Wednesday afternoon, I packed a suitcase full of pajamas and blankets and headed to Dhamma Visuddhi meditation center in Menomonie, Wisconsin. When I arrived, I turned in my cell phone, was assigned a lower bunk bed, and after a light meal with about 10 other women, took a vow of noble silence that would last through most of Saturday. The course was technically three days long and consisted of a time table of waking up at 4 am, then meditating on and off for about 13 hours a day until 9pm. Vegetarian meals and tea are provided, and the hardest part was the fact that after 12, there was no eating which meant no dinner. When I tell people about everything, they often ask WHY would I do this? As intense as the schedule and silence may sound, it comes with great benefit.
First and foremost- Vipasanna is not a religion or a cult- it is a universal technique of meditation that helps people see things as they really are. It is one of India’s most ancient techniques and was used by Buddha more than 2500 years ago to find enlightenment. As I mentioned, it is universal. You can practice this technique and still be apart of an organized religion because it is simply learning to use your own breath and sensations to purify your mind.
The path consists of three parts- Sila or moral restraints, Panna or wisdom, and Samadhi or concentration. Here are the five precepts anyone must take as their Sila when coming to the center:
1- to obstain from killing. This sounds easy- but when there’s a big spider in your room and you have to reolacte it using a cup, it can be a little more challenging. Hence why I will never do a Vipassana in Thailand, India, or pretty much anywhere where there are giant bugs.
2- to abstain from stealing
3- to abstain from sexual activity
4- to abstain from telling lies
5- to abstain from all intoxicants
Since I’m an old student- meaning I’ve done a 10 day course- there were three other precepts for this course-
6- no eatting after middday- so no dinner, no nothing after 12 (this was rough!!!)
7- no seneusal entertainment and body decorations- take off your jewlery, makeup and forget about your hair
8- abstain from using luxurious beds
For the technique to work, you have to surrender yourself completely and really try it out, which means while you are there, there is no yoga, exercise, reading, writing, or practicing other rituals like prayer. You are also in noble silence which means there is no communication with anyone outside of the course or at the course. Noble silence means no eye contact with others, no body language, so you pretty much have to act like you are all by yourself. If you truly need something, you can communicate with the servers or the assistant teachers when they have their office hours. Sounds lovely so far, doesn’t it?
The first 1/3 of any course is spent learning the first part of the technique called anapana. Anapana meditation teaches you to observe your natural breath. Sounds easy, but again, not so much if you are coming from a yoga background like me. In yoga, we use forced respiration which calms the surface levels of our minds, but anapana wants you to observe breath as it naturally is. It may be soft, loud, quick, long, whatever it is, you must observe, and keeping focus on your breath sharpens the mind for the second part of the technique- Vispassana.
Once the mind is sharp, it starts to feel sensation all over the body. The body is constnatly changing and that’s why we feel sensation. While practicing Vipassana, you comb your body from head to toe feeling sensation but the key factor here is that you cannot react to it. Sometimes sensation feels good- tingling, light and airy, other times it is solidified and feels like pain or numbing. The key is to have no preference and remain equanimous. Remaining equanimous and just being ok with whatever sensation you feel goes to the root level of our minds and snips what causes our misery.
According to this technique, the root of our misery is preference. We feel something good and we cling- we attach and we crave for more. When there is no more, we become very sad. An easy example is a nice warm vacation in cold winter- everything is so beautiful, you have drinks on the beach and enjoy time away from work, but then you have to go home and you are so sad.
The other way our mind reacts is with aversion or dislike. Our mind doesn’t want something so it pushes it away and generates misery because it doesn’t want it. Example would be construction- it’s annoying, it causes your work commute to be an extra fifteen minutes, and you get red in the face every drive at work until it’s over.
But the thing is, nothing is permanent, nothing lasts forever, and all things change, so we get stuck in this constant cycle of craving and aversion that makes us miserable. To find ultimate liberation, we must change the habit pattern of our minds, and Vipassana aims to do just that.
It doesn’t happen in one course, it doesn’t happen in two, it happens over time, and for me, many life times. I went back to the center because I needed to clean my mind. Things were getting very dark for me, and I wasn’t seeing things as they really are. I was focusing on the negative in myself and in others.
Going back scared the crap out of me. I knew what was coming, and that almost made it worse. I was afraid of the schedule and especially the precept about no dinner.
My second course was just as challenging as my first. Every day started off easy, but around 4pm, I would get crabby and tired. My back ached, my butt was constantly numb, and I just wanted to go home. My mind was restless and hard to tame. It wandered to the past, into the future, and into day dreams that I never hope to experience. For a while, I felt hopeless. I had tied so many knots and multiplied my misery so much since the last course, it was a battle that I wasn’t going to win.
On the final day, I had a few breakthroughs. There were a lot of tears, and I felt some large sankaras (positive and negative reactions from the past) peel away. On the final day, we also practice a technique called metta which helps you share your peace and love with others. It was then that I felt in contact with Dhamma or the plain, undistorted truth of the universe. When you feel this connection to the truth and peace that exists in the universe, it’s overwhelming, or at least it is for me. Tears streamed down my face. I felt touched, like someone had extended an olive branch to me and was saying, welcome back to reality. I then felt the ability to share my merits of peace with everyone around me, and it was straight up and down beautiful. This same experience happened to me at the first course, and let me tell you, there’s nothing I’ve ever felt like it.
I’m so grateful for the opportunity to sit a this course. It showed me exactly why I was miserable and what I needed to do in this stage of my life to stay happy. I had stepped off the path. I was doing so much in my life and got wrapped up in a cycle of constant comparison and instant gratification. I stopped meditating seriously, and it had a huge affect on my happiness and behavior. I now will take my meditation seriously because when I do, it helps me see the beauty in myself and the world around me. It helps me see how worthy I am of love and how worthy everyone is of love and happiness.
I could write about this all day, but I think it’s probably time to stop. If you want to learn more about the technique, the center, and my experience, reach out to me using the contact form on my site. If you ever have the opportunity to do a Vipassana, please do. It will change your life!!! It’s not going to change what happens to you, but it will change how you see what happens to you and how you handle it.
There is so much peace in the universe that we are blind to, and it connects you straight to it. It shows you exactly why you are miserable and helps you understand how to stop multiplying your misery. All around us is peace, we just have to connect to it. Thanks for reading, and I hope this inspires you to be brave, to love yourself, and to love others.
Let’s all be happy.
More resources on Vipassana-