I had heard about Vipassana a few months before coming to Nepal and I have to admit I was not the least bit interested. Mainly because the only thing I knew about it was that you can’t speak or look at anyone for 10 days. “I’m already a quiet person, so what’s this going to do for me?” After hearing more stories about the “silent meditation” and how amazing it was for other people, I finally decided to try it for myself. Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures to share as they take your cellphone when you arrive as well as any journals and writing materials for the sake of stopping production of anymore thoughts; hence the no talking/ no eye contact policy. I inserted some photos I took from Kathmandu and Pokhara because let’s face it, no one likes an article without pictures.
I signed up for the 10 day Dhamma Janani Vipassana in Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha. 10 days is the minimum that they believe carries any weight on working at the deepest levels of your mind. So off to Lumbini I went on the 9 hour busride from Pokhara that was supposed to be 6, but given that all the roads are under construction in Nepal I wasn’t surprised. Before coming to the course I had one night in town and met the cutest fiery Ecuadorian girl that also happened to be going to the meditation center. We both discussed what we wanted to get out of the 10 days to come and the common aim was to have control over our thoughts. Plagued by whizzing and continuous thoughts throughout our day that would keep us up at night, we sought a calm mind.
The next day we headed off to our sanctuary for the next week and a half and nestled into our jail like residences. The bed was literally a concrete slab and a bathroom to match. I spotted 2 spiders the first day in my living quarters but I had vowed not to break any of the 5 precepts, the first one being no killing.
Our oath of silence didn’t start until later that night as did or first meditation sittings. I could already feel a tremendous amount of pain from sitting just 2 hours that night making me unsure of how the fuck I was going to do this for 10 1/2 hours everyday for the next 10 days. With a 4am wake up call and meditation until 9pm I was already feeling the anxiety triggering my flight mode to run and catch the next bus back to Pokhara, but I had already promised myself and my cute little Ecuadorian friend that I would stick it through the 10 days.
The first 3 days for 10 and 1/2 hours we were to only focus on the area at the base of our nostrils and the upper lip. We were to observe the sensations we felt from our respiration at that particular spot. At first I could barely feel anything let alone concentrate long enough to feel something without my mind constantly wandering. But as the teacher Goenka stated, “starttt againnnn, starrrt againnn”.
By day 3 my mind was producing less thoughts but I was still very far from monk status. I was starting to get some vibrating and tingling sensations underneath my nostrils that I have never felt before which was really cool.
Day 4 we finally started to progress in our practice and moved to observing the sensations we felt throughout our entire body starting at the top of the head all the way down to the feet. After observing the small area between the nostrils and upper lip this made observing the whole body much easier. Day 4 was also the day I had my first “weird experience.” I had an orgasmic experience electrically throughout my entire body followed by overwhelming tears of sadness and then heat in my belly. It was truly amazing and I have never experienced anything like that before. I went to talk with the teacher at noon because we were allowed to ask him questions at that time and asked him what he thought about these sensations. I thought I might have awakened my kundalini or something cool, but was taken back at his answer. He merely said that sometimes we will get sensations while practicing and to just observe them. Do not create any attachment to them or crave them, just observe them until they go away. I wasn’t expecting him to say I had superpowers, although it felt like it, but I wasn’t prepared for such a mundane answer. However, I just followed what he said and continued on that way.
Day 5 was a regular meditation day besides the fact that my head would not stop vibrating. Even lying down during rest hour and falling asleep it would be vibrating, but didn’t hurt or keep me up. It actually felt kind of cool.
Day 6 I had another orgasmic experience, this time even more intense and this time it was followed my happy tears and the feeling that I was in a freezer and my whole body was shaking.
I had two more orgasmic experiences throughout the course and an instance where I felt like I was floating in mid air and swaying side to side. For the most part I was in pain about 95% of the time. When I observed my neck, back and legs it was excruciating pain. I was in a car accident growing up and I injured my neck and lower back. My legs I think hurt just from sitting so long. There were 3 hours in the day where we were not to move our position. We were not supposed to open our legs or hands. This was torture, however just like the good sensations you were to only observe the pain and not create aversion to it. Pain is pain. To create attachment or aversion to a sensation is to crave for something and craving creates suffering. Therefore, you just observe everything and remain equanimous.
I had another beautiful friend from Canada that I met before the course started and it was very interesting to hear about her experiences. She was astral traveling! She had done this prior, but she said it was happening a lot more during the course. The teacher told us not to engage in any visuals we might get, and therefore astral traveling was not meant to be done. But fuck, if I could do that I would too! She said always remember to attach a cord to the belly of your actual body before going off to wherever. She was going through time rips, like the seam in a pillow if you open it up. Too cool.
Some people would only have mild sensations like vibrations here and there. 3 guys said they had the same out of body experience as each other where they felt their entire body shift 45 degrees to the right, but when they opened their eyes they were still pointed forward. Bottomline, it doesn’t matter if you get a lot or little amount of sensations, you just observe them and don’t crave or create aversion to any of them.
Our teacher Goenka, who died years ago but whom we watched on video said there was a man who built nuclear weapons who came to Vipassana. When he went to meditate inside one of the cells in the temple they could see through the little window that he was upside down on his head bouncing up and down. I’m assuming that was his karma from building death weapons, but there’s no telling what the sensations mean and you’re not meant to figure them out.
These are the ancient teachings rediscovered by Buddha thousands of years ago. After my 10 days I definitely notice a change in myself. I am not perfect by any means but I feel like I finally found a tool that can eradicate my sufferings. My friends and I walked out on the final day with huge smiles and calmer minds. After wanting to leave almost everyday, we were all sad to leave in the end. I have continued the recommended 1 hour meditation in the morning and 1 hour at night before bed because they say after a year of doing this it will produce another huge change in yourself. Keeping up with the practice and applying it to your daily life is key to continuing to eradicate your sufferings, orherwise the cravings and aversions will creep back into your life. Goenka also recommended doing the 10 day course once a year, so looks like I’ll be going to jail again next year.
They showed us a video the last day on Vipassana being practiced in jails and rehabilitating prisoners with dark pasts. They were grieving for the crimes they committed and taking responsibility for themselves instead of pointing the finger at society for the first time in their lives. The precepts for Vipassana are said to be stricter than jail:
1.to abstain from killing any being
2. to abstain from stealing
3. to abstain from all sexual activity
4. to abstain from telling lies
5. to abstain from all intoxicants
The course is free and is donation based only. They will not accept a donation if you have not completed the 10 day course. If you are interested I suggest finding a Dhamma meditation center to go to. They are found worldwide and teach the practice as it should be. Some other places may be more luxurious but their teachings are different than Vipassana, although they advertise themselves as being a Vipassana center.
This was probably the hardest thing I have ever done, but by far the best thing I have ever done for myself. The world needs more happiness, especially in the state it is right now. The best place to start is with yourself. May the Dhamma “cosmic law and order” be with you.