Honey, pears and ginger tea: My 10 day Vipassana Course experience

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“Start again……… Start again………….. Start with a calm and peaceful mind.”

S. N. Goenka

If you have ever attended a Vipassana Meditation course taught by S. N. Goenka, I am sure you remember this line.  If you are ever planning on attending an offering, you will hear this line many times during your ten days, technically twelve days, experience. 


The History

The current Vipassana Meditation course was started by S. N. Goenka (1924-2013).  He based it on the Vipassana methods that his teacher Sayagyi U Ba Khin taught him.  His original intention by learning this method of meditation was to find some relief from severe migraine headaches, but he received much more than just migraine relief.  He began teaching his 10-day intensive courses in 1969 and had the first center open in 1976 in Nashik, Maharashtra.  There are currently a total of 182 centers and 134 con-center locations around the globe.  There have been thousands and thousands of people who had gone through these consummate courses. Many of the students have completed the course multiple times.   


What is it?

Vipassana meditation is an ancient practice that Goenka believes Siddhārtha Gautama, or more commonly known as The Buddha, used to reach enlightenment.  Vipassana means seeing things as they really are.  Not that there is some magic that is used to see things as they are.  “It is a process of self-purification by self-observation.”  You begin by following your breath for ten hours the first day.  As the days progress you shift that attention to your whole body. Which leads to “a sharpened awareness.” One proceeds to observe the changing nature of body and mind, and experiences the universal truth of impermanence, suffering, and egolessness.”  Further explanation of the technique of Vipassana Meditation can be found in one of their publications.  This is from that publication.

What it is not

·       It is not a rite or ritual based on blind faith.

·       It is neither an intellectual nor a philosophical entertainment.

·       It is not a rest cure, a holiday, or an opportunity for socializing.

·       It is not an escape from the trials and tribulations of everyday life.

What it is

·       It is a technique that will eradicate suffering

·       It is a method of mental purification which allows one the face life’s tensions and problems in a calm, balanced way.

·       It is an art of living that one can use to make positive contributions to society.

I am not going to go into the details.  If you want to learn this deep meditation practice, you need to take the course (www.dhamma.org).  As Goenka mentions many times during your 12 days, this is an experiential course, not intellectual training. 


My initial reflections

Going in my main concern was the pain I would experience by sitting for ten hours a day.  This was indeed the case.  I also knew that it was a part of the course.  You are to become an observer to the pain and not identify with it.  That turned out to be the case as well, but the big challenge for me was that it did not occur until the morning of the ninth day.  It was an amazing experience.  Goenka began speaking and offering the last piece of the Vipassana process, and something clicked.  The pain began to fade.  Although getting to that point was difficult, and I dealt with a significant amount pain.  I must admit there were a few times I thought of bowing out.  The main thing that kept me from doing that was that I promised to give a couple of people a ride back to Phoenix, and I would never be able to live with myself if I left early, but the pain was significant.  It proved to me on an experiential level that this deep meditation method works.  I was not completely pain-free for the rest of the course, but it was manageable.

Another aspect of the course that had a big impact was the silence.  By not talking or communicating in any way along with no tv, internet, phone, and no reading or writing my thoughts slowed down significantly.  It was some of the clearest thinking I have ever experienced.  It does not mean that they were good thoughts necessarily, but they were clear.  I think it would be a good idea for all of us to experience that silence at least once a week.  Perhaps pick a day or a few hours in the day where you experience some time without your phone and other devices.   Don’t speak, read or write and be silent.  It might take a few times, but you will begin to notice your thoughts slowing down. 

Another major impact that the course had on me was that, especially in the beginning, I was able to witness how judgemental my thinking is.  There were about one hundred men who attended, and I was constantly judging them.  It is something I must continue to work on.  For I was made starkly aware that I have made little progress in becoming a less judgemental person.  I have been consciously working on that aspect of myself for some time, and I still have a long way to go. 

The last thing that I had the fortune to witness was the power of the seeds we plant in our minds.  There were two separate occasions where I specifically planted a thought seed in my mind and watch it materialize in my body at a later time.  One was accidentally planted the other was consciously planted.  We should take as great of care to be aware of the seeds we plant.  The challenge is we are continually planting them every moment.  The Buddhist would say we plant sixty-five every second.  That is many seeds every day.  Imagine after a lifetime of planting them.  It would be wise for each of us to be as mindful every moment as possible.  Be mindful of what we are allowing in and what we are exposing ourselves to.  As those who follow this blog and our social media accounts, we are constantly talking about the fact that we have control over two things in our lives.  The direction of our thoughts, what we focus on, and our actions.  Everything else is completely out of our control.  The beauty of Vipassana Meditation is that you can learn equanimity.  We can learn to let go.  Let go of the good and the bad.  Let go of all of it.  We can learn to be equanimous to all things.  With effort and practice, we can live in balance.

Until Next Time,

Rich Decker – Mindful Accord