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Vipassana: self-improvement or total madness?


Think you could go 10 full days without talking?

Yep, you heard right… 10 full days.

I didn’t either, but it was the challenge that perked my interest… and the meditation too.

It’s called Vipassana and it’s a popular form of meditation that teaches you to see things for what they really are.

Sounds easy right? Well, not quite…

How My Journey Began

When my crazy friend returned from India, somewhat normal, I was speechless.

The once flighty, dog pill popping, lunatic that was my friend had magically turned into a level-headed and grounded individual.

Of course I asked what happened… to which he replied casually, “Vipassana.”

Intrigued, I urged him on and he summarized…

The Low Down on Vipassana

Vipassana is an ancient form of meditation that’s popular in India and throughout the world.

To learn the technique, people visit a Vipassana center and take a 10-day course where they are taught and practice the meditation technique.

Oh, and talking, eye contact, and physical are big no-no’s.

So I think to myself, sounds easy enough and I sign up for a course in India.

Boy was I wrong…

The Vipassana Center

As I walked up the dirt trail from the city of McLeod Ganj to Dharamsala in India, the reality of my future endeavor begins to seep in…

I considered turning back and heading to the bar for a cold beer and plate of spicy momos, but my legs power forward and I reached a small crowd of hesitant looking individuals standing in front of the center.

This must be it.

I decided to take one last opportunities to chat with some people about Vipassana and why they were there.

I was amazed that most people had heard about Vipassana through a friend and felt a deep curiosity to try it for themselves, just like I did.

Shortly thereafter we were rounded up by a volunteer who assigned us rooms and showed us the grounds.

It was clear from the get-go, men and women would be segregated the entire time. The men and women were lead to their separate quarters.

After picking up my bedding, I found my room which oddly resembled a jail cell. I realized after the course how lucky I was to have a walled room… the men had to sleep in tents.

After everyone got settled in their rooms, there was orientation where the logistics of the course and code of discipline were explained…

4:00am Wake-up
4:30-6:30am Self meditation
6:30-8:00am Breakfast
8:00-9:00am Group meditation
9:00-11:00am Self meditation
11:00-12:00pm Lunch
12:00-1:00pm Rest or ask questions with teacher assistants
1:00-2:30pm Self meditation
2:30-3:30pm Group meditation
3:30-5:00pm Self meditation
5:00-6:00pm Tea
6:00-7:00pm Group meditation
7:00-8:15pm Training video
8:15-9:00pm Group meditation
9:00-9:30pm Rest or ask questions with teacher assistants
9:30pm Bed

I couldn’t help but calculate the amount of time we’d be meditating each day. It was just shy of 11 hours!!!

After orientation, the noble silence was enforced and we all quietly entered the meditation hall to watch an hour training video with the meditation technique. It was a ritual that would repeat each night until the end of the course.

With the men on one side of the room and the women on the other, we found our floor areas and seat cushions and eagerly watched the video.

A jolly looking husband and wife duo seated cross-legged emerged on the TV screen, chanting. I learned the man was Mr. Goenka and he would be our teacher throughout the course. His light-hearted sense of humor and voice was strangely calming.

In short, Goenka instructed us to focus on our breathing and nasal area for the following first day of meditation.

It was to be a long day…

Day 1

I awoke to a faint bell ringing in the distance. It was pitch black outside. Where was I?

Slowly, I recalled my jail cell and the daunting day ahead of me. It was 4am and I was already questioning the medication center.

As my roommate continued to sleep, I managed to find my toothbrush, meandered to the bathroom to splash some cold water on my face and brush my teeth, and continued to the meditation hall.

I attempted to meditate focusing on my nasal area, but my mind was a lose canon wondering from one thought to the next. When was breakfast… do the shower have hot water… how am I going to do this for 10 days… and the list went on.

The rest of the day wasn’t any different.

Day 3

By the third day of meditation, my body ached like a 90 year old woman. I hadn’t sat cross-legged since I was a child and I could feel every inch of my knees and back.

A few people had dropped out which was obvious by their empty spot in the meditation hall.

My mind was like a humming bird… buzzing forward and back on every subject I wasn’t supposed to be thinking about.

I was struggling and thought I should join the other drop outs.

Day 6

I felt like a ninja!

I’d mastered the ability to sit cross legged for an hour straight without moving. I learned to ignore the pain in my body and simply focus on just being.

My mind was clear and centered and I was in control. I’d never felt so alive.

Day 8

I was completely out of control and my progress had stopped completely.

I couldn’t help but craving the wonderful feeling I had on day six. The pain in my body was back multiplied times ten.

I tried to slow down my mind and refocus, but couldn’t.

I was a bad day.

Day 10

The last day of meditation was welcomed with mixed emotions. I was excited about my dedication to Vipassana and myself. I had given myself a goal and saw it through to completion.

Yet, I was sad to leave the following day and be reintroduced into the real world. It all seemed so different.

It was difficult to focus on the meditation knowing the course would end the following day.

Day 11

We wrapped up our morning with our final meditation and were then given permission to speak. Some students bursted with chatter, while I remained relatively quiet as I’d almost forgotten how to formulate words.

I overheard conversations about people’s experiences in their meditative journeys and how some felt enlightened.

I kept relatively quiet as my experience was a personal journey, for me and for me only.

Cleaning assignments were given to us to prepare the center for the next group of students. Around noon, we wrapped up and were free.

As I walked back down the dirt road to McLeod Ganj, my body felt strong and healthy and mind was sharp. I could hear the wind in the trees and felt the ground beneath my feet. I felt forever changed.

For more information on Vipassana, Mr. Goenka, the code of discipline, questions and answers, center locations, and course schedules, visit http://www.dhamma.org/.

Darcie Connell is the co-founder of Trekity.com, a cool travel site that provides travel ideas just for you, and TravelBloggerAcademy, where regular people can start travel blogging. Follow her on Twitter.

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