting and 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 and just observe,” I repeated to myself.
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 and determination to keep equanimous and not move during the two hours of meditation, I almost collapse from relief when I hear the teacher’s voice, 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 walk around the 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 aversion, craving, or 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! Hahahaaa!
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 for this experience which has transformed my life and allowed me to learn this precious technique and thankful for the opportunity to attend this course in a fairytale-like environment on the Pokljuka Plateau in Slovenia, I donated what I could.
What is Vipassana?
Vipassana is a meditation technique aimed at completely eliminating mental impurities and thus leading to complete liberation from suffering through direct observation of oneself. The ultimate outcome of practicing this technique is a mind completely free from impurities, a mind fully balanced and filled with love and compassion toward other beings.
The entire technique is a universal remedy for universal problems and can be freely practiced by anyone, at any time, in any place, without conflict due to race, community or religion.
Through continued practice, the technique releases the tensions developed in everyday life, opening the knots tied by the old habit of reacting in an unbalanced way to pleasant and unpleasant situations and the laws of nature that regulate our thoughts, feelings, judgement, and bodily sensations become very clear. Thus, through the direct experience of our nature, we see how we progress and fall back, how we create our own suffering, and how we are released from it. By practicing Vipassana, one becomes free from illusion, and life becomes filled with consciousness, self-control, and inner peace.
Why does the course last 10 days?
Traditionally, the courses lasted seven weeks, but with the dawning of the 20th century, experimenting with shorter course duration times began in order to suit the quickening pace of life on the planet. Thirty days, two weeks, ten days, down to seven days were tried and it was found that less than ten days is not enough time for the mind to settle down and work deeply with the mind-body phenomenon and for the student to get a sufficient experiential grasp of the technique.
All courses are run solely on a donation basis. There are no charges for the courses, not even to cover the cost of food and accommodation. All expenses are met by donations from those who have completed a course, experienced the benefits of the technique, and wish to give others the same opportunity. Such donations are the only source of funding for Vipassana courses all around the world.
Neither the teachers, nor the volunteers, nor the organizers receive any kind of payment for their service, but donate their time in order to enable others to feel the benefits that someone else enabled them to feel.
Teachers receive no payment, donations or other material benefits. They are required to have their own private means of support. This rule means that some of them may have less time for teaching, but it protects students from exploitation and it protects the technique against commercialism. In this tradition, teachers give Vipassana purely as a service to others. All they get is the satisfaction of seeing people’s happiness at the end of ten days.
In this way, the spread of Vipassana is carried out with purity of purpose, free from any commercialism. Someone taking the course for the first time may give a donation on the last day of the course or any time thereafter, according to one’s means and volition.
This article is dedicated to all the volunteers of the 10-day Vipassana meditation course held in April of 2017 in Slovenia and Darjan Hudournik – my new friend and roommate during the course.
For more information about Vipassana courses, take a look at the official Vipassana website.